To cope with increased data demand, mobile networks are slowly evolving from single technology overlay networks into a complex mix of network technologies commonly referred to as a Heterogeneous Network, or HetNet. A HetNet is a wireless network with a complex topology and interworking between access nodes of various sizes, radio access technologies, and cell types. For example, a HetNet is typically made up of an overlay macro cellular network to provide broad coverage and a dense mix of small cells for very high capacity, using both traditional cellular radio technology (2G, 3G, 4G) and non-cellular technologies such as Wi-Fi.
The creation of these HetNets has not occurred in a coordinated, pre-planned manner, but rather they have evolved as network operators use short-range cells to plug coverage gaps and increase the capacity of their networks. Another factor in their creation is operator hesitance to switch off older radio networks such as GSM due to their widespread usage, coverage density and lack of coverage with newer technologies. Additionally, operators are still looking to maximise the return on investment already made in these networks.
The aim of these HetNet environments is to create an extremely high capacity network which always strives to use the best access technology for the particular subscriber, use case and device. Different cell types and technologies have different advantages; for example, small cells are required for short-range, high-capacity areas such as shopping centres or train stations, while macro cells are required for long-range, high-speed mobility and low population density areas. The best way to meet all of these requirements is a HetNet. Using heterogeneous access technologies provides increased overall system capacity by increasing the available spectrum, while using small cells greatly improves indoor performance and increases cell densities to maximise frequency re-use and minimise the number of users per cell.
HetNets come with increased network complexity and management costs. A key challenge for operators is having the network intelligence to seamlessly integrate the mesh of access technologies both in terms of network management and device network selection.
Users are typically agnostic to the underlying access technology to which they are connected and are only concerned with the quality of experience they receive. This is a challenge for operators; they must manage the device connectivity as the user roams across a HetNet environment consisting of access technologies with different characteristics and levels of congestion. This must be achieved all while delivering a seamless and consistent user experience.
Openet’s ANDSF and PCC solutions enable service providers to monetize their HetNet by enabling differentiated data management and charging based on a deluge of network and subscriber information. Openet’s dynamic client and server ANDSF solution provides operators with granular control over device network selection decisions across a HetNet environment. Operator defined policies help determine when, where and under what conditions a device will move between cellular and Wi-Fi. These decisions take into account a wide variety of contextual information used for network selection decisions including access technology awareness, time, location and individual subscriber information. Further, with PCC integration, the solution can utilise a plethora of other core network information to determine device network selection. The solution also incorporates device monitoring capabilities to provide customer experience and network performance information back to the operator.
Openet’s Interaction Gateway (IG) provides another avenue for HetNet monetisation by providing enhanced subscriber engagement and smart up-sell of offers. The IG can provide users with offers tailored specifically to them based on their profile, consumption and location – for example, enabling the purchase and real-time provisioning of data add-ons and Wi-Fi passes.