By Mark Gibbs, Director, Product Management, Guavus

Subscribers have developed an insatiable appetite for mobile bandwidth, as they consume a growing array of data-intensive applications and services.
Juniper Research recently forecast that mobile devices will generate a whopping 197,000 petabytes of data by 2019.

Whether they’re checking-in with family over Skype, or watching Game of Thrones on live streaming apps like Periscope, subscribers are piling pressure onto mobile networks.

As a result, operators are racing to build out their infrastructure to support demand, investing heavily in LTE technology.

Whilst 4G is still being rolled out, attention is already turning to 5G and its potential to deliver multiple gigabits of mobile data per second.

However, next-generation radio access network technology is no silver bullet for the capacity crunch.

The simple truth is that data is growing faster than network capacity and planning divisions can keep up with.

What’s needed is a new, more strategic approach to network planning, using operational intelligence that blends business data with OSS data in real time to provide insights for more accurate decision-making and optimised business processes.

Here are five key ways in which network planning analytics can help to ensure investments in 5G are a success.

1. Infrastructure planning

Analytics can help operators to more accurately forecast the infrastructure required to support new 5G enabled smartphones, roll out next-generation services like VoLTE, or even expand into new geographies.

It can also provide a better understanding of the impact that new content providers looking to capitalise on faster connection speeds, such as OTT services like Netflix, could have on bandwidth demands.

The operational intelligence provided by big data analytics can be used to correlate information from network elements to provide insight into traffic and content usage per device, application and geography; helping operators to more accurately predict uptake and plan capacity accordingly.

2. Maximising RoI

The bidding war for 4G licences in the UK alone racked up a jaw-dropping £2.3 billion and that was before the mind-boggling costs of network upgrades were accounted for.

When looking at the potential for 5G, operators need to ensure they get it right when the bidding starts.

This presents a huge challenge for those responsible for efficiently managing capex spend and deferral at a time when data revenues are stagnating. Network and capacity planning divisions must walk a tightrope of sustaining profitability whilst maintaining customer satisfaction.

As such, their 5G investment decisions can’t be based on anecdotal evidence or best guess scenarios; they must revolve around future revenue and usage forecasts.

These can best be generated through analytics that fuse live streaming data with historical network data to compare how usage has evolved, where it is today and where it’s likely to go once 5G lands.

3. Improving quality

The arrival of 5G will raise subscribers’ expectations for quality of service (QoS) even higher.

Long latency while live video streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat buffer, or patchy connections during live video calling will become a major annoyance for a generation of subscribers that expects seamless connectivity.

Many subscribers in the UK complained that 3G connections worsened following the arrival of 4G, so operators must not only be ready to meet the expectations for 5G, but also ensure that there is no negative impact on those still using older parts of the network.

Planning analytics can better equip operators to deal with these challenges; such as by isolating and preparing for traffic congestion or bandwidth issues and optimising capacity to ensure consistent QoS.

They can also provide insights that enable operators to scale networks dynamically in physical and virtual environments and automate self-optimising and self-healing networks to reduce the burden of dealing with common faults; preventing service outages before they impact subscribers. This will be a major game-changer in the Software Defined Networks that many operators are already starting to roll out.

4. Cost optimisation

As they develop pricing plans for 5G, operators must consider how they can maximise profitability. Key to this will be optimising the costs of service delivery.

The first step is to understand how usage patterns will develop once 5G arrives.

However, analytics can further be used to more accurately forecast how costs are likely to evolve based on end-to-end traffic utilisation, looking at factors such as the behaviour of subscriber clusters, device profiling and penetration.

Cross-referencing these data points across applications and geographies can provide detailed visibility into operational costs; identifying inefficiencies and pinpointing the most profitable customers.

These insights can help operators to identify how overheads are likely to change with the arrival of 5G so they can minimise costs and deliver pricing plans that balance competitiveness with profitability.

Analytics can also be used to combat revenue leakage, detecting unusual or suspect behaviour, such as illegal tethering and enforce policies in real-time to mitigate any impact on network or service quality.

5. Operational management

Operators can also use planning analytics to segment, trend and forecast network-wide service consumption to assess the demand and likely impact on their underlying resources.

This capability will be essential as the industry gears up for 5G, giving operators the ability to isolate and plan capex investments to ease bandwidth bottlenecks and ensure QoS and spend on next-generation LTE is optimised.

For example, operators may want to invest more heavily in 5G in areas where their infrastructure suffers from poor video quality, or there is a high penetration of live video streaming apps over areas where it is simply congested with voice traffic, which can be eased in other, less costly ways.

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