The organized network

A self-organizing network (SON) is an automation technology designed to make the planning, configuration, management, optimization and healing of mobile radio access networks simpler and faster. SONs can offer automated functions such as self-configuration, self-optimization, self-healing, and self-protection. These functions are made possible through artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, and pre-optimized software algorithms.

SONs strive to make complicated network administration a thing of the past by enabling the creation of a plug-and-play environment for both simple and complex network tasks. This is in stark contrast to the traditional implementation of cellular wireless networks we see in enterprises today, most of which require teams of technicians for maintenance, management, and optimization.

SONs automatically recognize and register new access points/base stations made part of the radio access network (RAN). Neighboring radios automatically adjust their emission power and other technical parameters (such as emission power, antenna tilt, etc.) to avoid interference and maximize both coverage and capacity. Self-configuration is typically supplied as part of the software delivery with each radio cell by equipment vendors.

Self-optimization automatically optimizes base stations’ technical parameters for a specific purpose. For example, a self-optimizing network could optimize wireless airtime resources to make sure specific service level agreements per device and application groups are maintained at times of congestion, high device density and changing spectrum availability. One of the first SON features establishes Automatic Neighbor Relations (ANR) while others optimize random access parameters or mobility robustness.

Self-healing allows the SON to automatically heal itself when base stations fail and connectivity is lost. Self-healing networks adjust adjacent cells’ parameters to provide continued service — or at least minimize degradation of service — to affected users. This function of SON permits to spot such a failing base station immediately in order to take further measures, and make sure there’s insignificant degradation of service for the users.

Self-protection means the self-organizing network automatically defends itself from penetration by unauthorized users. The primary goal of self-protection is to maintain network security and data confidentiality.

ANR helps facilitate smooth signal transitions from cell to cell as a device moves through a cellular network. This has been a very complicated and laborious task for human operators, but can now be handled through SONs. ANR works constantly to analyze and communicate with neighboring cells to make sure handovers are timely, reliable, and efficient.

There are three types of self-organizing networks: distributed, centralized, and hybrid.

Distributed self-organizing networks relay commands that are distributed across the edge of the network where each node exchanges information with each other. This type of architecture allows more flexibility than a centralized SON, and enables the network to respond and see changes on the network more quickly. A challenge with this type of network architecture is that each node’s optimization doesn’t always make sure that the network will improve as a whole since each node acts as its own relay.

Centralized self-organizing networks’ functions are centralized at higher-order network nodes. Commands, changes, settings, and requests are distributed directly from the network management console, and then propagated out to each node. This type of SON can easily scan and take in all aspects of the network, allowing the algorithm to make better decisions regarding optimizations and future configurations. A drawback of this configuration is slightly longer response times when compared to a distributed SON.

Hybrid self-organizing networks are a mix of distributed and centralized SONs. Hybrid environments attempt to strike a balance between the advantages of the approaches, where the network can both quickly respond to changes while maintaining a centralized method of management.

SONs help enhance networks in many ways, even networks that already have in-house IT staff working on the network. They can help enterprises in improving network performance, reducing network downtime, increasing user experience over private cellular networks, reducing overall capital expenditure, and improving IT staff efficiency.

Since SONs rely on algorithms and artificial intelligence, self-healing and performance management of the cellular network can be done instantaneously and without human intervention. While there are plenty of infrastructure and application management tools available today, many can only automate fixes and solutions with rigid pre-made scripts. In a dynamic enterprise environment, these scripts often need constant optimizations.

Unlike scripts, SONs can automatically learn and adapt to network changes over time. Their flexibility allows all elements of the network to be taken into account before applying a change, or setting a configuration. This ability to intelligently assess the network topology before making changes gives large organizations the confidence to scale and deploy changes faster than ever before.

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