Carrier Aggregation and Optimization

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I don’t know how many of you have been reading about carrier aggregation but it’s pretty cool. This is where the carrier, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint to name a few, can take multiple channels of LTE and make them look like one big pipe for all of your data. How cool is that?

So the reason carriers would want Carrier Aggregation is to get the biggest bank got the buck by combining as many channels as they can to get a bigger pipe. Why does this matter to them? It matters because they have several smaller channels that they can combine to make all those channels look like one big pipe, sweet! One massive pipe for backhaul. See the gain for the end-user? More bandwidth! That is the “value add” for the customers. It means to the carrier that they can use all that spectrum they have once it is converted from CDMA to LET and put it together to look like one big awesome pipe for the Smartphone on steroids! 

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In theory you could have inter-band or intra-band carriers working together. What does that mean? Intra-band would be 2 channels in the same band and inter-band would be 2 channels in different bands. The cells putting this out do need to be co-located and have the same azimuth. Now they plan to have more channels aggregated in future releases. Someday they plan to have 2 uplink and 4 downlink channels all working together. Can you imagine getting 600Mbps down to your tablet or phone?

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How do they do it? Well, it is a combination of the core work to allow the aggregation and the RAN to understand what is going on. However, you also need to let the devices know what to do because you are going to make everything work together, like a concert where all the instruments play together to bake a beautiful song, or at least a song that sounds good, the entire end to end, (E2E), system needs to work together. Is that cool or what?

This is for LTE, but what about FDD and TDD, does it matter. At this time I believe it does, because they can aggregate the same formats and they are working to combine both a FDD channel along with a TDD channel.

Is it part of 3GPP? Yes, Release 10 and beyond. Currently it’s 2 carriers working together. I believe that the latest release is 14.x and maybe 15.x.

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It means that once LTE-U takes off then they can add that in too, eventually. I know that they are already looking at ways to have LTE-U and LTE licensed all work as one. This could really change everything for shared carrier locations, like stadiums or large buildings where all the carriers, in theory, could share a common small cell. Just a theory at this point but I can see it coming in Wade’s World.

However, when it’s tested there need to be steps taken. For optimization in the past they had to test one device per channel. Now that device needs to be able to look across several channels and make sure that the all the information is calculated and put together properly. This is happening now. There is 2 carrier aggregation happening now so the optimization teams are already doing the upgrades. Great job Optimization teams!

If you wonder what is involved in optimization, then here it is. A few methods, like getting information from you system monitor, NOC, customer complaints, or anything that collects coverage data. You can make a determination on where to go to repair problems. However, when you first bring a site up and want to get it properly integrated into the cluster, then you need to optimize the site. I know that OEMs are working to make this automated with SON, but for now there are drive teams that drive around collecting data with device, usually some type of smart phone connected to a laptop and there is a software package, usually JDSU, that collects the data. With this data the RF engineer can tell if the antenna is pointed in the proper direction and if the down tilt needs adjusted. They also can change the power settings or make other adjustments as needed. In today’s eNodeBs there are so many adjustments they can make to have the site and cluster perform at its peak. They take this data and compare it to their Key Performance Indicators, KPIs, to see if it is performing as it should be.

If the RF Design team did their job right then it should work as planned but sometimes there are outside issues that cause problems. For instance a new building could go up or maybe there is a source of interference nearby or maybe they can’t penetrate a building like they had hoped, it is all possible. So that is why they do it.

Optimization is also done after the installation because carriers are always working to make improvements. This is a huge drain on resources but it needs to be done. The theory is that someday the Self Organizing Network, SON, server will monitor and make adjustments. I don’t this it is there quite yet. They do have SONs out there but they are not doing remote optimizations that I know of.

So, in today’s world you usually have a drive team that will drive around selected grids or clusters. Then you have the RF team that will make adjustments. And you have a PM that organizes everything. If you are a class operation you will have a solution architect handy to look at the system end to end and make recommendations. Pretty cool, right?

For more Optimization information go here.

BTW – Aggregation definition is “the gathering of things together” according to Google. For more information on carrier aggregation go here.

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I am putting a deployment handbook that will be focused around small cells and CRAN. It will be geared towards deployment but a good reference overall. It will have most of what I post but also some extra notes is it.  If your interested, feel free to sign up for my newsletter below. 

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