Addressing Mobile Backhaul with Small Cells in Mind

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  December 10, 2012

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 2012 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.

Small cells are expected to multiply rapidly in the coming months and years as wireless service providers seek to strengthen mobile bandwidth capacity and fill in coverage gaps. Some wireless service providers may use as many as 10 new small cell sites for each macro cell site, according to Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert), which has already deployed more than 200 mobile backhaul networks for operators around the world, and holds the No. 1 spot in terms of market share in this space, per ABI Research (News - Alert).

The sheer number of small cells makes architecting and managing mobile backhaul for all these new elements a challenge in itself. The fact that small cells can be installed in a wide variety of locations ­– including at bus stops, on lamp posts, within or outside buildings, etc. – only adds to that challenge.

Indeed, that means network operators will likely have to leverage a variety of technologies, possibly including copper, Ethernet, fiber and microwave, for mobile backhaul, given that fiber won’t always be available at all these locations.

And the more technologies involved, the greater the management challenge.

To address all that, Alcatel-Lucent is expanding its mobile backhaul portfolio on a number of fronts. That includes new additions to its 7705 Service Aggregation Router family; the introduction of new microwave backhaul options; broader copper- and fiber-based small cell backhaul access solutions; and expanded professional services.

The new SAR gear can support any mobile service, whether 3G, 4G LTE (News - Alert) or Wi-Fi, over any backhaul access and using any network topology. Also of note, according to Alcatel-Lucent, is that these offerings provide an end-to-end service layer for ease of management, advanced timing/synchronization, flexible powering options, and Auto-Discovery and Provisioning capabilities.

The new MPLS routers are in trials now, with first commercial shipments slated for the first quarter of 2013.

New microwave backhaul solutions from Alcatel-Lucent include a 60gHz point-to-point line-of-sight solution, and a sub 6gHz point-to-point and point-to-multipoint non-line-of-sight option. The company has also increased capacity on its 9500 Microwave Packet Radio platform. These microwave products are available today.

Heidi Adams, director of product marketing at Alcatel-Lucent’s networks business unit, tells TMCnet that ABI Research forecasts that microwave backhaul will be used in more than 50 percent small cell deployments in the U.S.

In fact, she adds, microwave is used in about half of macrocell backhaul applications worldwide today.

As for the wireline backhaul solutions, Alcatel-Lucent has introduced a new DSL solution and a GPON offer that enable service providers to leverage existing infrastructure for backhaul. Adams explains that DSL to date has not been widely used for backhaul given it’s been seen as too slow to do the job, but new advances like pair bonding and vectoring now enable 100-250mbps rates over legacy connections, making copper a good candidate for small cell backhaul.

As for GPON, that’s also a viable option for backhaul, and Alcatel-Lucent aims to make it even more attractive through the introduction of a new pluggable component that connects with cell site radios or other network elements to enable backhaul functionality.

Edited by Braden Becker