Parallel Wireless is Proud to Introduce: The Chameleon Network

Hana Gazoli   October 23, 2023

After years of sustained growth in which mobile network operators completely overtook their fixed network counterparts, and amassed huge market capitalization, MNOs are facing troubling times.  Victims, to a certain extent, of their success, the market expects them to continue investing in technologies to deliver increasingly faster speeds and more capacity to satisfy growing demand. CTOs of mobile operators must constantly work to maintain and expand their network to meet the requirements of a demanding, competitive marketplace. At the same time, unfortunately, profit margins are shrinking and they are “squeezed” between the costs of upgrading an entire network and shrinking budgets due to less-than-clear monetization strategies. 

They are faced with hard choices: 

  • Do they focus on improving the performance of their networks for the most advanced (and lucrative) customer segments? Or do they continue to expand coverage to serve the widest possible audience, which means customer growth that is reliant on lower-income populations.
  • Do they make smaller, incremental investments to upgrade the network a few areas at a time, adding operational complexity as they try to maintain consistency over a patchwork of equipment and technology? Or do they conduct sweeping, “forklift” upgrades that leapfrog the small steps but at costs that are very hard for shareholders to swallow (and approve)?
  • Should they look to make massive investments in more spectrum in order to create more capacity in their network? Or maybe stay within the spectrum they have and invest more modestly to deploy more sites so they can bring antennas closer to users and thus improve the capacity for each user?

Rather than waste energy wrestling with impossible choices, there is a much better, long term option. Simply put, this approach prioritizes generating better efficiency over deploying more capacity. The technical term is RAN Centralization. While this approach represents a major paradigm shift, from a network of cells to a network composed of clusters, more and more mobile network operators are realizing that this may be the only reasonable way forward.

Going All In on Clusterization

Common thinking is that when there are traffic and load issues, the ultimate solution is to add more and more sites, pushing more equipment to the edges of the network. Not only does this add significant CAPEX and OPEX (e.g. real-estate and energy) costs, it is somewhat of a time-bomb. Sooner or later, technicians will need to visit each and every site for regular maintenance and upgrades, on top of the additional truck rolls that will be needed to fix local equipment failures. 

However the main headache that is created when new cell sites are added stems from the need to maintain RF equilibrium. CTOs of mobile networks are familiar with the complexity that stems from RF interference and overlap. Every change in the network topology, whether it is the introduction of new equipment or a whole new site, requires careful calibration, configuration and redistribution of the service area. This is a time-consuming, money-draining process. A task like aligning the antennas of adjacent sites under the constraints of the physical world involves many more challenges than architecting that same network on paper. In addition, the existence of additional sites multiplies the calibration efforts required, for example, when a new building is built since each site needs to be calibrated for every new source of interference. 

The shift to a clusterized approach delivers operational and financial efficiencies; decisions are generated based on broader input and policies are applied on a broader scale.    

With RAN Centralization operators gain network agility, the ability to adapt and re-allocate resources based on current needs.  Just like a chameleon, by leveraging the aggregated resources and awareness of multi-cell clusters, the network can now assume a variety of characteristics to appear as:

  • A high performance network, providing the latest services (e.g. video, AR, gaming) in a congested, highly competitive area/region
  • A cost efficient network, utilizing resources (spectrum, power) much more effectively
  • An adaptive network, capable of withstanding sudden peaks of activity through intelligent load balancing and resource management

Mobile networks have become a crucial part of modern digital living and the eventual shift to 5G will only increase their role in our lives. It is no wonder that competition between mobile operators is among the fiercest. In order to win this battle and generate healthy profits, mobile networks need to evolve to become much smarter, efficient, reactive and scalable. RAN Centralization and a cluster-based architecture will get them there.

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