Backhaul complexity: A key challenge in the evolution of mobile broadband

Jun 17, 2013

I find it amazing that my two teenaged children have no recollection of a world before mobile devices. Their smart phones are such an integral part of their daily lives, that when I recently mentioned we didn’t have cell phones, tablets or laptops when I was their age, they actually looked at me with shock and horror. No unlimited texting? No apps? Unimaginable! The speed of evolution in the capabilities of our mobile devices, and how we have integrated them into our daily lives has been nothing short of astonishing. What many people may not recognize, though, is the amount of evolution that has gone on behind the scenes to bring these services to life. Cell towers with their collections of antennas and dishes are now a common sight. Soon, we will be surrounded by an almost invisible array of new small cell sites geared to ensuring that we can continue to Face Time while sipping a coffee in the local café, or while heading down the stairs in the middle of a concrete office tower.

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Backhaul complexity: A key challenge in the evolution of mobile broadband

Connecting these cell sites, both large and small, back into the network has become one of the biggest challenges associated with the evolution of mobile broadband. Faced with varying geographical landscapes, site lease agreements, legal requirements and more, mobile network operators must consider using a wide variety of fibre, copper and microwave access technologies to provide connectivity to these base stations. On top of that, with a mix of 2G, 3G and LTE mobile services to support, there is a combination of TDM, ATM and increasingly IP traffic to transport. It quickly gets very complicated, and with complexity, comes higher operational costs.

To get a better handle on managing backhaul networks with a diverse service and access mix, many operators have successfully introduced IP backhaul solutions to bring speed, quality of service, and most importantly, operational consistency to their backhaul networks. This consistency has enabled them to realize considerable OPEX savings. However, there has been one piece of the puzzle missing: when it comes to using IP backhaul with cell sites connected by microwave, multiple boxes, with different management systems are typically required. This is a challenge as over 50% of the world’s mobile backhaul connections are currently supported over microwave links.

Putting the pieces together to simplify backhaul networks

With a strong heritage in both IP routing and microwave transmission, it was a natural step for Alcatel-Lucent to look at how we could bring these portfolios closer together to deliver more integrated, simplified solutions. Over the past three years, our R&D teams have been working together to make this a reality. The result is the industry’s first fully integrated IP/microwave backhaul solution. Why is this of value? Many reasons! Equipment footprint is reduced by 50%. Power consumption is significantly reduced. New microwave-attached cell sites can be turned up more quickly with fewer systems to integrate and provision. On-going operations and management are simplified. Overall backhaul costs are reduced.

Industry’s first fully integrated IP/microwave link goes live!

In April, we turned up our first fully integrated IP/microwave link with a leading operator in South East Asia. They were delighted with the results! We are now working with customers in the US and in Latin America, where both IP and microwave are being deployed in support of LTE service expansion.

With a solution that helps mobile operators more easily and cost-effectively deliver more coverage and capacity to their subscribers, the teenagers of the world can rest assured that their mobile lifeline will remain at their beck and call, whenever and wherever they need it. Mobile operators will also be well positioned to support the evolution of mobile devices and applications for many years to come, all supported by a more streamlined and simplified underlying mobile backhaul network.

For more information, please download our IP/microwave solution brief (PDF file). For other examples of how Alcatel-Lucent is helping mobile operators to simplify their backhaul networks, please visit our mobile backhaul solutions site.

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