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Small Cells Mean Big Backhaul Challenges

Sarah Thomas
9/25/2013

SDN and NFV may be garnering the most attention ahead of next week's Ethernet & SDN Expo (ESDN), but backhaul will likely be at the top of the event's hot topics list for the mobile operator executives who are counting on small cells to build their networks.

When it comes to small-cell backhaul, there is still a lot to discuss. In fact, Heavy Reading senior analyst Patrick Donegan told us most mobile operators are still working out how to get small cells out in the metro wide-area public access environment. Sure, they already have a lot deployed in homes and enterprises, but public access is a different beast. There are tremendous challenges in getting the costs right and in determining how to deploy packet technologies in mobile backhaul networks.

"From a radio planning perspective, the operators are intent on reusing the transport infrastructure they already have, which makes sense, but you can't just put the small cell wherever the existing backhaul infrastructure is," he said. "It doesn't work like that."

Rather, the backhaul needs to be extended to wherever the small cells are located, so operators have to map out new strategies. As they work through the challenges, Heavy Reading predicts the market will move slowly for the next few years. "There's a tremendous amount of work to be done," Donegan said.

With his guidance, the operators will be getting to work on the issues during ESDN. Donegan is hosting a panel Wednesday, Oct. 2, entitled, "Flexible Backhaul For A New Generation Of Public Access Small Cells." Executives from EXFO (Nasdaq: EXFO; Toronto: EXF), Overture Networks Inc. , ADVA Optical Networking (Frankfurt: ADV) , and Canoga Perkins will join him to debate the hot topics in mobile backhaul, such as synchronization, G.8032 Ethernet ring protection switching, and NID integration. Because it's the ESDN Expo, you can count on software-defined backhaul networks to be addressed at some point.

ESDN opens its doors at the Javits Center in New York City on Wednesday, Oct. 2, the morning after Light Reading's Leading Lights Awards party. (See: Top 10 Reasons to Attend Ethernet & SDN Expo and Leading Lights 2013.)

In the meantime, check out our pre-show coverage on the Ethernet & SDN Expo show site.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading


Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to Ethernet & SDN Expo, a Light Reading Live event that takes place Oct. 2-3, 2013 at the Javits Center in New York City. Co-located with Interop, Light Reading's Ethernet & SDN Expo will focus on how the convergence of Carrier Ethernet 2.0 with emerging carrier software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization technologies could change the whole telecom landscape for service providers. For more information, or to register, click here.


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pdonegan67
pdonegan67
9/26/2013 | 6:55:51 AM
Re: Backhaul
I don't know that there is "a main issue" as such.

Each outdoor small cell needs to be provisioned with backhaul according to a model which has some commonalities with what's needed for macro and micro layers, for sure.

But there are differences in terms of backhaul capacity requirements per small cell, and variable performance requirements depending on whether the operator is using an Offload model or not for the small cell layer.

There are inteference issues with more concentrated cell deployments as well as NLOS considerations at street level. Is fiber available for backhaul? If not, what kind of backhaul spectrum is available in that specific location? How much of it ? Licensed or unlicensed? What frequencies? Might Ethernet over Copper cut it instead?

What's  the price of the equipment? If a wireless backhaul start-up has the right kit at the right price, how much confidence does the operator have that that vendor will still be around two or three years from now? Can a bigger vendor be persuaded to buy up that start-up? Or will that bigger vendor have its own product in that space within twelve months anyway?

Even the above list isn't exhaustive. You could even say that the main issue is that there is no main issue: just an awfully long list of siting, cost and performance deliberations, as well as commercial moving parts, each of which is often having to be worked through in a customized manner, city by city, site by site. And backhaul is only one piece of the puzzle.

Hence why we're still quite a way away from anything resembling the (more or less) cookie-cutter model that is well established in the case of the macro layer.
Koleadeleye
Koleadeleye
9/26/2013 | 6:15:31 AM
Backhaul challenge
I completely agree with you Sarah. The challenge of back haul is muck more pronounced in developing world and especially in Africa where data demand has been on exponential demand. Meeting the data demand has generally been hindered by the constraints of the back haul. A good example is here in NIgeria where customers in dense area have been experiencing low data throughput, all the solutions including deployment of cell have been hindered by how to transport the traffic.
allip
allip
9/26/2013 | 3:34:11 AM
Re: Backhaul
I don't quite understand what the main issue with Backhaul of Small Cells is?

1. If a system can connect the small cells at street level to a hub @ the maco backhaul location / fiber drain point in multipoint topology then the backhaul scenario is same as today's macro backhaul.

2. Regarding the issue of pole/site acquisition, isn't it somewhat similar to outdoor Wi-Fi.
 Granted that in the small cell scenario we need picocell + transport (uwave)

3. Some form of SON will be required similar to what's required today for macro backhaul or even femto cells regarding zero touch provisioning and failover handling similar to macro backhaul.

4. Another topic which is debatable is why do we need NID's and SCR  @ street level. It's virtually the leaf node and the LTE it's pure Ethernet circuit, wherein the functionality can easily be provided by the backhaul gear
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
9/25/2013 | 12:21:15 PM
Re: Backhaul
I'm with you on the hype curve, Ritch. I think the panel will do a great job getting realistic about it the potential and the challenges. I imagine the topic of self-organizing networks (SON) will come as well. It seems like a really important technology to me, but AT&T is the only one really talking about it so far.
RitchBlasi
RitchBlasi
9/25/2013 | 10:46:57 AM
Backhaul
Spot on with backhaul being a huge issue here...similar to what was faced when folks talked about the free muni-Wi-Fi networks.  How do you provide the appropriate and cost-effective backhaul into hundreds of "mini-sites."  It will be interesting to see what information comes out of this event as small cells have almost been overhyped as much as mHealth. 
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