Fiber, Copper Cap a Wild Week for Backhaul

How wacky is the mobile backhaul market right now? Enough that in the week after a major wireless show, there was still significant news on the backhaul front -- contradictory news, in some ways, but still significant.

First, Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA) introduced two additions to its line of multiservice access switches, designed for deployment at LTE cellsites and aggregation hubs for mobile backhaul. The two products represent the substantial shift to fiber for backhaul, as evidenced by the Verizon Wireless backhaul RFP, says Stuart Bennington, Tellabs's director of portfolio strategy. (See Tellabs Refreshes Backhaul Switches.)

"IP/Ethernet over fiber is the long-term strategy, but it will be a long transition," Bennington says. The challenge remains balancing the economics of building fiber with the desire to create a converged service layer that's simpler to operate, he says.

In the meantime, Bennington sees more wireless operators turning to microwave as a backhaul option, given how quickly it can be turned up, to reach cellsites that aren't served by fiber.

Secondly, Positron Inc. announced that a Tier 1 European service provider has deployed its Ethernet-over-copper products for wireless backhaul, using bonded copper to deliver 100 Mbit/s throughput. (See Positron Lands Euro Backhaul Deal.)

"There is definitely momentum here for copper as backhaul," says Hossam Salib, VP of product marketing and product line management for Positron. "The copper is there, the operators own it, and it will be very difficult to justify the cost of fiber for every deployment."

Salib thinks copper will rapidly overtake microwave, since it's cheaper and reliable. Either way, the key thing, be believes, is to use Ethernet for backhaul.

But Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q) may have trumped that thinking. Its new wholesale mobile backhaul service is based on the simple ordering of bandwidth -- without concern for how it is delivered. (See Qwest Reshapes Wireless Backhaul.)

One reason, says Roland Thornton, executive VP of Qwest Wholesale, is that it's simplest and cheapest just to use the medium that's available -- and often that includes T1s rather than newer Ethernet options.

So: three announcements, three different conclusions about what the mobile backhaul market needs -- other than a bunch more bandwidth.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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