Mobile backhaul

Powering the mobile data revolution through network modernization and future-forward technology.

Smart phones. Tablets. Laptops. Internet of Things. They’re all key players in the increasing demand for access to user content and the move to high-speed 4G networks. And this onslaught of data volume and need for speed show no sign of slowing down.

Caught in the middle are Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). Interconnecting users, man and machine, to their content, the mobile backhaul network is critical network infrastructure and must evolve in terms of capacity, reliability, latency, and availability. MNOs are rethinking their mobile backhaul network strategy and seeking more efficient and cost-effective ways to keep pace with mobile user bandwidth demands.

The Big 3

Small cells strategically place radios closer to users, and are one of the ways MNOs can strategically improve wireless network access speeds and coverage. Together, these improvements improve the overall quality of user experience, which is a formidable competitive differentiator for any MNO.

Carrier Ethernet–based mobile backhaul offer the potential for decreasing mobile backhaul network costs while simultaneously improving bandwidth, reliability, availability, monitoring, and end-to-end management capabilities.

Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) will soon create a more open mobile network development environment to facilitate the introduction of innovative new services and product offerings, many of which have not even been dreamed of yet.

What’s next

Smartphone use is expected to increase from just over 50% in 2014 to almost 70% by 2018. Bandwidth consumption by mobile users commonly increases as they transition to smartphones, precisely because OTT applications support high-bandwidth content, such as video streaming. The majority of bandwidth consumption of tablets and phablets (large-format phone or small-format tablet) has traditionally been over WiFi networks, but that trend is starting to shift increasingly toward mobile data network access, which will further contribute to mobile backhaul network bandwidth growth in the coming years.

This is an exciting time for the mobile communications industry, and the changes coming represent an important modernization in the world of mobile backhaul networking. The increased adoption of 4G LTE and LTE-Advanced mobile network technology is accelerating these mobile backhaul fiber upgrades, which can and will be leveraged by future 5G networks, given the almost unlimited bandwidth that fiber-based networks offer.

Industry insights

The growing demand for mobile bandwidth is daunting, with a recent study* predicting a fivefold increase in peak mobile bandwidth requirements over the next three years. To improve wireless coverage on a wide scale, far more small cells—as much as 20:1 or more—must be deployed when compared to macro cell deployments.

Service provider backhaul networks are plagued with growing bottlenecks due to increasing device penetration and an abundance of new entertainment services and applications, like video streaming, social networking, and multi-player gaming.

By forecasting users' expected bandwidth demand in comparison to service providers' current backhaul capacity, the study predicts that the typical macro cell capacity requirements will rise from 260 Mb/s today to 1.5 Gb/s within five years. This equates to 1,000 users streaming a movie or live sport event at 1.5 Mb/s on their smartphones simultaneously. To handle this level of growth, networks need to have sufficient backhaul capacity to accommodate the plethora of new devices, data, and applications, as well as varying—and often unpredictable—traffic patterns. An optimized, agile mobile backhaul solution supporting 10 Gb/s or more to a macro cell tower will be essential to alleviate this projected bandwidth and ensure the expected quality of experience.

*“Mobile Broadband Bandwidth Demand” study, conducted by ACG Research and sponsored by Ciena® (NYSE: CIEN)

Ciena Insights

Operators are rushing to deploy fiber connections and packet-based services to cell sites, replacing copper lines and legacy TDM services that can no longer supply sufficient capacity in a data-centric world. Additionally, ongoing network upgrades to 4G LTE and LTE-Advanced give mobile users access to more bandwidth than ever before. While a 1GbE connection to a major market cell site is now commonplace, the aforementioned trends are paving the way for 10GbE connectivity to soon become the 'new normal'. Projections for 5G performances will mean even higher connections to macro cells.

Network operators that offer wholesale mobile backhaul services are quickly recognizing that a new approach, blending high-capacity connectivity with lower cost, will be required if they want to profitably sustain these endeavors. The mobile backhaul market has enjoyed a long run of strong growth, propelled by a steady rise in mobile users, smartphones, and a new generation of bandwidth-hungry applications. In turn, this combination has fueled a frenzy of network upgrades by mobile operators to increase capacity and transmission speeds so users can take advantage of these new applications.

Of the nearly four million macro-cell sites in service around the world, roughly 900K are now equipped with new 4G LTE technology.

“Small cells, indoor and outdoor, are a key part of the emerging HetNet that allows Mobile Network Operators to maintain pace with surging demands for mobile bandwidth and improved coverage,” said Brian Lavallée, Director of Portfolio Solutions for Ciena's packet networking solutions.

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