Netradar is an extremely versatile platform and offers data and insights to solve numerous problems and do proactive network enhancements. In this post I open some of the use cases our customers are solving with the help of the Netradar mobile analytics solution.
The cases discussed in this post include:
Replace Drive Testing and legacy crowdsourcing
Conducting drive and walk testing has been the common way to measure mobile networks since the 90’s. These still seem to have their place, but more and more mobile operators are looking at solutions that would offer continuous monitoring of their service and wider coverage both in terms of geography and time – after all, a drive or walk test only analyses a limited path at a specific time.
Many mobile operators have also been somewhat disappointed with legacy crowd-sourced data because it does not help in developing the radio access network (RAN). The RAN is the most expensive part of the network and doing changes needs statistically valid amount of data and detailed KPIs. Legacy solutions based on speed tests can never offer enough data to fulfil the criteria. If one would like to solve the lack of data with very active testing of speeds using synthetic loads, the problem turns into network load and energy. A single speed test can create anything from a few MBs to a GB of data transfer into the mobile network and if one runs many tests per day, the combined load is quickly measured in terabytes or even petabytes.
Netradar’s unique hybrid measurement technology only consumes around 3MB per device per month. With this little data, the amount equivalent to loading a single web page, we provide a continuous 24/7 analysis of the network quality. And since Netradar does not use speed test servers, the deployment of the solution is extremely lightweight and easy. All the system components can be virtualized and run on an existing cloud platform offering easy scalability and cost-efficiency.
In summary, Netradar has very extensive features and our customers use our system in numerous ways. The beauty is that with a single solution, our customers can solve a number of daily issues and get data for enhancing their network. When Netradar is deployed with our customer, it also collects data from other mobile providers in the same market, and automatically generates the same analysis regardless of the network provider. This makes it possible to compare one’s mobile service to others and go beyond the competition.
As a final note, a small secret, we are working on real-time delivery of network analytics data. Already now our customers can configure how quickly data appears in their database, e.g., a few times per day or once per hour. In the near future, we get data of critical network issues in a matter of minutes or even down to milliseconds, providing a truly real-time network monitoring solution along all the already described features. But more of that in a future blog post.
Wireless signals propagate well in open space but when there are various kinds of obstructions on their path, the result can be anything between a perfect connection and fully missing service. Cellular networks are initially deployed using outdoor towers and over time problematic indoor locations receive their own base stations.
Indoor coverage is typically measured by going directly into suspected building and measuring manually radio parameters and speeds. This is naturally rather unsophisticated as it requires a lot of manual work. Legacy crowd-sourced data does have a location (latitude, longitude) with some accuracy but fails to really identify if a measurement was done indoors or outdoors.
Netradar includes a novel methodology to tell, in addition to the GPS coordinates, if some measured KPIs were collected indoors or outdoors. Moreover, we can tell how deep indoors certain measurement was done, or was the user e.g., technically indoors but next to windows and had a good visibility to the outside world. This helps tremendously in automating the measurements of indoor coverage without going on site.
Overall Network Coverage and Capacity
Cellular networks are designed using planning tools. These need the geography and buildings as input and build models how a base station at a given location and height could perform. The plan that comes out is a good approximation but only a real deployment tells how the mobile subscribers experience the service, indoors and outdoors.
Netradar’s unique technology gathers a huge amount of data with even a small deployment across a mobile provider’s customer base e.g. 10% of users having the Netradar solution. The data collected builds up very quickly and just in a matter of days one can see the true coverage and capacity of the network, and over the following weeks the picture becomes even more clear and exact. Network evolution is analyzed as the service changes and new base stations and radio technologies (like 5G) are deployed. We show how subscribers receive 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G NSA/SA signals and what speeds they are getting at specific locations. We also analyze load balancing and show how distinct locations are served with a mix of cells and frequencies. Moreover, an interesting metric is also the availability of 4G: 4G is still the dominant radio technology but even that is not available in all places, so knowing where there is a lot of data usage but people only getting 3G helps in enhancing the user experience.
A critical but hidden network problem is total lack of coverage. If people try to use data and there is no signal whatsoever, the mobile operator will not know this. Customers might complain but cannot tell where they were at that time. These black spots are not seen in any network statistics either.
Netradar has developed a unique technology to catch moments and locations where the user tried to use data services but could not get any connectivity from his provider. This analysis shows clear locations where no service was available and is therefore extremely critical for today’s mobile users.
Cell performance and faults
All modern cellular technology vendors, such as Ericsson and Nokia, offer a huge amount of data about a base station site and its performance. Our customers tell us often that these metrics they get have two major problems. First, the metrics give averages of a cell’s performance, load and radio values. These values are often rather homogeneous and do not reveal potential issues. This problem takes us to the second issue with overall cell metrics: Cell internal problems. A cell (sector) can serve very complex locations and have planned coverage from a hundred meter to kilometers. Overall KPIs cannot reveal how distinct locations within that sector receive the signal and bit rate.
Netradar shows the real effective coverage and capacity of a cell, and any issues in service even at a 1 m accuracy. This makes it possible to analyze cells and tie their true performance to geographic locations. Our cell performance analysis reveals issues e.g. in cell interference, tower height, direction of antennas and tilt of antennas.
Netradar cannot know what a cellular provider’s initial plan was which came from a planning tool. Thus, our analytics needs to be combined with the data coming from the planning tool to see what the plan was and what the real result is in the field. This comparison can be even automated if the planning tool can export the direction of each cell sector and their planned range. We can also automate finding locations with cross-feed issues minimizing the need to visit sites to check if cables are properly connected.
Moreover, as radio engineers do changes at cell sites, and surely try their best to optimize the service and do proactive network enhancements, you never know what the end results are. With Netradar our customers can analyze the performance before and after and see the effect of a change in a cell site.
With new 5G network, latency has become a critical topic. The industry has advocated 1 ms latency but this should be seen as the potential for a service that is run inside the base station itself. All network links in between the user and the service increase this latency, and so does the cloud platform. If subscribers are not getting the performance they expect and the user experience suffers, where is the problem? What is the latency of the radio network itself, the core network, and the peering networks where data might be residing?
We see increasing awareness in our customers on the meaning and impact of the real latency. Our analysis shows that a loaded network can create hundreds of milliseconds of latency in 4G, and we have seen latencies going up to 1-2 seconds in 5G. We also hear that the vendor of a base station hardware and the configuration used have a significant impact on the latency. As our customers know their network and the vendors, exact hardware, and configuration of each base station, we can help them in optimizing each base station to provide the best possible latency.