VoLTE means… finding new ways to optimise the RAN

Good news: users seem to like VoLTE. Bad news: as more and more of them use it, visibility and control of LTE radio networks is going to be critical. Worse news: optimising the RAN is hard, and LTE makes it harder. Better news: help is at hand.

truecallRAN optimisation will be critical to delivering a successful VoLTE user experience, but traditional 2G and 3G RAN optimisation techniques may not be up to the job. A new approach is required, says Marc Bensadoun, CEO of Newfield Wireless, a Tektronix Communications company.

LTE optimisation is different
Planning and building a radio access network is the most capital-intensive part of building a network. After the planning is completed, the priority then shifts to optimisation. This is the stage where most LTE operators are currently. They are building out their networks to accommodate users and meet growing demand, while also addressing new service complexities, such as VoLTE.

The issue for LTE operators is that when it comes to LTE, optimising the RAN for voice and messaging, as they did for 2G and 3G, is no longer sufficient. Traffic patterns are changing and operators need ongoing, real-time intelligence about what is happening at the network edge. Because of this, RAN management and optimisation have become vital to deliver on the potential of LTE, as the RAN holds the key to ensuring quality network performance for subscribers.

RAN optimisation is vital because of shifting usage patterns
70 percent of subscriber issues now occur inside the RAN, and at least 10 percent of those problems are not resolvable with existing monitoring workflows.

As customers continue to migrate from 3G to 4G and consume more data, it has become essential to identify network pain points, learn where there is excess capacity, and understand what equipment types are experiencing the most issues.

VoLTE makes optimisation even more vital
VoLTE presents us with an entirely new dynamic. This is a next-generation voice service that will ultimately replace traditional voice as a core communications service, so the delivery and ongoing management will be critical to its success. Customers take voice for granted and they’re not prepared to tolerate any of the problems commonly associated with data services, such as buffering or latency.

Operators worldwide are now investing heavily in VoLTE services and there are a number of live commercial deployments. VoLTE traffic in the U.S. has increased sharply triggered by the launch of the VoLTE-compatible iPhone 6 and 6 Plus

VoLTE is taking off – witness these stats on iPhone 6 users
We generated data via our RAN geoanalytics platform which shows that 3G voice calling on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is one-fifth of that on previous iPhone models, with users now adopting VoLTE services. Our data analysis also showed that iPhone 6 Plus users are consuming more than 120 MB of mobile data daily per device, which is double that of users on any other type of device. For example, we found on average, iPhone 5s users were consuming 60 MB of data on one day. Conversely, iPhone 6 users were consuming 80 MB of data.

This demonstrates a desire from customers for better quality calls and next-generation services.

VoLTE has made a rapid impact, and this trend will likely continue as more operators expand their LTE networks and add new features, such as video calling. This is just the beginning. We anticipate VoLTE will become a standard feature on all 4G-enabled devices.

With that in mind operators really need to get RAN optimisation and monitoring sorted
More operators are realising the value of real-time intelligence to not only reveal vital device analytics and plan for the launch of new services but also to manage the impact both will have on network resources and the subscriber experience. Legacy solutions such as drive testing are rapidly becoming inefficient and untimely methods to collect network coverage data. This leads to huge gaps in operators’ knowledge and limits the ability to implement new technologies, such as SON.

That means having a complete E2E visualisation of the network
Armed with network usage data and full network visualisation, operators can dynamically pinpoint issues at the user and device levels in real-time, track those issues across the network, optimise accordingly and identify network congestion and device issues as they happen in real-time.

By having a complete end-to-end view of what’s happening, user data pulled from the RAN can be used to ensure mobile networks are more resilient than before. This has never been more important, particularly as deep network intelligence will form some of the most important operational and tactical or strategic decisions in the immediate future, and at present it’s all too often the most usual information remains hidden deep within the network.

By unlocking the value of user data contained within the RAN, studying traffic patterns, identifying network interference and tracking dropped calls, operators will be in a better position than ever before to provide the highest levels of voice and data  communications.