LTE's challenge for network troubleshooters

Fluke Networks
Wednesday, 27 November, 2013

Customer demand is driving LTE providers to develop new skill sets and services to optimise spectrum use, and test and maintain networks.

Operators worldwide are rushing to migrate from 2G and 3G services to 4G technologies, and, once deployed, operators must optimise their LTE mobile broadband network. No sooner is LTE deployed than operators must initiate network engineering plans for the integration and overlay of voice over LTE (VoLTE) functionality, and to free up the valuable spectrum still consumed by 2G and 3G voice services and re-farm that spectrum for LTE.

“One critical area of concern is testing and troubleshooting the network once it is deployed,” says Chris Taylor, Fluke Networks&’ Regional Sales Director, Asia Pacific-HATA Region. “Prior to LTE and VoLTE, troubleshooting via signalling tests was the standard mode of operation. The advent of true mobile broadband services has raised the bar for network engineers, especially those whose experience has primarily been within the mobile communications silo. New knowledge, skill sets and equipment are vital to quickly and effectively mitigate service issues.”

LTE and VoLTE provide customers with a giant leap in their user experience. Wireless customers are experiencing better service levels and broader coverage as networks are deployed. The data rates of LTE are far superior to 3G rates and this translates into customers using more applications and services that depend on the higher speeds.

Mobile data and voice communications customers are dependent upon the flexibility wireless devices provide to both the enterprise and personal-use sectors. Mobile broadband users continue to demonstrate an ever-expanding appetite for more interactive connectivity, whether streaming video, online gaming, opting in for push notifications or any of the myriad applications encouraging them to keep their devices always on. ‘Always on’ has become the gold-standard service mode for enterprise and personal users of mobile broadband.

“Meeting customer demands is the cornerstone of a financially sustainable mobile broadband business,” says Taylor. ”Optimisation of an LTE network results in an immediate and positive financial impact to the operator, both directly and indirectly.

“However, LTE and VoLTE networks help operators effectively meet their customers’ demands and benefit from enhanced revenue stream only if there is sufficient network coverage within the service market and if the network operator is capable of quickly resolving user experience issues and to restore optimum service,” he added. “Traditional troubleshooting tools fail to achieve the results LTE demands.”

The critical traits required of troubleshooting equipment that handles problems and accomplishes the goal of always on, are: connect; capture; identify; and solve. The traits can be identified by four functional capabilities.

  1. Performance. The test equipment must be scalable to effectively handle the operator’s load requirements.
  2. Visibility. Network engineers must be able to immediately and clearly see packet-level metrics when problems arise and be able to know exactly where in the communications channel the gaps are.
  3. Portability. The equipment must be constructed to quickly and also cost effectively be transported to the specified location no matter what the conditions and when it is needed.
  4. Usability. The equipment must be easy, eg, plug-and-play, for field technicians to operate yet provide the comprehensive capture and analysis required by more skilled engineering personnel usually located far from the testing site.

“As LTE broadband networks are deployed and expanded network engineers are presented with increasing troubleshooting challenges,” says Taylor. “It is critical that operators are equipped with an all-in-one troubleshooting tool that can discover, analyse and determine the issue in minutes rather than hours or days. Accomplishing this goal requires tools that deliver maximum visibility of both signalling and applications data.”

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