What is mobile backhaul?
Mobile networks are increasingly the most popular vehicles for accessing remote content. But the data flying through the airwaves is only half the story. MBH is what happens behind the scenes to move data from the cell sites to data centers and other points along the way.
Recent research shows data-hungry smartphones will grow from just over 50 percent of all devices in 2014 to almost 70 percent by 2018. One need only look around at a grocery store or shopping center to see that smartphones are everywhere—almost everyone carries them.
In step with that expansion, bandwidth consumption by smartphone-equipped mobile users will continue to skyrocket in the years ahead due to high-bandwidth, video-centric content consumption. As people flock to increasingly powerful smartphones, faster mobile networks have come online to accommodate all that new traffic. At the same time, the way users access data has shifted significantly. Higher-bandwidth content is being consumed more often, for longer periods of time—forming a perfect storm of bandwidth consumption growth.
WiFi networks—in coffee shops, at home, and in other convenient places—were once the method of choice to access data-intensive applications. Even smartphone users often waited for a WiFi connection before doing any serious work (or downloading a movie). But, with blazing fast LTE connections now almost universal (and 5G on the horizon), the scales are starting to tip toward mobile data network access, which will further contribute to MBH network bandwidth growth in the coming years.
These massive increases in demand for bandwidth will affect the entire mobile infrastructure, including the MBH network. The MBH network connects Radio Access Network (RAN) air interfaces at small and macro cell sites to wireline networks that are connected to remote data centers serving up content and applications. The RAN is an increasingly critical component of the global network infrastructure and is the primary reason Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and wholesale operators are intensely focused on the MBH network as a key element of their short- to long-term business strategies.
MNOs are constantly struggling to maintain pace with voracious bandwidth demand growth rates that show no signs of abating. So the capacity, reliability, and availability of MBH networks must improve as wireless access speeds to video-centric user content increases.
The advent of Carrier Ethernet offers the potential for significantly reducing MBH network costs while improving bandwidth, reliability, availability, monitoring, and end-to-end management capabilities.
MBH bandwidth will soon surpass typical 1 Gb/s to a macro tower due to mobile market trends related to more users, more bandwidth per user, longer content viewing times, and the increasing popularity of higher resolution video. This presents new business opportunities, but it also comes with significant new technology challenges in the form of a diverse collection of architectures, topologies, technologies, and equipment options.
Even within individual architectures, there are a variety of technological approaches available. MBH networks support specific technologies that, together, ensure an acceptable quality of experience, such as:
- Sophisticated network timing and synchronization
- Operations, Administration, Maintenance, and Provisioning (OAM&P)
- Protection capabilities for high network availability
- Capacity for fast user access speeds
From wireless to wireline, the entire mobile network infrastructure is increasingly packet-based. So migration of legacy TDM-based MBH networks to packet-based Carrier Ethernet MBH networks is the obvious choice. Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) technologies and services will soon permeate the entire global network infrastructure, and will play a significant role in how MBH networks will adapt and evolve.
MBH networks offer three main network topologies based on the specific equipment a provider chooses and the operating environment in which deployment will take place: ring, hub and spoke, and daisy chain.
All three topologies have their place in MBH networks, and each one has its own benefits and limitations. So a thorough understanding of the options is critical to selecting the correct topology, although the equipment and/or the available fiber plant assets will ultimately dictate the topology decision.
One thing is clear: MBH networks are now critical to the health of the overall mobile network infrastructure. Ciena understands MBH networks and has what businesses need to succeed.