What Is a Self-Organizing Network? SON Overview & Explainer

In plain English, we’ll explain what a self-organizing network is, how it works, what it does, what types there are, and what benefits it offers to enterprises.
Private Mobile Network Blog
Network Architecture

In plain English, we’ll explain what a self-organizing network is, how it works, what it does, what types there are, and what benefits it offers to enterprises.

What is a self-organizing network? (And how does it work?)

So what is a self-organizing network (SON)? Self-organizing networks are radio access networks (RANs) that automatically plan, configure, manage, optimize, and heal themselves. SONs can offer automated functions such as self-configuration, self-optimization, self-healing, and self-protection.

SONs strive to make complicated network administration a thing of the past by enabling the creation of a plug-and-play environment for both simple and complex network tasks. This is in stark contrast to the traditional implementation of cellular wireless networks we see in enterprises today, most of which require teams of technicians for maintenance, management, and optimization.

What does a self-organizing network do?

SON can offer a variety of different functions, including self-configuration, self-optimization, self-healing, and self-protection. These functions are made possible through artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, and pre-optimized software algorithms.

Self-configuration means the SON automatically recognizes and registers new access points / base stations made part of the radio access network (RAN). Neighboring radios automatically adjust their emission power and other technical parameters to avoid interference and maximize both coverage and capacity.

Self-optimization automatically optimizes base stations’ technical parameters for a specific purpose. For example, a self-optimizing network could optimize wireless airtime resources to ensure specific service level agreements (SLA) per device and application groups are maintained at times of congestion, high device density and changing spectrum availability.

Self-healing allows the SON to automatically heal itself when base stations fail and connectivity is lost. Self-healing networks adjust adjacent cells’ parameters to provide continued service—or at least minimize degradation of service—to affected users.

Self-protection means the self-organizing network automatically defends itself from penetration by unauthorized users. The primary goal of self-protection is to maintain network security and data confidentiality.

Automatic Neighbor Relations (ANR) helps facilitate smooth signal transitions from cell to cell as a device moves through a cellular network. Traditionally this has been a very complicated and laborious task for human operators, but can now be handled through SONs. ANR works constantly to analyze and communicate with neighboring cells to ensure handovers are timely, reliable, and efficient.

What are the types of self-organizing networks?

There are three main types of self-organizing networks: distributed, centralized, and hybrid.

Distributed self-organizing networks relay commands that are distributed across the edge of the network where each node exchanges information with each other. This type of architecture allows more flexibility than a centralized SON, and enables the network to respond and see changes on the network more quickly.

A challenge with this type of network architecture is that each node’s optimization doesn’t always ensure that the network will improve as a whole since each node acts as its own relay.

Centralized self-organizing networks’ functions are centralized at higher-order network nodes. Commands, changes, settings, and requests are distributed directly from the network management console, and then propagated out to each node.

This type of SON can easily scan and take in all aspects of the network, allowing the algorithm to make better decisions regarding optimizations and future configurations.

A drawback of this configuration is slightly longer response times when compared to a distributed SON, where you tend to trade a bit of speed for additional control and precision of the network assets.

Hybrid self-organizing networks are a mix of distributed and centralized SONs. Hybrid environments attempt to strike a balance between advantages between the approaches, where the network can both quickly respond to changes while maintaining a centralized method of management.

Self Organizing Network (SON) use cases

The main benefit of SONs is that their inherent automation reduces the need for costly manual, human attention for installation and network management. Instead, the network is quicker to install and easier to maintain while providing higher performance.

SONs help enhance networks in many ways, even networks that already have in-house IT staff working on the network. This can help enterprises in by:

  • Improving network performance,
  • Reducing network downtime,
  • Increasing user experience over private cellular networks,
  • Reducing overall capital expenditure, and
  • Improving IT staff efficiency.

Since SONs rely on algorithms and artificial intelligence, self healing and performance management of the cellular network can be done instantaneously and without human intervention. While there are plenty of infrastructure and application management tools available today, many can only automate fixes and solutions with rigid pre-made scripts. In a dynamic enterprise environment these scripts often need constant changes, and optimizations to keep up with the ever changing network environment.

Unlike scripts, SONs can automatically learn and adapt to network changes over time. Their flexibility allows all elements of the network to be taken into account before applying a change, or setting a configuration. This ability to intelligently assess the network topology before making changes gives large organizations the confidence to scale and deploy changes faster than ever before.

While SONs do much of the heavy lifting, they still require someone knowledgeable about cellular networks to ensure it is functioning correctly, and interpreting network changes as intended. Even with some of the limitations found in the different SON architectures, self-organizing networks still remain incredibly efficient and proactive when compared to traditional cellular and WiFi networks.

Self-organizing private mobile networks

Self-organizing networks benefit not only traditional WiFi networks, but private LTE and 5G networks too.

With the latest advancements in private spectrum options for the use of cellular wireless, such as CBRS in the United States, enterprise organizations can now establish their own private mobile networks that can take advantage of SON - similar to Celona’s integrated solution for private cellular in the enterprise.

Advancements in network automation have made distributing and managing enterprise cellular networks simpler and more efficient than ever before.

The Celona Solution

Celona’s solution enables enterprises to plan, deploy, and manage private mobile networks by leveraging the latest SON technologies. Artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques are used within its software-defined approach to help prevent downtime, improve network performance, and meet required network SLAs.

To test drive Celona’s technology in your organization, sign up for our free product trial today.

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