RAN Deployment isn’t what it used to be
Working on your car’s engine used to be a lot simpler. Accessing the pistons and cylinders, adjusting the timing, replacing the belts—sure, you had to know what you were doing, but it was pretty straightforward. Not so much anymore. There’s so much that needs to be done before you can even get to the engine (assuming you can physically get to it). Layers of electronics and sensors, safety systems, and more. Modern cars are much more complex and harder to fix yourself.
What’s this all got to do with RAN deployment? Everything. The Radio Access Network (RAN) is the engine that drives any cell site. As with the evolution of automotive engineering, the RAN has evolved into a complex ecosystem of components, subsystems, and supporting infrastructure. So, when you talk about RAN deployment, the discussion goes way beyond radios, baseband units, and antennas.
While the active and passive components in the Radio Frequency (RF) path are critically important, there’s a lot more to successfully deploying RAN. Depending on the customer, RAN deployment can involve site acquisition and permitting, purchasing, stocking of consumables (hangers, cabling, connectors, etc.), equipment staging and packaging, safety audits, cable rigging, lab testing, commissioning, provisioning, and more. Deployment of a single RAN can easily involve a dozen or more vendors and thousands of tasks, all which must be sourced and managed locally.
And therein lies the challenge for today’s network operators and owners. To better understand the issues, let’s dive deeper.
Today’s larger network operators have broad in-house resources for executing their own engineering and design work. Among other things, this allows them to negotiate directly with the technology suppliers to keep their CapEx costs down. These internal resources have developed to serve the network’s core technical capabilities. The challenge with RAN deployment is the sheer number of non-core processes, tasks, and responsibilities involved in every project.
For example, once the RF designs for a particular market are drawn up and the propagation models are run, each candidate site must be validated in the field to ensure suitability. That typically involves developing Site Candidate Information Packages (SCIPs) that characterize various aspects of the proposed site. Data regarding the RF environment, area structures that could impede the signal path, and potential right-of-way issues must be gathered for each candidate site.
Once the best sites are selected, they must be approved for zoning and permitting. That requires making construction drawings, applying for municipal permits, pulling attachment agreements, presenting at zoning board meetings, etc. The work is highly detailed, local, and time-consuming. When you’re trying to rollout a network expansion involving 100 new sites or more in a compressed timeframe, you can imagine the challenges.
As the project enters the installation phase, the tasks shift to logistical issues, like staging and packaging the equipment for each site, plus making sure all appropriate certifications are complete and up to date.
RAN deployment services gap
When it comes to managing the end-to-end process of a RAN deployment, network operators face several challenges. The first is having the right personnel onsite to manage the project. Some of these specialized skill sets are in high demand. The more skilled the positions, the smaller the available pool of talent.
For the network operator to fly in their own people is typically not an option. Often, the operator will choose to partner with small contractors in each market where the services are needed. Depending on the contractor and the depth of their resources, this can be a good solution. However, there are a couple of caveats, including the most important, which is that this model doesn’t scale. Nearly all “mom and pop” contractors have a local focus and network of suppliers. This works if a project is contained within the immediate area. Otherwise, the operators must coordinate and manage multiple contractors.
The second challenge is being able to tailor the services provided by the contractor on the fly. As the project evolves, there are always details and responsibilities not defined in the initial scope that must be handled. Smaller local contractors often do not have the bandwidth or expertise to cover these, leaving the operator to figure it out or handle it themselves.
There is also the issue of facilities. RAN deployment requires localized facilities where equipment can be checked in and stored, inspected and tested, packaged/kitted, then staged for deployment. The focus here isn’t just on space and infrastructure, but on whether the facilities have the proper certifications and controls from a safety and quality control perspective.
As RAN deployment grows more technically complex and the projects increase in scope and size, network operators are finding a market gap between stringing together several smaller contractors or handling the bulk of the work themselves. A new model pioneered by large nationally managed service providers (including TrueNet) has emerged to fill this gap and help operators meet their aggressive deployment timelines. This is known as the managed multivendor RAN deployment model.
Managed multivendor deployment option
In the managed multivendor deployment model, the customer (typically the network owner or systems integrator) contracts with a RAN deployment partner. Working together, they create a menu of unitized services designed to fill the customer’s in-house gaps with the understanding that the agreed-to scope of services may vary based on project variables and availability of resources. The RAN deployment partner serves as the general contractor for the project tasks assigned to them; execution of those tasks is handled directly by the partner or via a third party, which is vetted and managed by the partner.
There are a number of attractive benefits to the model. The customer can order exactly what is needed while increasing or decreasing the volume and/or scope to match their changing needs and address unforeseen circumstances. This relieves a lot of stress from the customer, who can focus on achieving the best outcome without having to worry about how to handle new elements of the project or out-of-scope changes.
At the same time, a large managed multivendor deployment partner typically has the field personnel, technical expertise, and local facilities to deliver all or any part of the project, regardless of its size, scope, or geographic footprint. The deployment partner is responsible for those parts of the project that the operator doesn’t handle.
Having a managed multivendor deployment partner as a ringmaster also provides a certain amount of accountability and streamlines communication during the project to expedite things like change orders. One of the biggest benefits of using this model is that it enables you to free up other internal resources that can then focus on strategic and business initiatives that are revenue positive.
Selecting a managed multivendor deployment partner
Due to the depth and breadth of resources, relationships, and facilities needed to sustain a successful managed multivendor RAN deployment model, the field of qualified partners is limited. In addition to the minimum qualifications—physical market presence, technical bench, and partnerships with local vendors—there are many less obvious capabilities to look for when selecting a potential RAN deployment partner, including:
- Interoperability testing: RAN interoperability testing in a controlled environment ensures all third-party vendor equipment and software function seamlessly together in an environment that replicates your existing network. Once RAN installation is complete, the entire system must be tested again. This time, the focus is on 5G Radio Units (RUs) and third-party RU compliance, virtual centralized units, and virtual distributed units.
- Material logistics: Being able to ensure component and system availability, plus synchronizing their delivery with the site readiness and installation schedules is critical to meeting compressed deployment ties.
- Safety management: Tower climbers continue to be one of the most dangerous job classifications and pose significant insurance risk for network operators. Whether the climbers are employed directly by the RAN deployment partner or indirectly by a third-party vendor, all required safety certifications for equipment and personnel must be current and documented. This requires spot audits in which the partner visits the climbing crew in the field to make a visual inspection.
- After hours availability: During zoning and permitting it will be necessary for one or more members of the RAN deployment team to be present at local meetings, often multiple times. As zoning and development councils typically consist of community volunteers, these meetings are usually held in the evenings. Check with your prospective RAN deployment partner to ensure they are willing and able to attend.
Enjoy a smoother, more efficient RAN deployment
Growing complexity in modern RAN systems coupled with more aggressive deployment schedules, plus a shrinking pool of skilled labor are forcing mobile networks to re-evaluate their RAN deployment strategies. To ensure a smoother, more efficient system turn-up, many are turning to the managed multivendor RAN deployment model.
By partnering with larger deployment services providers, like Fujitsu, networks are able to accelerate the time- and labor-intensive processes involved with end-to-end RAN deployment while making the best use of their in-house resources.
Fujitsu designs, deploys, upgrades, and supports wireless networks for national, regional and specialty carriers, and OEMs. Whether your project requires ICI technicians with manufacturer training and certifications, or skilled program managers to augment your existing staff, you can rely on Fujitsu to provide qualified personnel with the skills required to cost-effectively meet your RAN deployment requirements.
For more information on our managed multivendor RAN deployment services, please visit us at https://truenetcommunications.com/markets/wireless/.