The mobile data explosion, which caught even the most visionary of network gurus by surprise, is driving the push to roll out high-capacity LTE systems. With early LTE deployments now in place, the rest of the field is looking to play catch-up. The recently concluded Mobile World Congress served as a convenient platform for announcements regarding the hundreds of millions to be invested in LTE/4G projects this year.
But even while carriers race to deploy LTE infrastructure, it may take a decade or more for the new networks to approach the coverage levels offered by existing networks. Initial deployments will be limited to highly dense urban areas, as well as to rural areas where no compelling broadband alternative exists. In both cases, LTE is conceived as an overlay network focused on delivering high-speed data services. We can, therefore, expect 2G, 3G and LTE/4G networks to co-exist for many years. Carriers will be soon operating these networks simultaneously, and will need to handle endless combinations of TDM and packet-based traffic.
While operators face dramatic increases in the demand for data services, the revenues earned from these services are growing at a slower pace. As a result, carriers are forced to look for a cost-effective approach to handling both data and voice traffic, while continuing to maintain acceptable levels of service. These economic considerations have caused carriers to shift from a technology-driven approach to a TCO-driven one.
How will these developments affect the mobile network’s backhaul infrastructure? Instead of adopting a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, operators are looking at tailored alternatives that specifically fit their needs – needs which can differ between regions within the same network. This is why we see a proliferation of approaches to tackling backhaul issues – from leveraging existing TDM facilities for delivering Ethernet over PDH/SDH, through hybrid approaches that handle both TDM and Ethernet natively employing a single network element, to a pure, converged packet infrastructure that’s used to forward TDM traffic using pseudowire technologies.
Whatever the course chosen, mobile carriers will have to implement backhauling technologies that are reliable, future-proof, affordable and, above all, capable of handling complex and dynamic mixes of voice and data traffic. Backhaul equipment suppliers who are looking to enhance their product offering will have to optimize their solutions with the following capabilities:
• Easy convergence of packet and legacy TDM over a single, unified platform
• Dynamic allocation of capacity for voice and data traffic
• Network scalability; networks will need to add packet capacity as mobile data use increases
• Effective synchronization of voice-based packet traffic, offering end-to-end support for IEEE 1588v2 and SyncE
In short, the winning approach for mobile backhauling will be the ability to tailor an effective, low-TCO solution for each carrier, allowing the carrier to successfully navigate the waters of LTE migration and survive the mobile data tsunami.
LTE/4G – backhauling in the last mile