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SDN Can Close Backhaul Spending Gap

Carol Wilson
8/29/2013

Six months after raising an alarm about a growing gap in mobile backhaul investment, Tellabs and research partner Strategy Analytics are back to share the brighter side of the story: how software-defined networking (SDN) can cut that gap by almost half, saving carriers $4 billion by 2017. (See Tellabs IDs 4G Bottleneck.)

The idea is to quantify how SDN can help save money and thus spur its more rapid adoption, says Stuart Bennington, Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA) director of global portfolio planning. But, he adds, the assumptions in the Strategy Analytics Inc. study are "conservative" -- mobile operators don't have to be overly aggressive in their SDN efforts to benefit; they just need to get moving. (See Tellabs-Backed Study Pins SDN Savings at $4B.)

"Different operators are at different points in their deployment process where SDN is concerned," Bennington says. "Some are starting to get aggressive, participating in proof-of-concept trials and realizing they need to do something, but they are less sure about the timing. Still others know it is coming at some point but aren't necessarily sure how to approach it. We believe we need to help them raise their urgency level."

Rather than get bogged down in the hype, service providers need to keep their eyes on the very real prize of cost savings for a part of their network that is rapidly growing: mobile backhaul. The Strategy Analytics study spells out five specific applications of SDN and says what each will save over the next four years.

  • Cloud-RAN "fronthaul": Upwards of $777 million could be saved using remote radio heads and antennas remotely linked to base stations via fiber or gigabit microwave to enable traffic to burst at higher or lower speeds on a dynamic basis across Cloud RAN bandwidth.

  • Small cells: Around $202 million could be saved by managing small cells as logical clusters that can be powered up or down as needed, backhauling traffic over chosen access paths depending on different factors such as time of day or other congestion issues.

  • Metro aggregation/Load redistribution: More than $1.1 billion could be saving using SDN to control congestion in the aggregation network and improve performance by redirecting traffic dynamically based on end-to-end delivery requirements.

  • Local breakout/Internet Exchange Points (IXP): Almost $1.1 billion could be saved using "local breakout" of some kinds of mobile broadband traffic to offload traffic to the Internet at the edge of the wireless network thus reducing what is backhauled. By routing traffic based on its type and revenue contribution at the edge of the network and across IXPs, mobile operators can also improve delivery and session management.

  • WiFi offload/Video redirect: Just over $1 billion can be saved using dynamic offload from mobile broadband to fixed WiFi, based on the user or the specific application.

Bennington concedes that the $4 billion in savings is less than half of the $9.2 billion funding gap identified by the earlier study.

"That will have to be addressed by other means," he says. But SDN deployment also has the potential to reduce operating expenses and those opex reductions can flow to other investment buckets, such as the greater capex needed to close the backhaul gap.

As a vendor of SDN equipment, Tellabs would, of course, benefit from faster deployment. Bennington says the greater benefit to his firm and others would be from a healthier telecom sector, something Tellabs thinks SDN will enable. (See Tellabs Boasts SDN 'Engagements'.)

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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saikat.prabhakar
saikat.prabhakar
9/21/2013 | 1:43:06 PM
Data Analytics at play
SDN or present legacy solutions, the bottomline is that all such opex/capex savings could only be achieved as a direct impact of data analytics. SDN ican alleviate Backhaul spending only by exploiting the same.
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson
8/29/2013 | 12:17:52 PM
Devil will be in the details
The links contained within the story go to the executive summary from Strategic Analytics. I think it's a good idea to try to quantify savings, but I'm curious if anyone thinks it's entirely possible and whether these figures stand to convince any carrier to move more quickly. 
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