Major Wireless Network Infrastructure Provider
Cellular Tower and Infrastructure
Mobile subscribers have a growing appetite for applications and video, demanding access to data at any time in any place – and all the time in every place. Coverage lapses are often met with irritation from traditionally fickle subscribers, and interference on the cellular tower is the first suspect. As a result, carriers immediately turn to tower owners whenever coverage lapses occur. To prevent interference on multi-carrier cellular towers, tower owners must conduct ongoing inspections that leverage the latest network testing technologies, backed by a 24/7 network operations center (NOC).
One of the nation’s largest independent tower owners and operators has tens of thousands of towers in most of the top 100 U.S. markets. The cellular tower company found a solution with AirMagnet Spectrum ES from NETSCOUT. With the AirMagnet Spectrum ES, the cellular tower company’s technicians can quickly visualize carrier and technology overlays to identify and diagnose interference. The product saves time and reduces errors with location-specific automated carrier and technology look-up, instant detection of voice/data events, and zero-day interference intelligence.
NETSCOUT AirMagnet Spectrum ES™
“AirMagnet Spectrum ES is a great product with a lot of advanced features. The Internet connection is a huge selling point for us. I love that it goes out to the FCC website and pulls down listings of all frequencies approved for use by the carrier. We haven’t found that feature on other testers. Plus, the price is what attracted us the most. We bought 30 of them without blinking.” – Regional network operations manager for a leading cellular tower owner and operator
Mobile devices are no longer just for talking. Subscribers have a growing appetite for mobile applications and video, demanding access to data at any time in any place – and all the time in every place. Coverage lapses are met with irritation from traditionally fickle subscribers, and the cellular tower is often the first suspect. As a result, carriers immediately turn to tower owners whenever coverage lapses occur.
Owning and operating cellular network towers and other infrastructure requires a lot of technologies and services that go unseen and unappreciated. In each city, thousands of cellular towers are required to host the carrier transmitters and other hardware that makes wireless voice and data possible. Adding to the complexity, each tower is a mixed environment, with transmitters from multiple carriers, each transmitting at a different frequency and spectrum.
Tower owners must focus on safety, reliability, and regulatory compliance to provide a suitable environment for carrier-grade communications. Regulatory compliance is of utmost importance as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allots each carrier certain frequencies. If one carrier’s equipment falls out of tune with the specific frequency range, it causes interference for all other carriers transmitting from the tower.
To prevent interference on multi-carrier cellular towers, tower owners must conduct ongoing inspections that leverage the latest network testing technologies, backed by a 24/7 network operations center (NOC). For one of the nation’s largest independent tower owners and operators (which operates tens of thousands of towers in most of the top 100 U.S. markets) that means NETSCOUT and its AirMagnet Spectrum ES.
“Our business is based on very stringent service level agreements with each of our carriers, and we take those agreements very, very seriously,” said a regional network operations manager at the leading tower company. “Interference is usually at the heart of coverage lapses, so we try to stay on top of it at all times. Otherwise, there is no way we can meet our service level agreements.”
“Cellular towers experience a lot of interference – more than you might think, given the advanced state of modern technology,” said Mark Reichenbach, business development manager for wireless carriers at NETSCOUT. “This makes it extremely hard to troubleshoot network issues since it may be originating from hardware, software, or just plain interference.”
To identify network performance issues, cellular tower owners must be able to verify network signals. The traditional method is to use a tiered structure of support staff. Tier one swings into action first, traveling to the site to conduct a visual inspection, make sure all hardware is in place and that no physical issues are causing the interference. If that doesn’t resolve the problem, a second-tier technician with limited tools visits the site to take a deeper look at hardware and software, with the goal of isolating the issue. If the problem still isn’t resolved, a third-tier technician goes out with additional tools (typically a heavy-duty spectrum analyzer) to conduct extensive testing across all frequencies and spectrums.
“Centralizing expensive tools like spectrum analyzers may reduce initial cost investments, but sending multiple tiers of support technicians to and from the field is a terrible waste of time and resources,” said Reichenbach. “You would think that the inefficiency and impact to service level agreements would dissuade the practice, but the high cost of most equipment is worth the risk for most cellular tower owners and operators.”
The intermittent nature of most interference issues hampers tiered technical support models because it’s difficult for technicians to catch the interference exactly as it is happening to identify the root cause. While ongoing monitoring would catch the interference, such an approach isn’t possible with centralized tools.
“Oh boy, did we need a solution,” continued the regional network operations manager. “Our goal was to find an inexpensive spectrum analyzer that still delivered the full suite of testing capabilities needed. This solution would allow us to equip each technician with the tools needed to isolate performance issues immediately – no more tiered technical support structures needed.”
Reichenbach introduced the regional network operations manager to the AirMagnet Spectrum ES from NETSCOUT, a professional-grade RF spectrum analyzer available in a portable, affordable package. The AirMagnet Spectrum ES speeds in-building cellular deployment, using rich spectrum graphs with next-generation visualization and enhanced in-field productivity features that provide the network visibility needed to validate and troubleshoot every stage of the project. It quickly generates professional FFT graphs, spectrogram graphs, spectrum density graphs, and frequency duty cycle graphs.
The AirMagnet Spectrum ES includes support for multiple technologies, including GSM, CDMA, UMTS, and LTE. It scans frequencies between 698 MHz and 2690 MHz (with support for 2G/3G/4G). The product includes the industry’s first automated classification and location of RF interference sources along with automated, location-specific carrier and technology spectrum scans, which are needed to verify and troubleshoot every stage of the project lifecycle. These features help ensure offload deployment and troubleshooting are done quickly and correctly.
“The AirMagnet Spectrum ES is a great product with a lot of advanced features,” said the regional network operations manager. “I have to be honest, though. The price is what attracted us the most. We bought 30 of them without blinking.”
The low price point of AirMagnet Spectrum allowed the company to deploy a unit with every technician eliminating the need for the traditional time-consuming tiered service approach. The company deployed its 30 units across the United States, allowing each of its six regions to have multiple units on hand.
With an AirMagnet Spectrum ES, the cellular tower company’s technicians can quickly visualize carrier and technology overlays on the FFT graphs and data/voice events. The product saves time and reduces errors with location-specific automated carrier and technology look-up, instant detection of voice/data events, and zero-day interference intelligence.
The AirMagnet Spectrum ES connects to any Windows-based laptop or tablet, via a USB-based spectrum adapter. Running on a PC not only allows users to re-use their existing computing platforms, it facilitates Internet access so carrier network technicians can download the most up-to-date frequency listings and other information in real time.
“The Internet connection is a huge selling point for us,” said the regional network operations manager. “I love that it goes out to the FCC website and pulls down listings of all frequencies approved for use by the carrier. We haven’t found that feature on other testers.”
The FCC referencing allows users to see which carrier has which spectrum space assigned, helping to map multi-tenant environments and make sure no one is overstepping their boundaries. Users can easily notice if a piece of hardware is operating outside of its allotted range, causing interference for other carrier hardware on the tower.
AirMagnet Spectrum ES also allows NETSCOUT to provide continual software and firmware updates, which ensures that each customer can take advantage of the latest technologies and features at all times, thereby protecting their investment in NETSCOUT.