How can Operators Address Network Bottlenecks of Frequency Resources?

Before the arrival of 5G, upsurges in 4G traffic have brought several difficulties and challenges to networks.

Obviously, this is a contest of speed and passion.

Operators can attract customers and seize new business opportunities brought by traffic growth only when they provide faster speeds, wider coverage, and better services.

A number of international leading operators have taken the lead in upgrading the network and attained a market leadership position. Vodafone Turkey is a perfect example that warrants further study. This operator worked closely with Huawei to explore innovative strategies for improving network performance. In 2017, Vodafone successfully put Huawei's CloudAIR spectrum cloudification solution into commercial use in Trabzon, a city on the Black Sea coast of Turkey. The network KPIs and user experience were significantly improved, and the LTE data traffic on the entire network increased by 20%.

Addressing Network Bottlenecks of Frequency Resources & Regaining Leadership

In fact, Vodafone Turkey, like most operators, was facing huge network challenges.

On April 1, 2016, three major operators in Turkey, including Vodafone, announced the launch of 4.5G services, allowing for user migration from 3G networks to 4.5G networks.

After the release of 4.5G services, Vodafone Turkey reported a significant increase in traffic. In only one year, the LTE traffic grew by a factor of three times, with the data of usage (DOU) exceeding 3.5 GB.

The sharp increase of traffic requires Vodafone Turkey to improve LTE network capacity and coverage at the earliest opportunity, thereby winning a well-earned reputation and gaining market dividends from traffic growth. However, Vodafone Turkey's spectrum resources were insufficient for improving network performance.

Among Vodafone Turkey's existing spectrum resources, only the 10 MHz bandwidth on the 1800 MHz frequency band and the 5 MHz bandwidth on the 900 MHz frequency band can be used for LTE deployment. The operator was at a severe disadvantage in spectrum resources compared with other competitors.

In addition, purchase prices of spectrums are quite high in Turkey. For what are considered precious frequency bands such as the 900 MHz band, the auction price once exceeded US$30 million/MHz.

As a result, the LTE network capacity and coverage provided by Vodafone Turkey was simply incapable of meeting such increasing user requirements. At this critical juncture when LTE was on the verge of explosive growth, Vodafone Turkey was potentially at risk of losing market leadership due to the bottlenecks of frequency resources.

Fortunately, Vodafone Turkey selected an opportune time to focus on LTE network deployment and was successful in reaping the subsequent benefits.

Increasing Spectral Efficiency Though Joint Innovation

In December 2016, Vodafone decided to focus on LTE network deployment to improve LTE capacity and coverage for regaining the leading position in Turkey. This operator cooperated with Huawei (a strategic partner) to explore solutions for enhancing LTE network performance through joint innovation.

Vodafone Turkey and Huawei set up a joint project team and conducted multiple in-depth communications. Huawei discovered that Vodafone Turkey had not yet fully used the 900 MHz band for LTE deployment. In this case, Huawei customized the CloudAIR spectrum cloudification solution for the operator.

Huawei's CloudAIR spectrum cloudification solution enables dynamic spectrum sharing between GSM and LTE. Previously, Vodafone Turkey opted to separately deploy the 5 MHz LTE bandwidth and 7.2 MHz GSM bandwidth on the 900 MHz band. After the deployment of CloudAIR, LTE and GSM networks were able to dynamically share the 12.4 MHz bandwidth. With the traditional solution, only the 5 MHz LTE bandwidth can be deployed. However, with the introduction of CloudAIR, this enables the deployment of 10 MHz LTE bandwidth.

At the beginning of 2017, Vodafone Turkey began the testing and commercial verification of Huawei's CloudAIR spectrum cloudification solution. After three months, Vodafone Turkey completed the beta tests and fully verified the feasibility and commercial value of this solution. Based on the results of these trials, the operator then decided to implement the solution in a large scale.

At the end of 2017, Vodafone Turkey successfully completed the commercial deployment of Huawei CloudAIR in more than 6000 sites nationwide. This solution quickly improved LTE coverage and capacity, greatly reduced total costs of operation (TCO), and supported the "Video+VoLTE" strategy. In addition, with this solution, the LTE data traffic of the entire network increased by 20%.

Specifically, Vodafone Turkey can reuse 80% of existing devices on the live network. LTE networks can be quickly deployed on the 900 MHz frequency band with minimal hardware reconstruction.

In terms of coverage and capacity, this solution can increase the LTE cell capacity by up to 90%. When the same coverage effect is achieved, Huawei's CloudAIR solution can reduce 33% site construction compared with the site addition method on the 1800 MHz band.

This solution increases 5 MHz bandwidth for Vodafone Turkey on the 900 MHz frequency band. Based on current spectrum purchase prices in Turkey, US$168 million is saved in spectrum investment.

Optimal Choice

Huawei's CloudAIR spectrum cloudification solution is apparently an optimal choice for operators to quickly improve LTE coverage and capacity and reduce costs.

Mallik Rao, CTO of Vodafone Turkey, remarked that "Spectrum resources are valuable. Unlike traditional spectrum refarming, Huawei's CloudAIR spectrum cloudification solution enables dynamic spectrum sharing among multiple RATs and upgrades spectrum allocation, replacing the traditional static type of distribution with readily available on-demand allocation. This has allowed Vodafone Turkey to maximize the efficiency and value of spectrums and significantly improve user experience on LTE networks."

At present, Vodafone Turkey plans to deploy Huawei's CloudAIR solution nationwide to improve network performance, create a winning market reputation, and gain considerable commercial dividends brought by increasing traffic

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