Heterogeneous Networks (HetNets), How Networks Will Be Shaped Moving Into 5G

As we look to the future of mobile networks it is undeniable that everything is becoming more complex. Not only are networks becoming denser but they are growing in size and scale. All of this growth requires more in-depth planning to make sure that the scaling and complexity doesn’t hinder these networks.

The Rise of HetNets

HetNets or heterogeneous networks are complex networks comprised of multiple types of devices, operating systems, and operating protocols. While this understandably can get a little bit confusing they are actually essential in providing the comprehensive cellular reception you expect.

All of this might leave you wondering exactly what a Hetnet is though. One easy to understand example is the computer network at your office. While some of you might run one operating system, say Windows, your coworkers could be using Mac or Linux meaning you will need to integrate these different systems onto one network. This is a very simplified example and doesn’t necessarily translate to wireless networks.

When referring to HetNets that affect your cell phones or other mobile devices we are talking about a Heterogeneous wireless network or HWN. This refers to devices using differing radio access technology. Radio access technology is the way that your mobile device communicates, for example, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G, or 4G.


The Benefits of Heterogeneous Networks

HetNets might not be perfect, yet, but they are the best solution to creating a comprehensive network to serve users in dense urban environments.


Mobile network


1. Spectrum Efficiency

There are only so many frequencies that radio communications can be broadcasted over so it is imperative to ensure that we use the spectrum efficiently. As more people use mobile devices on networks it becomes increasingly important for networks to use the spectrum efficiently.

Efficiency is also improved by using load balancing to allow network links to work together to maximize resources and speeds while minimizing latency.

2. Increased Coverage

Because the network is comprised of many different parts it provides much more comprehensive coverage than a simpler homogenous network. This means that more frequencies are covered, and covered more reliably.

3. Reliability

Perhaps the most crucial and important part of a HetNet is the reliability it brings. With all the parts working together it is the best tool for providing comprehensive and reliable coverage for mobile users.

The Problems Surrounding HetNets

While HetNets are the best solution to delivering cellular service to dense urban areas that we have currently, they are not without their problems.

1. Interoperability.

Like the name suggests this can be simply put as the ability for two or more devices to exchange information and services. When using this metric for two way radio communication (how your cell phone communicates) interoperability can be measured using three dimensions

-compatibility between frequencies, equipment, and signaling

-adequate signal strength and radio system coverage

-a properly scalable capacity

2. Handover.

This is one of the easiest problems to conceptualize.  Handover refers to the process of transferring ongoing calls or data transfers from one network to another. This can be something such as making a phone call while driving and leaving the range of one tower and being handed off to another or switching from data service to Wi-Fi on the same device.

3. Quality of Service

While the quality of service is not an inherent issue with HetNets, as with all things it something that providers are constantly striving to improve.

Quality of service is measured by a few metrics. The most common ones are packet loss (the loss of data during a transmission), bit rate (the speed of the transmission), and throughput (the maximum speed of the transmission).

While these are not the only ways to measure the quality of service these are some of the most important to end users.


Implementation of HetNets

HetNets are becoming increasingly common especially in larger American cities. One recent example of this is Verizon’s implementation of a RanPlan network in Plano, Texas. While this is neither the first nor the largest HetNet in North Texas it is the first to be designed using RanPlan’s revolutionary software that is allowing carriers such as Verizon to extensively plan out their new networks.

With RanPlan, wireless service providers are able to map out whole cities and surrounding metropolitan areas with detailed 3D CAD modeling. Using these models they can determine current radio and cellular coverage throughout the city and can run tests to determine future capacity and other important factors that will determine the need for wireless signals.


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