Backhaul Watch: AlcaLu Syncs Up

The wireless backhaul beat has been all abuzz about Ethernet, as Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) beefed up its synchronization support, MetroPCS Inc. (NYSE: PCS) filled in its Long Term Evolution (LTE) backhaul strategy, and industry players talked about the lingering challenges for Ethernet backhaul at an industry event.

  • Alcatel-Lucent has tapped Symmetricom Inc. (Nasdaq: SYMM) to bring some synchronization smarts to its backhaul offering. Specifically, AlcaLu will resell the timing specialist's IEEE 1588 Precision Time Protocol (PTP) synchronization products for operators that opt for this timing standard as they migrate from classic time division multiplexing (TDM) to Ethernet-based backhaul. Cell site synchronization is crucial in Ethernet backhaul because it affects network quality of service. (See AlcaLu, Symmetricom Get in Sync and Symmetricom Synchs With CTIA.)

    The companies have already shown interoperability between Symmetricom's TimeProvider 5000 Grandmaster clock and AlcaLu's service routers and WCDMA and LTE base stations.

  • On the financial front, IP microwave specialist Ceragon Networks Ltd. (Nasdaq: CRNT) is off to a flying start this year after reporting a 36 percent increase in revenues, to $59.7 million, compared with the same quarter last year. Net income for the quarter was $3 million, or $0.09 per basic share, up from $0.2 million in the first quarter last year, or $0.01 per basic share. The company said it expects 30 percent to 35 percent revenue growth in 2010 and that profits would grow at a higher rate than reveues.

  • To get ready for its LTE rollout later this year, MetroPCS says it will use fiber-based Ethernet services to cell sites from current supplier FiberTower Corp. The carrier will use the Ethernet services in certain markets, which will allow it to ramp up transmission capacity from 5 Mbit/s to up to 1 Gbit/s as needed. (See MetroPCS Picks FiberTower.)

    MetroPCS did not specify where it would use the new Ethernet backhaul services because it has not yet revealed exactly when and where it will roll out LTE this year. The operator has said the rollout will be in the second half of 2010. (See Ericsson Lands LTE Gig at MetroPCS , MetroPCS Polices LTE With Bridgewater, MetroPCS Chooses LTE for 4G Wireless Network, and CTIA 2010: The LTE Smartphone Scramble.)

  • And the challenges that operators face as they consider making the leap to Ethernet backhaul was a hot topic of discussion at Light Reading's recent Ethernet Europe event in London. (See Ethernet Europe 2010, Heavy Reading: Tackling the Backhaul Bottleneck, and Backhaul Timing: Anything But Synchronized.)

    One of the issues raised is that, putting it simply, it's complicated. The transition to Ethernet backhaul requires operators to maintain the legacy equipment while also installing and running the newer gear, and that's not a straightforward task.

    "Operators need to use Ethernet as a cost effective way to bring the traffic back," said Richard Strike, application and solution manager at ADVA Optical Networking . "Getting there, it's quite a complicated, multi-technology area at the cell site. There's always some older equipment there… So there's quite a mix of technology out there, and dealing with that mix is the engineering challenge that people are trying to grapple with."

    According to Greg Gum, chief marketing officer of ANDA Networks Inc. , part of the reason Ethernet backhaul has not progressed as fast is that fiber penetration out to cell sites is still low. He said that 20 percent of sites have fiber to the cell site.

    Also at the Light Reading event, RAD Data Communications Ltd. advocated its Carrier Ethernet mobile demarcation devices (MDDs), which distribute network intelligence out to cell sites. The vendor believes that increases in backhaul capacity need to be accompanied by more intelligence at the cell site in order to handle service prioritization and control.(See RAD Touts Ethernet Demarcation and RAD Gets a Tier 1 Test.)

    — Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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