Architecting future-proof mobile backhaul networks

Nathan_ReedPhoto: Nathan Reed

 

Mobile growth and the dynamics of network infrastructure

 

Mobile operators around the globe are experiencing a traffic boom in their networks. While voice continues to ramp up linearly, data is growing exponentially. It’s easy to see why: consumers are demanding bandwidth-hungry mobile services such as Internet access, photo sharing and music downloads for example.

In the current environment, the economics of mobile operators are under pressure – particularly their backhaul networks are increasingly becoming bottlenecked due to scalability, flexibility, and cost concerns. With the global wave of 4G (LTE/WiMAX) adoption, the operators are looking for ways to future-proof the backhaul architecture to support 3G traffic, and also provide a clear migration path, to all-IP 4G networks, as these are being defined by leading standard bodies.

An increasing number of end-users are pushing more applications over air as opposed to wires, - hence more pressure on the backhaul network to meet the growing demand while maintaining end-to-end user-experience. While a sizable portion of consumers are still in the process of migrating from 2G to 3G, many operators are already exploring and adopting 4G (LTE).

A recent ABI Research study predicts there will be 44 billion mobile applications downloads by 2016 worldwide, which is one more trend to validate data tsunami on next generation networks At the same time, the global market for LTE handsets is expected to grow from 50k units (2010) to 82mn by 2014. Similar growth drivers are expected in other LTE consumer segments such as Netbooks (Source: ABI report on LTE)

Emerging markets

Among emerging markets, Africa has been the fastest-growing mobile market in the world, which has been growing at a phenomenal rate. The number of connections is expected to grow from 75mn in 2004 to 650mn by 2013. For the last five years, Mobile Data revenue in Africa has been growing at 25 per cent to 30 per cent of CAGR year over year, whereas voice revenue is growing at 6 per cent CAGR year over year. (Source: Gartner, Mobility services)

So why is LTE so compelling? Long Term Evolution of Universal Terrestrial Radio (LTE) offers high data rates at a reduced price per bit, better spectrum efficiency and latency. In the LTE environment, the expected throughput is in the range of 100Mbps and latency should be lower than 10ms. This can offer a rich user experience for consumers, which is very comparable to what they have at home today with fixed connections, and mobility will be an added advantage. LTE will enable new business models around emerging services such as real-time online gaming, HD video streaming, video blogging, Peer2Peer file exchange and so on.

The rapidly increasing consumer adoption of smart phones, 3G/4G tablets (iPADs and similar devices) and USB modems are the primary driving factor behind the mobile broadband penetration. Increased traffic should reflect higher revenues, though the average revenue per megabit for data service is far lower than for traditional voice and text messaging, yet consumers are demanding mobile broadband services at affordable prices. Due to the significant cost of providing mobile data service, the mobile data tariffs today are still relatively expensive compared to fixed line broadband pricing. This phenomenon has created an imbalance in mobile operator’s balance sheet as well as their network capacity planning. To support the traffic growth and maintain quality of user experience, the mobile operators are scrambling to build out their networks faster than ever before.

Mobile Backhaul is a crucial part of the mobile network that links the Radio Access Network and the mobile core network. In designing the end-to-end mobile infrastructure, no area of the mobile network feels the strain more than backhaul networks (From a viewpoint of scalability, performance, cost and ease of migration from previous generation to next. i.e. 2G to 3G, or 3G to 4G)

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