LR Live: Going Big on Small-Cell Backhaul

NEW YORK CITY -- Backhaul & 4G Core Strategies for Mobile Operators -- How to connect 4G small cells to the Internet to boost data speeds and capacity for Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks will be one of the key topics at Tuesday's Light Reading Live! event at the Marriott Marquis in mid-town Manhattan.

Major operators now agree that using the tiny radio base stations on the edge of their macro networks will help them to add capacity and speed in areas where it is needed most.

The cost -- and ease -- of deployment of these small cells, however, is still a vexing topic across the industry. "The key factors are cost, obviously, and [whether] you can actually get backhaul to the small cell," states Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Gabriel Brown. (See Small Cell Network Planning Poses Problems.)

Backhaul is the pipe -- be it fiber, copper or microwave -- that connects the wired Internet to an operator's radio access network (RAN). As 3G got faster and fourth-generation networks started to emerge, the speed and capacity of these connecting pipes became much more of an issue, as heavier data traffic started to cause bottlenecks on operators' networks.

Small cells can help to address some of the speed and capacity challenges raised by the emergence of faster mobile broadband networks on the radio side. Being deployed outside of traditional cell sites on lampposts and buildings, however, means that operators have to think of issues such as whether they can get fiber to the pole or need to use radios to link the tiny RAN cells back to the macro network. If they need to use radios then other issues, such as whether they need non-line-of-sight (NLOS) RF connections, come into play.

Some of these issues may come to down to whether the carrier has a robust fiber footprint or not, Heavy Reading's Brown suggests. "If you're Sprint, say, you're probably going to be more open to using radio links than AT&T or Verizon, where you'll want to use fiber you own if possible," the analyst says.

The times where that might not be possible could open up opportunities for alternative access vendors (AAV) such as cable companies, Patrick Ostiguy, CEO of Accedian told Light Reading Mobile Monday.

"The top cable companies typically do have a very good play for small-cell backhaul," Ostiguy suggests. This is because the cablecos have fiber right where the mobile carriers need to add capacity most -- dense urban areas.

Ostiguy says deals will likely be struck with these AAVs at the end of 2012 or in the first half of 2013. "Typically coinciding with phase 3 or phase 4 of the big guys' LTE deployment [in the US]," he suggests.

These topics and many more will be under the microscope in keynotes, break-out sessions and panels today at the Light Reading Live! event. There will be keynotes from: AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) backhaul expert Yiannis Argyropoulos; Gennady Sirota, VP of product management for the mobile Internet technology group at Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO); and Michael Logan, director of access strategy at Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

COMMENTS Add Comment
krishanguru143 12/5/2012 | 5:29:10 PM
re: LR Live: Going Big on Small-Cell Backhaul

I would expect the same thing to happen here as in the tower realm.  Many of the carriers will not want to own the pole or deal with the owner of the poles.  They will let a separate company handle that aspect of it and you will see a pole with multiple radios on it from the various companies like you see with current towers.  The cost to run two strands of fiber is not that much different than running eight strands or even more.  The only cost different is the fiber itself; the labor remains the same for the most part.  The owner of the pole would rather see multiple radios on one pole rather than one radio.  The owner of the pole would need to work around the radio(s) and wiring for them.  If you have four radios on a pole, it is the same to work around the four radios as it is for one.  Having to work around a radio on many poles becomes a challenge.  I would expect to see the owners to only let certain poles to be used and you either use this pole in this small area or no pole at all.  I would expect the LEC to push for the same as well, if there is fiber there or not, they will still need to put wiring up to it.  I cannot see them putting copper there though; just not enough bandwidth and you will need to drop quite a bit of copper to handle the demand; a T1 or two per radio wouldn’t cut it but even if two drops per radio would, with four carriers that would be eight T1’s or 16 to 32 pairs of copper.  Eight strands of fiber would cover four radios and provide much more bandwidth.

Flook 12/5/2012 | 5:29:06 PM
re: LR Live: Going Big on Small-Cell Backhaul

Good points. Fiber backhaul (in high-density areas) would be expensive, considering that even today only about 13 percent of businesses are reached by fiber; line-of-sight radios might only have a limited application here--so wondering if Ethernet-over-Copper backhual might be a solution, particularly for telcos like ATT/VZ since they already have the copper.

krishanguru143 12/5/2012 | 5:29:05 PM
re: LR Live: Going Big on Small-Cell Backhaul

You don’t need these big antennas these days though and given that these dare to cover a smaller area, they can be even smaller.  The output of these smaller cells are also less than that of the large ones.  People can complain all they want about the radio wave health concerns but they are fruitless and the real issue, they don’t want a tower visible.  The poles are already there and sticking an antenna on one I not all that noticeable.  How many of these people that complain use WiFi at home?  How many of them also might have a femtocell as well?  You also have satellite communication being beamed down, radio stations, police/fire, TV stations, etc.  How many devices are wireless these days?  A little hard to complain about the health concerns when they are using all kinds of wireless technology.


Of course the pole will be owned by a municipality, but the issues comes down to will they actually want to lease them out?  Now you have contractors and subcontractors working on a pole and it would be very easy for one of them to break the original intention of the pole, like the light.  The municipalities might give it a try but if they run into more repairs then I would expect them to stop offering it.

krishanguru143 12/5/2012 | 5:29:05 PM
re: LR Live: Going Big on Small-Cell Backhaul

You have distance issues with Ethernet over copper.  Any flavor of Ethernet over copper is 500M or less and at 500 meters that is over coax and is 10Base5.  May I suggest good luck finding equipment to support it.  I know the official distance and what actually works are two different things, but you also run the risk of it working and then not working or where you planned for it to work it doesn’t.  Running fiber is cheaper than running a lot of copper though and far more reliable.  So I would expect fiber to be used and I also would expect that where they decide to place a radio would be close to where they already have fiber nearby.


There is Ethernet over VDSL, but even then you are looking at 10Mbits but better than having multiple T1’s.  Distance is still an issue though and more so that 10Base-S is proprietary.


The best that AT&T and Verizon could do, DSL technology but even that has limitations.  Upload speeds wouldn’t be all that great and now they need to connect the two networks together.  The residential side of the house doesn’t interface directly with the Mobility side but having that traffic go through the MIS side to get to the Mobility side doesn’t make much sense either as then you get long distances and thus higher latency.

bogdanovici 12/5/2012 | 5:29:05 PM
re: LR Live: Going Big on Small-Cell Backhaul

Owner of the poles would certainly agree with your reasoning, but I think general public will not be very pleased to see multiple radios at 10-15m above the ground level at busy cities areas. Operators encountered numerous health, safety and aesthetical complaints when deploying services at much taller rooftops and (macro) towers. Same concerns will only be exaggerated with 15m poles. 

To see poles w/ multiple collocated operators, I believe the pole will have to be owned by the municipality (or 3<sup>rd</sup> party that contributes significant percentage of earnings to municipality). I see this as a very likely scenario: significant revenue source for municipalities and reasonable option for operators to bring services to high capacity areas.

bogdanovici 12/5/2012 | 5:29:03 PM
re: LR Live: Going Big on Small-Cell Backhaul

Although I fully agree with your reasoning about the health/aesthetical complaints, the fact of the matter is that public still complains about them. Attend one of the public meetings most operators have to go through when they submit proposal for a new site and you&rsquo;ll know what I mean. I&rsquo;ve seen numerous site locations rejected because of the public protests. Irrespective of the equipment size, I expect that concerns will only be amplified when multiple radios are mounted on every other pole and equipment is even more visible (at 10-15m). That is why cooperation (read participation that leads to $s) from municipality is crucial. &nbsp;


Also, (for the reasons you noted in your post) not all of the poles are light poles and not all of them are owned by municipality. Some municipalities currently do not allow use of the existing municipal street furniture but rather ask operators to install (and maintain) new poles. So the argument &ldquo;The poles are already there and sticking an antenna on one I not all that noticeable&rdquo; doesn&rsquo;t hold in some cases.

krishanguru143 12/5/2012 | 5:29:03 PM
re: LR Live: Going Big on Small-Cell Backhaul

Sure, you could place the antennas at various locations on the pole and rotate them 90&deg; and another option if a MIMO setup is used and there is another pole nearby, use it.&nbsp; As for the equipment needed, we are talking SMALL cells here.&nbsp; A box could be placed further up the pole; a small cell is well, small.&nbsp; It doesn&rsquo;t have the transmit power as its big brothers and thus needs less power and less space.&nbsp; They could also put the transmitter portion away from the pole entirely as well, they would need to run the cables though.&nbsp; I would expect that every deployment would be fairly unique and a cookie cutter approach would not really be viable.


As for microwave, NOPE.&nbsp; Now you have yet another antenna, power requirements and most importantly, you need line of site.&nbsp; While you could hop pole to pole, that is a lot of microwave equipment you are putting in and those antenna designs are not as easily concealed.

If you go to an AT&amp;T territory, I cannot see anyone but AT&amp;T using poles then if they cannot collocate.&nbsp; AT&amp;T is not going to pay to get connectivity to a pole unless someone else is paying for it.&nbsp; They are either going to have to collocate or not use them outside of their LEC area.

Where it would be easier to use the poles, power line poles.&nbsp; You already have cable companies using them and it would be far easier to put fiber on them.&nbsp; Run it up and pole have it go to where you need it and most importantly, along the way you could splice fibers off.&nbsp; Then you could have one mobile provider per pole and they get fiber out of it as well.

As for telco equipment and people going irate.&nbsp; Way back when a city decided that they would not allow any new towers to be built even though there were coverage issues.&nbsp; Care to guess what happened?&nbsp; AT&amp;T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint all attended the meeting and accepted that they could not build any new towers.&nbsp; So they scrapped every plan they had and it was less than a year later before the city was calling asking what could be done and all four told them, they have no plans for new towers and if they started work today, it would take 18-24 months.&nbsp; Basically, all four turned the tables and let the city and the residents live with the decision they made.&nbsp; If someone called to complain about the spotty coverage, all four sent them to the municipality to voice their concerns.&nbsp; That city quickly streamlined the permit process and let new towers be built with very little input.&nbsp; The same can happen again elsewhere.

Most people would never see the antenna and most use contractors anyway.&nbsp; People could call and complain, but if the municipality owns the pole, they are making money and just ignore the complaints.&nbsp; The work would be done during the say when people are at work or people would think the pole is undergoing maintenance.&nbsp; You are really putting too much faith in the residents in knowing what is going on.&nbsp; A tower going up is easily noticed, an addition to a pole is not.&nbsp; The manufacturers of the poles could even make a new design that would help conceal it anyway.

There are many different antenna and tower designs.&nbsp; One that I have seen looks like a giant pine tree.&nbsp; The tower is brown and then faux branches were put on it to hide the antennas.&nbsp; It is not hard to conceal a tower.&nbsp; Many buildings and billboards have antennas on them as well.&nbsp; I have seen water towers with them and not one did the city have to do anything to appease irate residents as they didn't exist.

krishanguru143 12/5/2012 | 5:29:03 PM
re: LR Live: Going Big on Small-Cell Backhaul

If you look at the new towers, the antennae designs are far smaller.&nbsp; They could go even as far as do LTE only on these small cells as well.&nbsp; Since these would be for a small area, they would use an omnidirectional antenna.&nbsp; An LTE omnidirectional antenna is round and can be 40&rdquo; to 110&rdquo; long depending on the gain you are looking for.&nbsp; A 40&rdquo; antenna is quite easy to hide on a pole and no one would notice it.&nbsp; If the pole is aluminum, the antennae can be made to look aluminum like.&nbsp; Another possibility, stick it on the top.&nbsp; Someone would have to really look for it.&nbsp; I have seen PLENTY of poles with an antenna on the side or the top as it is for the police or other city departments.&nbsp; What is more noticeable, the antenna or the street light it is attached to?&nbsp; You are going to notice the street light first and most likely miss the antenna completely.

bogdanovici 12/5/2012 | 5:29:03 PM
re: LR Live: Going Big on Small-Cell Backhaul

Ok thanks. You think it&rsquo;s possible to easily integrate multiple 1-2m omni antennas into 10-15m pole? Also, what about RUs, power units, and other gear required to power multiple sites at that location. Furthermore, unless you bring fiber to every pole (expensive proposition if operator doesn&rsquo;t have fiber splicing location close to the pole) you&rsquo;ll need microwave antenna; even in higher/millimeter band existing microwave antennas are very visible.

I guess all I am saying is that I think collocation on poles will not be as widely seen as it is on towers.

Also, it is not what you&rsquo;ll notice first (omni antenna or street light) but what are ordinary people more anxious about. I think not too many people have concerns about street furniture but I know quite a few that are (unnecessarily in my opinion) freaking out about cellular equipment. The minute one of them sees any sort of telecom equipment in their neighborhood local municipal office will be receiving multiple calls from irate residents.

krishanguru143 12/5/2012 | 5:29:02 PM
re: LR Live: Going Big on Small-Cell Backhaul

You don&rsquo;t think this could be easily concealed on a pole?&nbsp; This is an all-in-one unit.


If the carrier decided not to use an all-in-one, the brains could be put in the pole or mounted somewhere on it.&nbsp; The Powerwave unit that is an all-in-one wouldn&rsquo;t even draw the attention of anyone, if they wanted to hide it, put a solar panel over it and many would think it is just that, a solar panel.

As you can see, if anything it is a U and U's when it comes to small cells. &nbsp;Back in the mid-90&rsquo;s a BTS took two racks.&nbsp; About a year or two later it was down to a single rack.&nbsp; About two years after that it was half of a rack but also handled four times the calls.&nbsp; Then it was down to a quarter of a rack.&nbsp; The BTS keeps getting smaller and smaller and the latest ones can handle GSM, GPRS, EDGE, CDMA (IS-95) 1xRTT, EV-DO rev a, HSPDA (W-CDMA), WiMAX, etc.&nbsp; The key is they use DSP&rsquo;s and don&rsquo;t need this bulky circuitry eating up space.


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