In our previous blog about the risks associated with a single-vendor, siloed approach to Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), we introduced some of the challenges around CBRS device management. In this blog, we go further down the management path to take a closer look at the key platform capabilities you’ll need to tackle CRBS device management challenges.
But first, there are two points I cannot emphasize enough:
- Efficient CBRS device management will play a crucial role in your ability to successfully support and retain CBRS subscribers, while ensuring operational costs don’t consume profits.
- You need to start thinking about how you’re going to tackle CBRS device management challenges, and how CBRS device management fits into your overall operations before you begin proofs of concepts (PoCs) and trials.
Understand the Big Picture
One of the main reasons the two points above are so important is the sheer number and variety of devices in CBRS networks.
CBRS networks include a large number of devices, often from multiple vendors, which communicate using different protocols. They operate at different speeds, use different technologies, and have different firmware update requirements.
There are access devices to consider, as well as gateways, that may be connected to a modem and a set-top-box, or to home automation devices that send data and video to subscribers’ handheld devices.
All of these devices must be carefully monitored and managed to ensure quality of service (QoS) is maintained and subscriber quality of experience (QoE) exceeds expectations. If there is an issue, network operations center (NOC) staff must immediately be aware of it so they can troubleshoot and resolve the issue before it becomes a major problem.
A Single, Scalable Management Platform for All Devices Across All Networks
With so many aspects of so many different devices to monitor and manage, a unified device management platform is essential. The time, effort, hassles, and costs of operating and using multiple device management platforms creates too many inefficiencies.
The device management platform must provide centralized control over all devices in the access network — access points, gateways, and customer premises equipment (CPE) — regardless of their type, their vendor, or the protocols they use. Additionally, it must be able to support all of these elements whether they deliver services over 4G LTE, 5G, cable, fiber, or CBRS.
The device management platform must also seamlessly scale to support your ongoing evolution. The number and types of devices in your access network will only increase, new technologies will inevitably emerge, and additional spectrum may become available. It’s very reasonable to expect your device management platform to scale horizontally to support millions of devices.
To deliver these broad capabilities, the device management platform must support the Broadband Forum TR-069 specification for CPE WAN Management Protocols (CWMP), as well as the TR-369 User Services Platform (USP) specification. Support for these specifications ensures the platform works with devices that use older protocols such as SNMP, IoT protocols such as MQTT, and next-generation protocols.
If you don’t choose a unified device management platform, evolving beyond CBRS will be more expensive, complex, and painful. There’s a good chance you’ll have to rip and replace your existing technology stack.
Proactive Alerts, QoS, and QoE Measurements
An uninterrupted, high-quality customer experience is essential for market success. You can’t afford to wait for an unsatisfied customer to call and complain about poor service to become aware of issues with signal quality, high signal-to-noise ratios, or other problems in the network.
To ensure you can detect and resolve issues before those calls come in, the device management platform must monitor key performance indicators, such as network speed and latency, and provide the actionable insight needed to act proactively. In addition, it must be able to send alerts when the number of offline devices reaches a defined threshold so staff can immediately begin troubleshooting the root cause.
You also need the ability to schedule network quality assessments to target peak traffic times and avoid overwhelming your network with performance data. For example, you may want to schedule latency tests for specific groups of devices during the same peak time period, but on different days of the week.
Remote Device Lifecycle Management
All of the devices in your CBRS network will need firmware upgrades at various points in time.
The device management platform must allow you to schedule automated upgrades and device restarts at a time when they will create minimal disruption for subscribers. If the firmware upgrade resets the device configuration, the platform must also automatically re-apply the appropriate settings. You absolutely do not want to have to spend time or money sending technicians to the field to reapply device configurations.
While many device management platforms offer bulk firmware upgrade functionality, there are two features that set superior platforms apart from the rest. Look for platforms that provide the flexibility to:
- Install and test firmware upgrades on a small subset of devices before installing it on all devices that require the upgrade. This eliminates the risk of widespread issues if there are problems with the upgrade.
- Verify that the settings on the device match the settings listed for the device in the management platform. This allows you to proactively identify devices where the firmware upgrade did not go as expected and correct the settings before customers experience issues.
Watch for the Operations Side of the Management Story
All of the capabilities described in this blog to help optimize CBRS device management have added benefits: they also help you streamline operations to reduce costs. In our next blog, we’ll explore additional opportunities to keep CBRS operations profitable.