By Caroline Gabriel, Research Director
Analysts are in a unique position to assess the way service providers are thinking, and every so often, there is a tangible change in that thinking, which impacts on the whole ecosystem. In the past couple of years, one of the key watchwords has been ‘multivendor’.
Mobile operators have tended to stay in the comfort zones of end-to-end systems supplied by one or two well-established suppliers. That has some advantages, notably a high level of integration and of vendor stability. But it also has many disadvantages, including the limited freedom for operators to shop around for the best solutions, and drive competition and better pricing with a vendor neutral approach.
The profound changes taking place in the mobile architecture as 4G evolves towards 5G are seen by many operators as an ideal opportunity to break the stranglehold of the traditional equipment suppliers. Heterogeneous networks made up of large numbers of small cells, and the move towards virtualization, both encourage a multivendor approach.
Indeed, in a recent survey of MNOs, conducted by Maravedis-Rethink, the ability to adopt a multivendor strategy emerged as the second most pressing reason to invest in a HetNet (after cost: capacity improvements).
However, a decision to mix and match network equipment has a knock-on effect throughout the procurement process. For instance, it will be essential to have tools which can support equipment from any supplier. Network optimization systems, for example, will need to be able to work with a widening range of RAN architectures, and with equipment from any supplier, present or future.
That makes a strong argument for a vendor-neutral approach to optimization tools, especially as these become increasingly critical to the successful implementation of the network. Functions such as self-optimizing networks (SON), cell planning and dimensioning, video traffic management - and the many other tools which are needed to make a modern RAN perform at peak efficiency – will no longer be useful add-ons, often bundled in by the network equipment provider. Rather, they will be essential for the operator to maximize capacity and flexibility from the complex new architectures, and so to ensure return on investment (ROI).
In the small cell world, then, multivendor deployment and high levels of optimization, especially SON, will often go hand-in-hand. This helps to explain a shift in thinking, visible in two surveys of MNOs, conducted in 2013 and 2015. In the earlier study, over 70% of MNOs planned to rely primarily on their equipment vendor for optimization. In 2015, only 15% were committed to an NEP solution for future projects.
So as the HetNet takes off, there will be an increasingly strong argument for vendor-neutral optimization solutions, whether tools or hosted services. These are better designed for multivendor networks and come from suppliers whose primary business is in optimization, not selling equipment. This significant change in operator thinking is set to open up a competitive new market for specialized network optimization vendors as the 4G HetNet evolves.