Since the beginning of 2020, global 5G networks have been gradually put into commercial use. With the expansion of 5G deployment from large operators in large countries to small and medium-sized operators in small and medium-sized countries, the small and medium-sized operators are facing practical issues of 5G development. These issues involve how to solve the lack of funds for 5G deployment when the cost for deploying 4G has just been recovered, how to deal with too long returns of 5G Capex when there are few terminals supporting 5G at present, and how to ensure 5G first-mover advantage if it is now impossible to invest in large-scale 5G deployment.
To address these issues and achieve low investment and high returns for operators, a new option for merging networks has emerged for 5G deployment. The solution enables two operators to merge their infrastructure 2G, 3G or 4G networks and jointly build and share a 5G network. Due to high spectrum costs and power consumption, 5G network will cause high Capex and Opex for operators. As a result, small and medium-sized operators are easily squeezed out of the market. To seize 5G opportunities, the merger network solution will become a new trend for these operators to deploy their future wireless networks. ZTE has rolled out a delivery solution for elite merger network that can help operators retain existing users and greatly reduce their Capex and Opex in existing infrastructure and new 5G network.
End-to-End Merger Network Solution
Merging different networks of two operators needs an end-to-end technical solution on the network side. The solution involves merging on both the core network part and the radio network part, and the two parts coordinate with each other.
Core network merger is the first step and needs to implement and verify multi-PLMN and new PLMN+EPLMN solutions. The two key solutions ensure that old users of the two operators can be identified and connected to the shared network, and roaming users as well as new SIM users can be rapidly registered to the network.
Radio network merger usually involves many devices from different vendors, and needs tailor-made solutions to meet actual requirements of each operator. The merger solutions focus on three key user experience indicators: user access, service continuity and mobility, and include many key technical solutions such as 2G/3G/4G multi-band interoperability solution, user access solution for merger area, user mobility solution for merger boundary, and multi-vendor equipment compatibility solution for the boundary. These solutions guarantee basic services and normal experience of call access, hold, and handoff for two networks' users during and after the merger process.
Identifying Valuable Areas
Based on multidimensional data from big data tools, MR, traffic, KPI, ACP, customer complaints, and VIP areas, planning of merger network can achieve real network re-planning and re-deployment. With the analysis of multidimensional data on the existing network, it is easy to identify valuable areas and help operators address their pain points. Accurate planning of merger network in valuable areas are carried out based on the existing network model. After the merger process, site capacity can be re-planned for the valuable areas as required by actual network traffic. This can significantly improve user experience in these areas.
In remote non-valuable areas, planning of merger network really considers operators' needs for cost saving. While ensuring basic coverage, redundant sites are offlined to reduce network maintenance costs.
Accurate planning of merger network will help operators effectively enhance user experience in hot spots and increase market profitability. It can also help operators significantly reduce unnecessary network O&M expenses and improve their return on investment (ROI).
Enhancing Network Value
In a merger network project of two overseas operators, ZTE proposed and verified several technical solutions in the onsite lab environment to meet special needs of the two operators. In merging two different telecom networks, problems of handover, re-selection, paging, and roaming between two networks' users at the merger boundary were solved. Seamless connection between the merger and non-merger areas could be implemented to ensure consistent user experience. However, due to many devices from different vendors as well as inconsistent parameter settings and strategies of the two operators in the merger network, there were some hidden issues that affected user experience and could not be reflected by KPI.
To find out the hidden issues in the network and improve user experience, ZTE collaborated with operators to trace, reproduce, and analyze each suspected one. Through abnormal signaling flow analysis, they located many conflict scenarios between core network and radio network in the merger network, and finally solved these hidden network issues by means of parameter optimization and hot patch optimization. This also helped to enhance user experience.
With the sites properly distributed, capacity increased in hot spots, and hidden network issues solved one by one after the merger, both user experience and satisfaction were significantly improved. ZTE succeeded in the delivery of an elite merger network for two operators, which enhanced their network value and brand reputation.
Looking Forward to 5G Deployment
Following the current global mainstream 5G NSA deployment scenario, the delivery of an elite merger network has laid a good foundation for 5G deployment and can bring many advantages.
While core networks are merged for two operators, the topology of their core network elements are optimized. This will facilitate 5G solution and save the cost of upgrading and deploying 5G core network in the future.
In the process of network merger, the transmission part on the radio side is upgraded and transformed. This will reduce great radio and transmission upgrade costs for subsequent 5G deployment. With the reasonable site planning and redundant site offline, operators can allow users in two networks to access 5G network with relatively little Capex. Moreover, with the increase of site density after the merger process, they can also achieve better network coverage.
For the future 5G NSA network, accurate site planning of merger network in valuable areas can take 4G anchor distribution into account, reduce the difficulty of 4G anchor selection, and save the planning and time cost in new anchor deployment.
After the delivery of an elite merger network, re-optimization for 2G/3G/4G basic networks will be completed to ensure good network quality and significantly improve user experience. This can avoid solving 2G/3G/4G basic network issues in 5G deployment, clearing up obstacles to 5G delivery.