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It’s Time for Operators to Rethink Their Approach Towards RAN Planning: Why Outsourcing Makes Sense for 5G.

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An Interview with Aircom’s Vice President of RAN Strategy, Khurram Chaudhry

Mobile operators face rising challenges related to 5G network growth and performance. As the number of subscribers and devices grows, network planners must adjust to this increased demand. Meanwhile, network planning teams are stretched thin – equipped with tools that are often outdated and insufficient. Mobile operators are looking for a solution.

In this blog post Khurram Chaudhry, Vice President of Radio Access Network (RAN) Strategy at Aircom, shares his insights about the benefits of outsourcing radio network planning and what it entails.

Khurram, what is the role of network planning within mobile operators and why do you feel outsourcing should be an option?

Radio network planning teams are responsible for a whole host of tasks, including accurately modeling and designing the network, and evaluating, selecting, and configuring the network equipment. There are also network coverage reports that need to be produced, along with governmental policies and regulations that need to be supported.

One of the biggest challenges for mobile network operators is that their workforce is often not up to speed with the latest technologies, automation workflows, and best practices required to deal with new complexities. It’s getting harder for mobile operators to find seasoned experts in radio planning. Their in-house teams are getting stretched thin. Adding to these difficulties is the fact that 5G networks are especially challenging to design – which puts even more pressure not just on the teams, but also on their tools. Are they updated and compatible with the demands of 5G networks? Often the answer is no.

Outsourcing RAN planning and design takes these pressures off mobile operators and allows them to focus on building new, innovative services for their customers.

Why is 5G so difficult to design for?

Because it’s a never-ending job.  Planning a mobile network is not a one-and-done proposition – especially when it comes to 5G.  Networks need constant tweaking, and with 5G, designers also need to account for a whole host of constantly changing geographical data like tree coverage, new buildings, construction, and other types of environmental ‘clutter’.  If you try to design a network with out-of-date information, service quality will suffer.  It’s also necessary to regularly optimize the radio design of the networks to achieve the best performance and to keep costs down. In fact, we regularly see 5-10% KPI improvements from our RAN design optimization projects.

There have been some recent headlines in the news where many countries are experiencing subpar performance of their 5G networks. What do you attribute this to – and can better network planning help to compensate?

This is common when introducing new technologies. Operators always need to balance cost with performance.  We saw the same scenario with the introduction of 4G, and 5G Standalone networks will be even more challenging.  As more subscribers and devices come on board, radio networks need to be adjusted and further built-out to compensate for new demands. It’s part of the never-ending process of refining and optimizing network design.

Having a robust, experienced design team that is equipped with the latest tools and technologies can help predict demand and protect against these growing pains and customer complaints.  Outsourcing network planning to a team of experts who have the latest tools and technologies can significantly help improve network performance while also being cost-effective. That’s because outsourcing with the right partner can allow operators to scale their workforce up or down much easier than when relying upon in-house resources. Also, as operators continue their 5G journey, it is imperative to consider the intricacies of mmwave and modeling the advanced 5G stand-alone use cases. Selecting an outsourcing partner who is experienced in these areas is the key.

At Aircom, we have helped over fifty mobile operators around the globe to plan & launch their 5G networks.

You’ve mentioned improved network performance and easier access to skills and expertise. What are some of the other benefits of an operator outsourcing radio network planning?

  • One key benefit is there’s no need for IT services – when you outsource, all the IT pain is gone. That’s due to the benefits of the Cloud. Aircom’s planning tools are cloud-based and fully scalable. Users have easy access to a network planning platform that can be shared – even across multinational operators. There’s no specialized hardware to support. Product upgrades and support are included. Aircom essentially becomes your IT team for all system administrative aspects that are required to maintain the platform. We have seen in our recent engagements that our Cloud hosted solution is typically 30-40% cheaper than the public cloud.  Plus, our comprehensive API ecosystem enables operators to integrate our planning data and processes into their-own platforms and business workflows.
  • Another key benefit is the improved consistency and accuracy of network planning data. The adage ‘garbage in, garbage out’, certainly applies with network planning. A lot of operators don’t invest in regularly updating the geographical information that is critical for network design. Geographical and environmental data is difficult to maintain- it is constantly changing. Clutter and height data are especially critical for maintaining network quality, but many operators struggle to keep up. They might get new environmental data once every 5 years, but a lot can change in that time. New buildings go up, trees grow and change. Along with expert planning services, our all-inclusive offering includes all hardware, software, and 3rd party components, including geospatial and population density maps. Aircom keeps this information current, clean and harmonized, and we host it all on the cloud.
  • Having someone else to manage your annual regulatory filings is another benefit. These can be a significant burden, especially for smaller organizations, because they are so time consuming and resource intensive. Outsourcing this effort makes sense. In fact, regulators prefer third-party filings.

How can readers learn more?

Our network planning team is comprised of industry experts with decades of experience. Along with network planning and evolution, we provide a full range of other services, including network optimization and capacity planning, spectrum refarming, and network analytics. We can even handle the day-to-day tasks of managing vendors and customer service issues.

There’s more information about all of Aircom’s RAN planning services on our website, or you can contact us directly via email.

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