4G Upgrade Path Drives Backhaul Migration in Kenya

Safaricom's Internet Broadband Dongle (with SI...

Burgeoning WiMAX and 3G data traffic from subscriber devices such as Safaricom’s Internet Broadband Dongle (with SIM Card) are driving the mobile operator to migrate from TDM to hybrid microwave backhaul. (Photo credit: whiteafrican via Flickr)

Migrating legacy mobile backhaul networks that were designed for TDM traffic to add support for high-speed Ethernet data for 3G and 4G mobile technologies is one of the biggest challenges for operators worldwide. Each case is unique and poses its own quirks and potential pitfalls. Mobile operators must juggle new technologies, cost pressures and the need to maintain existing services or risk driving customers to the competition.

For Safaricom, the leading mobile operator in Kenya and one of largest in all Africa, the case involved preserving its E1 capacity for voice calls and simultaneously adding Ethernet/IP bandwidth for burgeoning 3G and WiMAX data traffic. As many mobile operators have done in the past, Safaricom built its network over time. Many parts of the network are still legacy 2G TDM technology. However, things are changing rapidly, with 3G subscriber numbers up 85 percent in 2011 year over year.

Many of these subscribers are consuming ever-increasing amounts of data bandwidth. Safaricom’s TDM based backhaul, making use of Ethernet-to-E1 converters, is finding it hard to keep up with demand. To help resolve the situation, the operator called on Aviat Networks, one of its incumbent solution providers. Using its market leading hybrid radio solution, the modular Eclipse microwave networking platform, Aviat Networks enabled Safaricom to add IP data capacity as necessary while keeping E1 capacity for voice calls.

In addition, the stage has been set for Safaricom to make the eventual migration to all-IP backhaul. With the modular Eclipse platform, it can transition on its own schedule. For more information, read the complete Safaricom case study in the frame below or download the PDF:

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Mobile Network Modernization in Africa

Africa Mobile Penetration Rates

Total African Mobile Connections and Penetration Rate (million, percentage penetration). Source GSMA Africa Mobile Observatory 2011

Throughout Africa a wind of change is blowing as mobile network operators ponder, and in many cases implement, a wave of network modernization. The trigger for this is multi-faceted. Booming subscriber growth, introduction of new data services and arrival of new undersea fiber optic cable links are combining to strain existing network infrastructure to the breaking point.

Booming Mobile Subscriber Growth
According to the GSMA , as of September 2011 Africa has overtaken Latin America with 620m mobile connections, making it the second largest mobile market in the world after Asia-Pacific. The number of connections has more than doubled over the past four years, with growth expected to continue at the fastest rate of all global regions over the next four years.

First Voice, Now Increasingly Data
Most networks across Africa were built many years ago to serve the initial rollout of 2G/GSM mobile networks that were designed to provide basic voice services. Many operators have since introduced data services using EDGE, 3G WCDMA, and, more recently 3G HSPA, putting an incredible strain on these networks. These data services can be vital for the operator, as they are often supporting premium, prepaid subscribers or new fixed line data services being offered for small and medium-size businesses.

One example of network modernization in action is in East Africa, where a mobile network operator saw subscriber numbers increase 9 percent in 2011, with 3G customers increasing more than 85 percent. This operator was also offering fixed data services to private and corporate customers through the deployment of WiMAX base stations collocated with the existing mobile sites. All this new data traffic was growing exponentially and fast outstripping the legacy backhaul network capacity. The operator also had to ensure that existing voice traffic was protected.

Priorities Driving Network Upgrades
Today, several priorities are driving network operators to upgrade their networks including the need for:

  • Increased capacity
  • More efficient use of backhaul spectrum resources
  • Support for increasing volume of Ethernet/IP-based traffic
  • Network Simplification
  • Reduction in Capital and Operational Expenses

These five priorities are closely interrelated. For more details, download the complete article.

Stuart D. Little
Director Corporate Marketing
Aviat Networks

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