Verizon testing SON, cognitive radio as part of network densification efforts

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DALLAS—Verizon has long talked about its efforts to densify its LTE network with technologies including small cells. But here at the 5G North America trade show, a Verizon executive added both cognitive radio technologies and self-optimizing networks (SON) to the list of techniques the carrier may use to improve its LTE network and prepare for 5G services.

Verizon’s Raed Omar Sbeit, a senior manager at the operator, listed small cells, cognitive radio and SON as some of the densification technologies Verizon could use to meet rising user demands for data. Indeed, Sbeit cited Cisco’s Visual Networking Index as evidence of the strains on Verizon’s network; earlier this year Cisco’s VNI reported that global mobile data traffic has grown 4,000-fold over the past 10 years “and almost 400-million-fold over the past 15 years.”

To address the drains on its network capacity, Sbeit said Verizon would employ small cells in an effort to densify its network. Those comments come as little surprise; Verizon executives for months have been discussing the carrier’s efforts to roll out small cells and other technologies to provide increased speeds and more expansive and reliable connections. “To make sure 4G LTE can handle our customers' ever increasing demands, we are challenging conventional approaches to network architecture by deploying fiber to cell sites and densifying cells to handle the constant demand on the network in high usage areas,” Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam explained during the carrier’s second quarter earning conference call earlier this year, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the event. “We are also optimizing 4G with new techniques, like centralized baseband architecture, carrier aggregation, and core network virtualization initiatives, which provide operating, capital, and spectral network efficiencies. The balance has shifted away from building capacity exclusively through spectrum.”

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Nonetheless, Verizon’s addition of SON and cognitive radio to the list of its densification technologies is noteworthy, though both technologies have received attention in the recent past.

For example, a Verizon executive told Light Reading last year that the carrier had completed trials of SON systems from Cisco and Ericsson as part of its network densification efforts. Verizon’s Brian Mecum added that Verizon would deploy the technology at some unspecified point in the future. The importance of SON to Cisco at least was underscored in 2013 when Cisco spent $475 million on SON startup Intucell.

Here at the 5G North America show, Sbeit said SON technology could aid with interference reduction, load balancing and coverage and capacity, among other things. He said Verizon has been testing SON technologies from Cisco, though he declined to provide any further details.

To be clear, Verizon isn’t the only carrier talking about SON technology. AT&T said it would deploy SON in 2013. And T-Mobile said SON was one of the technologies it deployed as part of its move to LTE Advanced.

As for cognitive radio, Verizon’s Sbeit explained that the technology could dynamically identify and use various spectrum bands based on customer demand. For example, a cognitive radio system could identify unused capacity on the 3.5 GHz band and dynamically move traffic from a heavily used band and into that relatively unused band.

Sbeit said that Verizon is testing cognitive radio technologies from multiple vendors, though he declined to provide details.

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