Automating Small Cell Turn-up & SLA Management (2017)

By Darren Pralle, Spirent

The telecommunications marketplace is experiencing a significant growth in small cell backhaul and Ethernet backhaul service deployment. This year alone, revenues for mobile data and mobile networks have increased by 16% while total units are up by 35%. And these numbers are only predicted to grow.

By 2021, the small cell market will skyrocket to $2.2B with a CAGR of 8.4% and more than 2 million units deployed in the network to support the surge in mobile traffic (source: IHS). The number of small cells being deployed is going to vastly outnumber those of macro cells.

With the increased deployment and growth of small cells comes an increased demand for small cell mobile services. However, to truly realize the benefits of a small cell deployment, the cell must first be connected into the mobile network infrastructure. This connectivity drives the demand for backhaul services. The industry tends to refer to these backhaul services as Ethernet services, implying a single technology; however, small cells use a variety of technologies for backhaul connectivity such as microwave, hybrid fiber and coax, A/C cable networks, dedicated fiber, and more.

Small cell backhaul equipment revenue is predicted to grow to $1.2B in 2021 at a 5-year CAGR of 51%.

No matter the backhaul technology in place, the bottom line is that reliable, low latency connectivity is imperative for these small cells so they can deliver the high quality mobile services that customers expect.

To meet these high customer expectations, services need to be guaranteed with service level agreements (SLAs). SLAs govern acceptable levels of packet delay, jitter, loss, availability, and other key metrics for small cell connectivity to the core mobile network. The only way to effectively monitor backhaul SLAs is through continuous active testing of the links. While it is possible to turn-up and validate that backhaul services are working and small cells are functioning as designed, service providers need to be able to monitor these connections in real-time and in an ongoing fashion to ensure that SLAs are being met. Adding to the already complex nature of these deployments is the fact that many providers operate heterogeneous backhaul solutions using a plethora of technologies and equipment vendors. Services are needed in specific locations and the backhaul technology available to provide connectivity varies based on these locations. For example, some providers have invested heavily in fiber backhaul networks, while other providers use a mix of microwave, legacy TDM, cable modem, and hybrid fiber/COAX connections.

This paper explores key challenges service providers face as they deploy large volumes of small cells with heterogeneous backhaul connectivity. The paper explains how automation of small cell acceptance workflows can address these challenges and deliver significant benefits in terms of speed of deployment, cost savings and customer satisfaction.

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