Sprint to Reveal Backhaul Contract Winners Friday
Sprint VP of Roaming and Access Planning Paul Schieber revealed the plans here in Orlando, where the main message from the keynote presenters was that some of the best backhaul opportunities for alternative carriers can be found in smaller cities and rural areas.
Sprint has awarded its first round of backhaul contracts, for about 10,000 sites, and will issue the second round of awards, for 15,000 sites, this Friday. The carrier will announce the third round of awards for another 15,000 sites in mid-2012. Many of those unassigned sites are in less populated areas.
The news follows Light Reading Cable's report last week that Sprint had issued a request for proposal (RFP) for fiber-based backhaul. (See Sprint to Place Big Backhaul Bet .)
Schieber said Sprint will end up with "25 to 30 significant backhaul providers" that will likely be a mix of incumbent LECs, cable MSOs and alternative carriers, all of whom will be expected to deliver Ethernet predominantly over fiber for Sprint's new multi-mode network, which will combine the CDMA, IDEN and WiMax networks it uses today. It will be up to Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), the company to whom Sprint outsourced its network operations, to merge these many networks into a seamless operation, Schieber said. (See Ericsson, Sprint in $5B Managed Services Deal.)
Sprint could still build its own backhaul facilities, where the alternatives presented don't meet its requirements, including in some less populated markets, according to Schieber. But to date, he is pleased with the way the industry has stepped up.
But winning those deals won't be easy. In addition to the typical technical requirements such as low latency, jitter and packet loss, high reliability and multiple VLANs per tower, Sprint is also looking for features from backhaul providers such as automated exchange of orders, billing and trouble tickets, a rapid process for turning up more bandwidth including for special events or natural disasters, and backhaul support for micro-cells such as femtos and picos.
Being first to a given tower or set of towers with fiber is great, Schieber said, but won't guarantee selection.
In addition to Schieber's keynote speech, Ron Mudry, CEO of Tower Cloud Inc. , which is delivering mobile backhaul services throughout the Southeastern U.S., encouraged competitive carriers to look beyond the NFL cities for backhaul opportunities.
Mudry offered some practical reasons why alternative carriers should look to less-populated areas to deliver backhaul, as Tower Cloud does in places like rural Georgia, and smaller cities and towns in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
For one thing, competition is already very stiff in the larger markets, while there is still opportunity in smaller cities/towns and rural areas. All but 15 percent of mobile backhaul bandwidth is in non-NFL cities or rural areas, with 15 percent in Tier 2 cities, 37 percent in Tier 3 and 33 percent in rural areas, Mudry said. Individual sites in those areas actually require more bandwidth due to lower cell-site density.
"We are delivering 30 percent more bandwidth per tower in places like Albany, Columbus and Valdosta, than we are in Atlanta," Mudry said.
The trick is to figure out how to serve those smaller networks economically. Tower Cloud leases existing dark fiber where available from other carriers, utility companies and municipalities. Those companies are easier to find in large cities, but they can be found in smaller ones as well, he says, particularly as utility companies use dark fiber to create smart grids.
The same networks that deliver fiber to cell towers can also reach universities, hospitals, military bases and other sites with high-bandwidth needs, helping to amortize the cost of fiber. Microwave helps fill out areas where fiber just isn't feasible but Tower Cloud keeps that to 20 percent or so of its network.
In very rural areas, the key to winning backhaul contracts can be a regional play, which helps wireless operators avoid having to deal with multiple rural LECs or other carriers, Mudry said.
— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading