Telefónica Germany and MicroNova have been collaborating on the configuration of Telefónica Germany’s radio access network (RAN) for over ten years. In the meantime, Telefónica has become Germany’s leading mobile communications provider. There has also been a lot of technological change. The transmission of mobile data has rapidly gained in importance, and the mobile network that was originally designed for voice and messaging has gradually evolved into a broadband network with large data volumes.
In an interview with the MicroNova customer magazine InNOVAtion, Zoran Gardijan explains how his company has mastered these changes and what challenges lie ahead.
Telefónica Germany decided very early on to perform configuration of its mobile communications network with a tool that permits a high degree of automation and process management. Where do you see the main benefits?
Configuring a mobile communications network is a complex task. It’s something that is very difficult to manage without the help of appropriate tools. For example, Telefónica Germany currently has around 25,000 physical mobile communications sites, i.e., transmission masts. And several thousand parameters need to be set at each transmission site in order to ensure optimum network quality. This would be a very costly and resource-intensive task without an application such as COM5.Mobile (formerly: CPCM), which automates the required processes as much as possible. The number of errors would also be significantly higher without the help of tools. Manual configuration is simply not reliable enough in this environment.
This is why Telefónica decided at a very early stage to automate the processes as much as possible with COM5.Mobile. The quality is higher while costs for network configuration can be kept as low as possible. This decision paid off very quickly and is still giving us a good return today, as COM5.Mobile allows us to deploy existing resources much more efficiently. What is more, the solution enables a consistent configuration management process, and thus, a precise and managed configuration. This means that we are always aware of the exact state of our mobile communications network.
What concrete challenges have you encountered over the past years when configuring your radio access network?
Our mobile communications network has evolved rapidly over the last decade and has become significantly more complex. One standard has developed into three. Besides voice, mobile data transmission has become the core application in our mobile communications network, and volumes are growing fast for both private and business use. Mobile communications networks are also being used increasingly to capture data from sensors – think “Internet of Things” and “Industry 4.0”. Operators have repeatedly expanded their networks in order to be able to meet the growing demand for mobile access to the Internet, with additional transmitters as well as two new mobile radio standards.
he introduction of these two standards was one of the greatest strategic and logistic challenges of the last decade. Network management plays a strategic role in this type of project. Only when this works perfectly can new technologies, such as the LTE high-speed data network, be rolled out smoothly over large areas. COM5.Mobile was of great assistance here. The tool enabled us to perform successful LTE network operations quickly and reliably.
A further challenge has been the consolidation of the mobile networks of E-Plus and O2 following the merger of Telefónica Germany and E-Plus. In a first step, we used nationwide roaming to join the two 3G networks together in order to give our customers an even more closely knit network at an early stage. This necessitated numerous changes to the network configuration. We also made a large number of significant modifications to the handover connections that transfer voice calls from one radio cell to the next. That was no easy task and would have been virtually impossible without a tool like COM5.Mobile.
Despite the increased level of complexity, the size of your team and network configuration have remained relatively stable. Is that all due to COM5.Mobile?
*laughing* Almost. My team is responsible for developing the planning applications for Telefónica Germany’s mobile communications network. While the complexity and the number of users have grown in recent years, thanks to COM5.Mobile, we have been able to cope with them without additional resources, and without piling up overtime day in day out. The fact that MicroNova has continuously developed and optimized its solution has also helped. This allowed us to consolidate the UMTS networks of E-Plus and O2 at the same time that we managed other major network projects.
With COM5.Mobile, Telefónica chose a solution that MicroNova customized very specifically to internal processes. What benefits do you think that this type of customizable solution brings compared with standard tools of the type offered by network providers?
Firstly, a standard application has not been available from network providers for very long. They have just recently come up with the concept of the self-organizing network (SON). Secondly, this type of tool doesn’t offer the efficiency that a customized solution such as COM5.Mobile offers. The range of functions is also narrower. Standard tools may well be adequate for use in very small countries with a correspondingly manageable mobile communications network, but it is worth investing in a customizable, multi-vendor solution for large and complex networks such as in Germany. MicroNova collaborated with us very closely to customize the basic COM5.Mobile to exactly match Telefónica’s internal processes. This has resulted in an efficient solution that integrates perfectly with our internal processes. This mix of standard product and customized solution combines the best of both worlds.
GSM, UMTS, LTE – in the past, a new technology in digital mobile communications has emerged about every ten years. And now, the next standard is ready to be launched, in the form of 5G or LTE Advanced. Do you believe that a new technology will continue to come along every decade? Or will one or more of the “old” standards disappear from the network?
In theory, there’s no upper limit to the number of technologies that can be used together in a mobile communications network. But it is very well possible that one or more standards will be removed from the network in the future. The limiting factor for the number of technologies that can be used is the number of frequency ranges, but a solution could theoretically be found here as well.
What effects will 5G have on your network configuration? Will complexity continue to grow, or will new technologies such as self-organizing networks (SON) make mobile communications networks more transparent for operators again?
In the current debate about 5G, I think we need to clarify whether it actually is a new technology or not. I believe that it will be more important to make better use of the spectral bandwidth and to optimize how individual technologies interact. There will be no change in the high level of network complexity without additional measures. SON technology is particularly interesting for network planning because it allows new rule-based software functions to be defined. This will bring about major changes. The result will be an additional system with new interfaces. The functions that will emerge, and the ones that will take us farthest, are currently being developed.