AT&T's Rinne: Using SON helps improve throughput and reduce dropped calls

CHICAGO--AT&T (NYSE:T) Mobility is using a variety of technologies and tools, including distributed antenna systems, self-optimizing networks, small cells and its growing number of Wi-Fi hotspots, to address the demand for wireless broadband.

Kris Rinne

      Kris Rinne

AT&T Lab's Executive Vice President of Network Services Kris Rinne, who was speaking at the 4G World conference here today, provided some specifics on how the company is managing its network to accommodate the growing data usage, noting that two-thirds of the data on the network is from a combination of streaming and Web surfing, with the remainder coming from email and app services. 

In particular, Rinne highlighted the company's use of self-optimizing networks, or SON, noting that the company first implemented SON in mid-2011 and has now deployed it across its network. Specifically, Rinne said that SON has reduced the call drop rate by 10 percent and improved throughput speeds by 10 percent. In addition, the company has seen a 15 percent reduction in loaded cell sites.

Rinne also touted the company's use of distributed antenna systems, which she said can double voice and data capacity. AT&T is currently upgrading its DAS to LTE and using five-beam antennas which can increase the network capacity up to five times. She gave an example where AT&T used a nine-beam multi-beam antenna at a convention in San Diego and the company delivered 5 terabytes of data across its network during the five-day event.

Another technique AT&T is using to improve its network is a distributed architecture in which the radio is placed at the top of the tower or rooftop instead of in a cabinet with the base station. The company then uses fiber to connect the two components. Rinne said that by having the active radio components near the antenna it brings the base station closer to the user, reduces power consumption and also boosts the performance of the LTE network. 

Small cells, according to Rinne, are now an essential tool in the network toolkit, and she said that AT&T is very focused on using metrocells (which she defines as cells that can address 32 to 64 users simultaneously) in high-use urban hotspots such as train stations and hotel lobbies. "We also use metrocells to fill coverage holes in the macro-network," she added.

Rinne also touted the company's Wi-Fi hotspot network, which it uses to offload data traffic. That network, which includes more than 30,000 sites in the U.S. and more than 190,000 globally, is not only being used to offload AT&T's traffic but also other operators. However, Rinne declined to name those operators or provide more details.

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