Startups Rush to Small-Cell Backhaul

With the lack of low-cost backhaul options one of the biggest challenges for mobile operators planning to deploy LTE small cells, several startup companies have emerged to fill the technology gap.

It's a tough space to fill, though: Any small-cell backhaul system has to be inexpensive to deploy and operate, have high enough capacity to support LTE and, of course, be reliable.

The good news for hopeful vendors, though, is that the operators are hungry for options: Light Reading Mobile understands that carriers are open to trying pretty much anything when it comes to small-cell backhaul technologies. Options include xDSL, FTTC, DOCSIS 3.0, microwave, millimeterwave or in-band backhaul (where part of an operator's radio access spectrum is used to provide backhaul capacity). (See Startup Tackles 4G Backhaul Bottleneck .)

So who are these startups? Here are three new companies targeting this niche market, each with a slightly different solution to the small-cell backhaul problem:

  • BLiNQ Networks Inc. -- Founded in June 2010 after acquiring intellectual property and assets from bankrupt Canadian vendor Nortel Networks Ltd. , this startup's backhaul pitch is a non-line-of-site wireless system that operates in sub-6GHz time division duplex (TDD) spectrum. The system, which comprises a backhaul hub and remote backhaul modules, is deployed below the roofline of buildings and can be configured in a point-to-multipoint or point-to-point setup. (See BLiNQ Backhauls Small Cells and BLiNQ Optimizes Backhaul.)

    The company has developed a technology called Managed Adaptive Resource Allocation (MARA), which essentially introduces self-organizing network (SON) capabilities into the backhaul network. The technology coordinates the backhaul nodes and minimizes interference by evaluating the radio frequency environment where the backhaul system is deployed.

    Blinq, which has a team of engineers from Nortel, has raised US$7.4 million in Series A funding from New Venture Partners LLC , Summerhill Venture Partners and the Business Development Bank of Canada . The company's CEO is Carleton Miller, who was president of the wireless network solutions group at Andrew Corp., which was acquired by Commscope in 2007. (See BLiNQ Secures $7.4M .)

  • Bluwan S.A. -- Spun off from Thales SA (Paris: TCFP.PA) in 2005, this company has developed an IP-based point-to-multipoint microwave system for wireless backhaul and broadband access, which it calls "fiber through the air" (FTTA). The backhaul system operates in the 42GHz frequency band and uses TDD spectrum. The company says its backhaul product can deliver multi-gigabit throughput to multiple base stations in a single sector.

    Bluwan's first target market for the FTTA backhaul product is the U.K., where 42GHz spectrum has been licensed to EE , MLL Telecom Ltd. and UK Broadband Ltd.

  • Cambridge Communication Systems Ltd. -- This new outfit has developed a multipoint-to-multipoint microwave system with SON capabilities that operates in 26GHz, 28GHz, 32GHz and 42GHz frequency bands using TDD or frequency division duplex (FDD) spectrum. The system, which is deployed below roof line, has a network point of presence (POP) located at a macro base station site and smaller nodes that are collocated with the small cells out in the radio access network. It does not need line-of-sight between the small cells and the network POP, but each node needs line of sight to at least one other node. The system's range is up to 1,000 meters in high rain-fade areas.

    Using SON, the small-cell backhaul network is self-healing if any nodes fail, automatically allocates capacity for dynamic traffic management and does not require frequency planning in TDD spectrum. Also, the system automatically accommodates any new nodes that are added.

    The company's founders are John Porter and Steve Greaves, who also started Adaptive Broadband Corp. (Nasdaq: ADAP) in 1998 and Cambridge Broadband Networks Ltd. in 2000.

    — Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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    Vishnu Goel 12/5/2012 | 5:00:25 PM
    re: Startups Rush to Small-Cell Backhaul

    Broadband is to drive new numbers and technology has to evolve such that the large number of MSME users can make use of it.The urge for capex reduction in backhaul will lead to newer technologies which are IP intensive and innovative and naturally the startups will play major role here.Lot of them are sprouting out of Europe and past alumni of those big companies is merely incidental! Vishnu Goel T&M +919810101238

    Michelle Donegan 12/5/2012 | 5:00:16 PM
    re: Startups Rush to Small-Cell Backhaul

    I've had several responses to this article from other startup and young companies about their small cell backhaul technologies. So there's apparently much more to say on this subject...

    lhiley 12/5/2012 | 4:59:59 PM
    re: Startups Rush to Small-Cell Backhaul <pclass="msonormal">interestingarticle,butunderstandingtheimpactofsmallcellsrequiresmorecontextfromthebackhaulindustryasawhole.&nbsp;it&rsquo;sbeenobviousforalongtimethatthedatawavewillcrucifyoperatorsgloballyandyes,manyareaddressingitwithlte.yetit&rsquo;sclearthatadditionaldensificationisalsoneeded,somethingwe&rsquo;vebeensayingforthepastthreeyears-smallcellsarejustanothernameforthat.




    opticalwatcher 12/5/2012 | 4:59:57 PM
    re: Startups Rush to Small-Cell Backhaul

    Are these 'small cells' related to the "Distributed Antenna Systems" that ATT wants to put up in Mountain View?


    The funny thing about these small lamppost antennas, is that Mountain View already has these--its a free WiFi system that Google has installed in the city (which is home to Google's headquarters).

    joset01 12/5/2012 | 4:59:56 PM
    re: Startups Rush to Small-Cell Backhaul

    As I understand DAS systems they are generally a collection of antennas (like the name suggests) spread over an area that are controlled by one central 'brain'. A small cell (pico, femto), combines the radio and the brain in one unit and sits on the edge of the network.

    jakeridden 12/5/2012 | 4:59:41 PM
    re: Startups Rush to Small-Cell Backhaul

    Re: Michelle Donegan's post/reply

    I'm interested in what they had to say?? Can you tell us the names of the companies?

    Michelle Donegan 12/5/2012 | 4:59:38 PM
    re: Startups Rush to Small-Cell Backhaul

    Not yet, I'm afraid. But I will share more when I can.


    jakeridden 12/5/2012 | 4:55:04 PM
    re: Startups Rush to Small-Cell Backhaul

    Don't tease us Michelle

    Michelle Donegan 12/5/2012 | 4:54:58 PM
    re: Startups Rush to Small-Cell Backhaul

    haha. The latest startup i rerported on is this one:

    Sub10 Systems --&nbsp;http://www.lightreading.com/document.asp?doc_id=211038

    Now I'm back from vacation and looking for others...

    Thanks for reminding me!


    allip 12/5/2012 | 4:50:43 PM
    re: Startups Rush to Small-Cell Backhaul

    Couple of more Michelle....

    Taqua: Ex-Nortel and CBF Networks [Ex-Proxim]

    folks working on the small cell backhaul using sub 6Ghz NLOS P2P and P2MP product offerings.


    Let us know if u have the updated list.

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