A new service brings new traffic patterns, placing new demands on the network. VoLTE is a great example, and making sure it will work properly means adopting different priorities for planning and ongoing optimisation – both in the radio access network (RAN) and core. Here, Daniel Ramirez of TEOCO outlines some basic principles of optimising a network for VoLTE.
Optimising for VoLTE: overcoming the challenges facing operators
By Daniel Ramirez, Director of RAN Products, TEOCO
VoLTE (Voice over LTE) can provide fertile ground for operators looking to differentiate. It enables operators to migrate their voice call traffic from current 2G and 3G networks to LTE networks, and to reallocate this finite spectrum to IoT or “regular” LTE instead.
But launching and supporting VoLTE is not always as straightforward for operators as it may seem. As services worldwide gain in popularity, it will place new and never-before-seen demands on operators’ LTE networks. New types of traffic generate new patterns of usage among subscribers. The operator’s network may not have experienced this before, and may not have been optimised to manage this change.
Covering the basics
As with other new services, the challenges presented by the launch of VoLTE can be very different in developed and developing markets. Within developing markets, a vast majority of the challenges associated with VoLTE fall into the category of ‘covering the basics’ of radio access network (RAN) design and optimisation.
VoLTE is a data service, and so the RAN design must be optimised to the right levels for it to deliver the right quality. However, whereas a normal data call can be throttled down if the subscriber is in an area of low quality (high interference), a VoLTE call has a guaranteed rate of service. This means that, if the quality of the network is anything less than average, the demands of VoLTE calls can grow exponentially and this can result on a few users rapidly hogging a lot of the capacity available in a cell.
With VoLTE, when a device registers a CQI of 7 or lower, the network responds by sending a disproportionately large amount of cell resources to the device, in the form of Physical Resource Blocks (PRB’s), hogging capacity. This causes the overall quality of the network to decrease.
To explain how this happens, we need to understand a metric called “Call Quality Index” (CQI). This is an indication sent from the user device to the network, with CQI 1 representing the best quality and CQI 15 the worst. When the handset reports low conditions the network responds, but it does so differently for data than for VoLTE services. With VoLTE, when a device registers a CQI of 7 or lower, the network responds by sending a disproportionately large amount of cell resources to the device, in the form of Physical Resource Blocks (PRB’s), hogging capacity. This causes the overall quality of the network to decrease.
This puts specific pressure on LTE-only networks, because, without the luxury of a 3G network to fall back on, demand from VoLTE calls creates a massive capacity issue. The continued growth of this problem, from the moment the network dips to ‘below average’, is something that must be kept front of mind by operators when deploying VoLTE services in developing markets. They must get the RAN fundamentals right, as well as ensuring that the network is better than average. Otherwise VoLTE will have a negative effect on overall quality.
Optimising the core
In developed markets, any challenges inherent in VoLTE deployment are very different because networks have been established for longer, and there is a better overall understanding of LTE. The biggest difference is when the network is of a high quality. In this case any issues around VoLTE tend to be found in the core network, and on the user devices themselves, rather than the RAN.
In order for operators to reap the benefits that VoLTE can bring, in both developing and developed markets preparation and planning is key.
Specifically, VoLTE issues within developed markets are related primarily to the EPC (Authentication failures, Gateway failures, Network failures, QoS handling failures) and IMS (SIP timeouts, Bearer control issues, diameter failures, service integration issues). Challenges can also arise between domains, where it can be difficult to pin point the root cause of issues – their location and whether it was the device, the RAN, the EPC, or the IMS.
In order for operators to reap the benefits that VoLTE can bring, in both developing and developed markets preparation and planning is key. To successfully launch and support VoLTE, operators need to plan for a range of network performance issues. The right mobile network planning and optimisation steps will play a central role in delivering a high-quality VoLTE experience for subscribers.