New Mobile Services Demand Backhaul Rethink

Mobile networks are seemingly in a constant state of change, as new technology is added to enable more users to share and access increasing amounts of content. A virtuous circle is being created, as consumers create and share more content to take advantage of the increasing speeds offered by mobile networks.

In fact, last year's mobile data traffic was nearly 30 exabytes -- almost 30 times the size of all global Internet traffic in the year 2000. Interestingly, nearly 55 percent of this content was video traffic. To reinforce the virtuous circle theory, the latest 4G LTE connections represent only 6 percent of mobile connections today, but they already account for 40 percent of mobile data traffic.

Another trend that should be of concern is that smartphones represent approximately 30 percent of global handsets, but generate 69 percent of global network traffic. More significantly, consumers are increasingly using their smartphones, with the average amount of traffic growing 45 percent from 2013 to 2014. As the capability of smartphones continues to increase -- in terms of processing power, cameras and screens capable of not only high-definition video, but also 2K and 4K video -- this trend is set to accelerate.

Over the next five years, we will see the explosive growth of the Internet of Things, resulting in billions of new sensors and devices being connected to the network, interacting with each other and increasingly with people. From smart homes to connected and automated cars to beacons in retail outlets, consumers will be interacting with things in ways that were previously inconceivable. This will also generate changes in network traffic: for example, thousands of connected vehicles in a traffic jam in a city overloading a particular cell, or a major weather incident resulting in hundreds of thousands of smart homes sending video alerts to home owners.

With the continued introduction of 4G LTE and LTE-Advanced, new services, such as voice over LTE (VoLTE) and LTE Broadcast, are being aggressively rolled out worldwide in the short term and, in the future, device-to-device contextual services are set to compound this continuing traffic explosion. These services will not only generate traffic growth, but also drive new performance requirements in the network to deliver the experiences that consumers will expect. These performance requirements will be across the entire network, and will relate to throughput, latency, packet loss, synchronization and security.

With this increase in data traffic, network capacity is clearly the number one focus for network planners. Intensive use of small cells and HetNets in urban networks is expected to increase. What may surprise many people is that the backhaul that links all of this together may become the critical component in the network architecture.

As more speed and capacity is built into radio access networks, a corresponding increase in capability has to be considered for backhaul. However, more fundamentally, there is a requirement to rethink the principles of backhaul operation: Historically, all packets were treated alike, but with the introduction of VoLTE, latency will be critical, particularly in a busy network.

Equally, with LTE Broadcast, HetNet interference and network edge management, there is a requirement to move from frequency synchronization to more sophisticated phase synchronization to ensure guaranteed performance. Backhaul is no longer transparent to this synchronization requirement, and in the near future, backhaul latency and synchronization will be key components of the networks' overall delivery mechanism.

— Steve Bell, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

This blog is sponsored by Huawei.

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