Now’s not the time for operators to be quiet and conservative. In the US, the leading network operators are all engaged in a vigorous battle to prove who can deliver the fastest data downloads, with the best coverage. Any pretense over complying with the ITU’s original definition of 4G have now been dropped in the marketing campaigns from each company, with now LTE, WiMAX 802.16e and even HSPA+ now being aggressively promoted as 4G (more about this in a future post). Nowhere else in the world are three mobile technologies slugging it out for dominance.
These efforts have been reinforced by discussions (and even demonstrations) of LTE download speeds of 50, 80, 100 Mbit/s and more. A slew of new LTE-capable devices were unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month. Eleven new LTE networks have been launched, with 147 operators committed to LTE at the end of 2010. There’s little wonder that predictions of cell-site backhaul capacity of many 100’s of megabits and even gigabits are not uncommon.
Fiber Solves Everything?
With the focus on download speeds, the market appears to have forgotten the past issues associated with backhaul. Or perhaps, the assumption is that they have all been solved. Operator difficulties associated with the introduction of the iPhone in 2009 appear to be well behind us, but the reality is that backhaul remains one of the biggest headaches.
Operators have largely fended off further scrutiny of potential backhaul problems by talking up how they are rapidly deploying fiber throughout their networks, or deploying 100’s of thousands of new leased lines. This has led some commentators to declare that only fiber can support the backhaul needs of LTE. Fiber to every cell-site means no more capacity issues. Problem solved!
Unfortunately the reality is not so tidy. Capacity is just one of the issues that face operators when preparing their backhaul networks for 4G. Since backhaul can represent up to 50% of a network operators costs, any poor decisions made there can seriously affect the bottom line.
Instead, backhaul is a multi dimensional puzzle, balancing network capacity, cost, complexity and coverage. Next post I will explore the real backhaul needs of 4G, based upon a bottom’s up technology assessment, that paints a very different story.
Director of Marketing, Aviat Networks