Rural Markets Have Big-City Backhaul Needs
That's because most large wireless operators already have their backhaul plans fleshed out in major markets and are now turning their attention to smaller markets and rural areas. Verizon Wireless is a good example of this. (See LR Live: Verizon Going All Ethernet for LTE.)
Tower Cloud provides backhaul in both major cities and rural markets in the Southeastern U.S., but Mudry says the rural markets have lots of cell sites in need of a backhaul makeover. Operators often assume these sites have lower bandwidth requirements than metro areas because they have fewer users, but Mudry said this isn't the case.
The cell site density is also less in rural areas, so providers end up building one huge cell packed with large radio antennas that still match the bandwidth comparable to a downtown market with 12 or more sites.
"It was something of a challenge to some traditional, conventional thinking," added Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Patrick Donegan. "Particularly as you move to small cells in urban markets, you can see how the per-cell-site requirements can be managed in downtown areas whereas in rural areas it's less easy to, because that big cell will get more bandwidth thrown at it."
In these rural markets, Mudry said that the T1 bandwidth requirements of the path will be an indicator of Ethernet requirements of the future. (See Ethernet Quickly Eclipsing T1s for Backhaul.)
"Sites in the past were just for coverage of voice calls, but now it's people in the backseat watching streaming HD movies," Mudry said.
Tower Cloud uses fiber wherever it can economically justify it, which usually means including microwave on the fringe of its markets. Mudry said that in rural markets backhaul providers have to get creative. That includes partnering with companies they may consider competitors, like the local RLECS, and collocating wherever possible. Speed to market is also critical here as the smaller markets can't support five to six backhaul providers like cities can.
"Backhaul decisions are made on a market basis, not a site-by-site basis," Mudry said. "You have to establish yourself in a market."
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile