Wireless Backhaul: Preparing the Cleanup When the Dust Settles
July 12, 2011
By Charlie Thomas
Every wireless carrier is migrating to 4G/LTE with Ethernet backhaul to support the vast increase in data downloads driven by apps on smartphones and tablets as well as the increasing appetite for video by consumers and businesses. In addition to site upgrades, an industry analyst mentioned that is building out 5,000 new cell sites per year. As we see all around us each day, iPhones and Androids are jumping off the shelf at a record clip.
The build-out reminds me of the emerging telecoms rush to deploy fiber and switches in the late 1998-2000 era; except this time it’s to catch up to customer demand as opposed to speculating on such. There are important engineering and billing impacts of this wireless backhaul expansion.
Wireline Interconnect or Backhaul networks are choking – Where the biggest congestion lies today is not on the radio side (RAN), but in mobile backhaul and the core. Not long ago, the average bandwidth at a cell site was two TDM T1 circuits – about 3Mbps before overhead. Today these sites are upgrading to Ethernet speeds ranging from 50Mbps to 10Gbps.
The number of interconnect partners is expanding – With nearly 300,000 cell sites in North America, no single supplier can serve every site for wireless backhaul. Thus, in order to deploy broadband to cell towers, you must choose from multiple Ethernet suppliers on a market-by-market basis. These suppliers include the well-known players: Qwest, CenturyLink, Comcast, Cox, Verizon, AT&T, Level 3, plus many niche metro suppliers like Tower Cloud, Zhone, and many others.
Interconnect billing is getting crazy – TDM circuits such as ATM, Frame Relay, DS3, and T1/EI have billed the same way for the past two decades, so interconnect agreements in the TDM world are well understood. But with Ethernet backhaul, billing is a new ball game. No established rating or pricing standards exist on how facilities are charged, so wholesalers create their own rules. Bottom line: There’s no consistency.
TDM disconnect is a broken process – As Ethernet and fiber are deployed to the cell sites, there’s a corresponding need to disconnect TDM circuits. And it’s a tricky process because you need to be sure the underlying customers are not affected when you drop those circuits. Still, the vast volume of these disconnects in queue demonstrates there’s a big risk of double-paying. For instance, over the past two years, industry analysts estimate more than 100,000 TDM circuits.