LR Live: Going Big on Small-Cell Backhaul
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