African mobile operators seek bandwidth solutions

Data usage per subscriber on networks is increasing rapidly in AfricaData usage per subscriber on networks is increasing rapidly in AfricaData usage per subscriber on networks is increasing rapidly in Africa, and mobile operators are seeking quick and cost-effective ways to expand bandwidth capacity

Mobile operators are turning to microcellular underlay networks to augment over-burdened macro cellular networks. The way to deploy cost-effective underlay networks is to find backhaul required to deliver capacity to the light standard where these microcells are situated, as well as providing the infrastructure such as power, environment and switching to support such deployments.

“The cost structure for deploying and maintaining thousands of microcells must be completely different from that of a macro cell,” said Jennifer Pigg, Yankee Group President, Network Research, who chaired the Backhaul Summit at the 4G World Conference in Chicago. “Mobile operators are demanding flexible solutions that can accommodate a multitude of backhaul topologies, and that are compact and easily installed to quickly and effectively meet the capacity demands of burgeoning mobile traffic.

“There is a hidden tsunami that is slowly rising with the new generation of mobile users. That would mean more strain on all elements of the network, including backhaul. Looking ahead, she showed how next generation small-cell backhaul need to evolve to meet the challenge. Next-generation backhaul should support multiple operators’ networks in one unit, be small, light-pole-mount-ready and weigh less than 50 pounds, be all-outdoor, eventually be non-line-of-sight, operate in frequencies below six gigahertz, without interference, not require heavy DC power and cost less than US$5,000.”

Pigg added that the backhaul approach must be flexible and tailored to the needs of the site.

As far as what technology will be used in backhaul, delegates tended to agree that even though “fibre is still king” microwave is the most cost-effective solution for effective 4G deployment, especially for rural areas. Trenching fibre is expensive and costs include right of way and site construction. The only problem long-term for the microwave solution is that spectrum for microwave could be saturated. There is also the hidden issue, network capital budget, 80 per cent of mobile costs: backhaul.

At the show, filled with many new announcements including Qualcomm’s Global LTE’s launches and strong commitments in Africa presented by Reiner Klemet, Vice President, Product Manager, Qualcomm. Arun Bhikshesvaran CMO Ericsson, announced the broadband service to the Cloud would be used in their programme with the United Nations to provide software to schools in Africa.

The business case for small cells was presented on the second day of the conference by the consulting group Wireless 20/20. The analysts conducted a small cells case study to determine “the tradeoffs of small cells versus macro cells” and concluded that each business case was unique and small cells still faced numerous challenges such as interference, backhaul and site rental opex. The number of macro cells sites continues to grow, and in 2010 the number of cell sites in Africa increased by eight per cent to 64,800.

Professor Simon Saunders and Andy Germano, president and deputy president of the Femto Forum, who attended the show to discuss new market updates and trends in small cells, were openly congratulated for their contribution to the industry. The Femto Forum, an independent industry and operator association supporting femtocell deployment worldwide, was established two years ago and boasts as members over 70 vendors and 66 mobile operators worldwide.

The consensus at the conference was that value added opportunity and satisfaction demand for micro sites could supersede demand for macro sites as macro sites are more difficult to roll-out. Ideally, the carrier’s top three priorities for roll-out should be mixed, macro, femto cells.

With respect to horizontal future applications in marketing and retail, there is much debate on near field communications (NFC), a new “core-enabling technology” that promises to turn smart phones into digital wallets. Google’s Osama Badier explained the importance of creating magical experiences for consumers as a necessary prerequisite to kick-starting the NFC ecosystem.

NFC will be used for shopping accessing information, exchanging business cards, accessing the workplace and countless other uses. Debate continues on whether this market is real, or just more technology hype. One of the originators of NFC technologies and a supplier of NFC chips, Inside Secure said that consumers would soon experience NFC-equipped smartphones in their daily lives, and announced their increased number of NFC chips shipped worldwide.

DragonWave launched their new Avenue pocket-microwave solution which can flexibly accommodate a wide range of 3G or 4G microcellular RAN access units and leverages an integrated backhaul antenna array supporting up to three simultaneous backhaul beam paths using frequencies ranging from GHz to 80 GHz to deliver 1.2Gpps of aggregate, full-duplex capacity. It can be backhauled via fibre or DSL and the manufacturers maintain the solution is the industry’s smallest device, utilising the industry’s smallest antenna, to integrate microcellular backhaul, third-party base stations, power supply, battery backup, switching, and management in an all-in-one, environmentally shielded enclosure.

Alvarion, one of the leaders of 4G networks in the Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) market, unveiled its new BreezeCELL solution based on TrueActive™ DAS technology. BreezeCELL is an active and end-to-end system for optimal capacity and coverage. It is the first solution Alvarion is introducing as part of its new Wireless Capacity and Coverage offering.

“Operators are facing a challenge ensuring Quality of Experience given the unprecedented pressure on their networks due to the constant data crunch,” said Eran Gorev, President and CEO of Alvarion. “Alvarion’s Wireless Coverage and Capacity Solutions will enable network operators to overcome these challenges with the most efficient network, providing their customers the best level of service, while reducing the risk of churn.”

Commscope launched the first active antennas in use in an LTE network field trial, in an effort to provide more cost-effective ways to transmit broadband signals to mobile customers using next generation networks. Active antennas are considered to be the next stage in the evolution of cellular site architecture, in which the radio is integrated into the antenna and the radio functionality is distributed across the antenna elements.

Robert Suffern, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Commscope, said, “The digital architecture reduces the need for certain cell site equipment, which can reduce energy consumption, site maintenance and leasing costs.” The antennas can also contribute to the “greening” of cell sites while boosting performance.

Wireless backhaul specialist, Ceragon, announced their wireless backhaul solution FibeAir IP-1010Q, a high density wireless packet backhaul solution for Ethernet and IP/MPLS aggregation networks and FibeAir IP-10Q offering scalability of up to 4Gbps.

Satellite-based managed network solutions provider, Globecomm, continued its support in Africa, presenting its solutions for 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE cellular networks. The company can design, build, run and provide turnkey solutions for complex networks. Brett Calder Globecomm’s Director, Sales, explained the company’s strategy to help carriers, governments and enterprises move to 4G applications without requiring capital and higher expenses of launching those services. He said Globecomm could help their customers move to 4G government compliance with high speed satellite solutions providing voice and data services. New projects include diagnostic in containers, oil and gas sector, monitoring pipelines, and reducing the overall cost of monitoring network container worldwide.

“We are becoming increasingly more involved in mobile health for our government support and for non-government organisations like Unicef,” Calder said. “We support both terrestrial and over satellite – Africa can look forward to change in the next few years.”

As always, questions remain, such as: What solution will be the most innovative? Through macrocells, small cells, microwave? Will the 2012-2014 trends be justified? Will the improved connectivity in rural areas be fulfilled?

Sara Frewen

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