Sophisticated and feature-rich, the rise of the smartphone continues unabated. According to a February 2011 comScore report, there are now more than 63 million smartphone users in the U.S. alone, a one-year increase of 60 percent. Of those millions of subscribers, 38.4 percent used their phone’s web browser, 36.6 percent downloaded apps, and 26.8 percent connected to a social networking website or blog. Driven by mobile user demands for “anytime, anywhere” connectivity, it is apparent that ubiquitous Ethernet is no longer the wave of the future – it is the reality of today.
Mobile operators and the incumbent and alternative operators including CLECs, MSOs, tower providers and utilities that serve their transport requirements have turned to Ethernet as the solution to building higher bandwidth, more cost effective backhaul networks. Mobile backhaul networks optimized for the requirements of profitable new mobile data and video services require an order of magnitude higher capacity and scalability, stronger QoS support for timing-sensitive voice services, better transport utilization and lower cost-per-bit than the backhaul networks of the past.
Mobile users are increasingly availing themselves of the bandwidth-intensive rich media connectivity offered by smartphones, creating surging demand that brings operators welcome opportunities for tapping into emerging revenue streams. Network operators, however, are taking significant fiscal and performance hits, eroding potential gains. Ensuring that network capacity can keep apace of usage demand means greater investment in new equipment. In April 2011, international market research firm, Infonetics, reported 89 percent of all mobile backhaul capital outlays in 2010 were directed towards IP/Ethernet platforms, with the overall worldwide mobile backhaul equipment market soaring to a high of $7.9 billion by 2015. Says Infonetics’ principal analyst and co-founder Michael Howard: “As operators refresh their 2G networks and transition to 3G, they almost universally adopt IP/Ethernet as the mobile backhaul solution to lower the costs of growing mobile data traffic, using IP as the base technology for 3G, LTE and WiMAX networks.”
With a significant percentage of tower sites currently served by lower-speed legacy copper infrastructures, the long transition to fiber-based IP/Ethernet backhaul is an imperfect answer for operators needing a near-term solution. Ultimately, the realization of “Ethernet everywhere” will be achieved through an amalgamation of technologies – copper, fiber, wireless and microwave – tailored to best fit each market’s geographic and economic climate.
Therefore, the reality of ubiquitous Ethernet means that fiber is not the only path forward and that there are other alternatives for cost-efficient delivery of 100 Mbps Ethernet services over existing architectures, including copper. The growing trend towards multi-service carrier Ethernet platforms presents operators with an evolutionary path for bridging the fiber gap, while still allowing them to capitalize on new Ethernet revenue streams as their networks migrate from 2G to 3G and beyond.
Multi-service technologies are an inspired solution for meeting rising bandwidth demands while maximizing returns from previous copper infrastructure investments and cost-containment strategies. Leveraging enhanced pseudowire and timing synchronization technologies, these platforms enable simultaneous delivery of native TDM and Ethernet over the same bonded-copper group.
And with technology advances now enabling speeds of up to 100 Mbps via copper, multi-service platforms can generate up to tenfold bandwidth increases to most wireless towers. Additionally, multi-service technologies are exceptionally flexible and scalable, with their ability to allow any service to be delivered over any media via any port. Offering easy deployment in any point in the network, multi-service platforms also allow for network vendor consolidation and set the stage for emerging “pay-as-you-grow” models.
As copper still represents a significant portion of the access media to cell sites, a product solution that enables higher bandwidths via copper and fiber, from 50 Mbps up to 10 Gbps, represents the best option for carriers looking to scale mobile backhaul bandwidths today.
In today’s dynamic economic climate, operators must balance meeting bandwidth demand with the need for cost controls. With bonded copper infrastructures now able to deliver 100 Mbps, multi-service platforms that amalgamate copper and fiber technologies are a high-performance, reliable and cost-effective transport option for mobile backhaul.
There is no doubt that legacy copper infrastructures do and will continue to play an important role in the evolving mobile backhaul story, even though fiber is the preferred media. Where fiber deployment is not practical or cost-effective, bonded copper infrastructures can be a viable solution, provided the solution offers timing synchronization support. As carriers move forward to quickly address providing higher backhaul bandwidths from mobile cell sites, copper and fiber together will become the key to achieving that anytime, anywhere Ethernet connectivity for mobile backhaul that bandwidth-starved mobile users demand.
Vijay Raman is vice president, Marketing & Product Management, at Overture Networks.