January 16, 2013
The Inevitability of Mobile Backhaul 2.0
By Brian Protiva
CEO, ADVA Optical Networking
The demands on providers of mobile-backhaul services have grown significantly more complicated over the last several months, with the rollout of Long Term Evolution (LTE (News - Alert)) offerings and ongoing growth in users and bandwidth.
In the not-so-distant past, offering mobile backhaul-connections from cellular towers to radio access network (RAN) controllers was basically a transport-centric, wholesale business.
By and large, network operators sought point-to-point connections of a single class of service and dedicated capacity with no oversubscription that delivered dependable service availability.
Today’s LTE offerings and other multidimensional changes in usage patterns (more users, more video, more connections, etc.), however, demand considerably greater intelligence in mobile backhaul. The push toward widespread 4G availability is intensifying.
To capitalize on the opportunity, mobile network operators need a better backhaul solution.
In addition to fiber extension all the way to the base station, they require multiple service classes differentiated by end-to-end Quality of Service (QoS) management, multi-point topologies, strict priority forwarding in order to ensure the lowest-possible latencies for certain traffic types, end-to-end configuration and service management, and—of particular importance—a simpler and unified implementation of assured synchronization and timing distribution.
Highly accurate timing across the mobile-backhaul network is hardly a trivial matter, as the number of hops across the network can be large. Distance and number of aggregation points from a given cell tower to the mobile core can vary widely—especially across a coverage area that spans both rural and metropolitan areas.
Assured delivery of high-quality synchronization is simply elementary to frequency stability and proper operation of the RAN. Integrating a unified and fully managed solution for distribution of synchronization information for frequency, phase and time alignment with the mobile backhaul network conveys the highest degrees of accuracy, reliability and operational simplicity.
Just as well, standards-based implementation via IEEE (News - Alert) 1588v2 “Standard for a Precision Clock Synchronization Protocol for Networked Measurement and Control Systems” directly across the packet infrastructure reduces deployment risk, and cuts the cost of scaling LTE and future LTE Advanced (LTE-A) services without the requirement of Global Positioning System (GPS).
For sure, the shift in demands on mobile-backhaul providers is a more distinct transformation than a gradual evolution from traditional ways of doing business. No longer are these service providers asked to provide merely a higher-capacity, lower-cost alternative to the circuit-based Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) connections that the initial packet-based solutions of mobile backhaul originally replaced.
Rather—given the requirements of service offerings such as LTE, engineered from the ground up to take full advantage of packet-based concepts, topologies and functions—mobile backhaul is being ushered more wholly into the virtual world.
Only a full-fledged migration to packet switching in both the RAN and backhaul segments delivers a sufficient and cost-effective solution for managing the ever-increasing bandwidth demand. And where holistic design principles are relatively straightforward in the TDM world, the packet mobile-backhaul environment becomes more challenging when considering aspects such as network cell handover and the need to distribute functionality to the network edge.
This is not Mobile Backhaul 1.1 or 1.2; this is Mobile Backhaul 2.0, and it demands that providers of such services embrace the Carrier Ethernet model that has already been undertaken in network cores.
Consequently, Carrier Ethernet capabilities for scalable traffic management, lowest-latency forwarding, end-to-end QoS assurance and reliable and assured timing distribution figure to play central, enabling roles in the network infrastructures of mobile-backhaul providers moving forward.
And no less than the ongoing growth of mobile services relies on advancing mobile-backhaul infrastructures, as network bottlenecks would slow the adoption of new, promising applications.
In fact, though ongoing global economic uncertainty has generally delayed service-provider capital-project rollouts over the last year, wireline spending almost certainly must pick up in order to subvert bottlenecks and maintain momentum in mobile broadband growth.
Mobile backhaul is a prime candidate for such spending.
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Edited by Braden Becker
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