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Backhaul Trends & Realities Surface in Bali

Steve Bell

The recent Best Experience Mobile Backhaul Summit event in Bali, Indonesia, provided insights into how some of Asia-Pacific's operators are evolving their networks for the emerging challenges of LTE, LTE-Advanced and ultimately 5G.

In particular there was a focus at the conference, organized by Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , on being pragmatic about the realities of operator deployments.

Daniel Tang, CTO of Huawei's Fixed Networks business, emphasized the huge growth of video in mobile networks currently, and pointed out that this is going to continue to increase significantly over time, meaning that the operators' networks will have to evolve rapidly to support that. (See New Mobile Services Demand Backhaul Rethink.)

Significant contributors to this relentless video traffic growth are the 20-plus 2K resolution-capable smartphones that are available on the market. This impact on traffic will be compounded as innovative vendors rapidly bring technology to market that will enable 4K resolution to be enjoyed on smartphones. In all probability, consumers will not view the video directly on the smartphone's screen but through easy-to-use visual accessories, such as smart goggles, that enable the human eye to view the video in larger format as if it were in the distance.

Cloud RAN's impact on backhaul was another central theme of the conference. Operators in South Korea and China confirmed that they had already started deploying Cloud RAN, and Asia-Pacific seems poised to extend its leadership in the deployment of these architectures. The majority of these early deployments are designed to improve network performance and the end-user experience, as well as reduce costs.

Confirming this perspective, Sheldon Liu, senior VP, wireless network planning & design for PCCW Ltd. (NYSE: PCW; Hong Kong: 0008), invoked the motto that "low latency is the mother of interactive," and revealed that 40% of cell sites run by PCCW group operator HKT Ltd. throughout the territory will be connected to centralized baseband hotels by first quarter of 2016.

Liu cited an 11% cost saving in site rentals -- "landlords always charge more when you are continually asking them for access" -- and 24% savings in energy costs as among the prime drivers for HKT's architectural decision to move to a C-RAN architecture so aggressively. This approach also paves the way for 5G, he said, "because you have to have fiber for 5G."

Other companies are taking a more measured approach to the deployment of C-RAN. Scott Lollback, technology evolution manager for Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA), said his company is undertaking a cost-benefit analysis of C-RAN architectures with a view to potentially deploying them in a three- to five-year timeframe. The company has migrated from using Ethernet Ring Protection (ERP) in the backhaul to using IP routers, and is currently replacing MPLS-TP with OTN. This migration to OTN is due in part to the company's assumption that OTN will allow for a smooth migration over time to C-RAN.

However, operators face a diversity of challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, as highlighted by Ivan Cahya Permana, vice president technology & systems at Indonesia's PT Telekomunikasi Selular (Telkomsel) . He shared that 70% of Telkomsel's 145 million customers still have 2G devices today, while only 5 million have LTE devices. Undoubtedly, as smartphones continue to come down in price and increase their penetration in Indonesia, this demographic will shift, with a familiar impact on network traffic.

Telkomsel's other big challenge is the geographic complexity of backhaul across Indonesia's more than 15,000 islands, which means that around 30% of the operator's cell sites are still served by relatively costly satellite backhaul. Efforts to build submarine fiber optical cables connecting the islands continue but have been hampered by the ocean floor around Indonesia, which is vulnerable to volcanic disturbance in some parts.

The conference takeaway was that backhaul no longer has an insignificant role, as data traffic grows and advanced features become critical to delivering differentiated user experiences. Backhaul has to become significantly more intelligent to deliver consistently low latency and interactive services, and will be a fundamental component of successful 5G migration.

— Steve Bell, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

This blog is sponsored by Huawei.

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User Rank: Lightning
11/25/2015 | 9:20:07 PM
Trend is clear, vision is common but the challenge is execution and clarity on justification. Site costs & Ops are still the biggest, and people usage patterns are quite dynamic. Very interesting to watch the innovations in APAC.
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/25/2015 | 11:19:46 AM
The trend towards video content has been ongoing for a while. Here in Asia it is growing very rapidly. 
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