Transmode Joins Mobile Backhaul Fray

Swedish optical specialist Transmode Systems AB became the newest kid on the mobile backhaul block today as it unveiled a new product designed to help mobile operators migrate to a packet transport architecture.

The company released details this morning on its new Multi-Service Mobile Backhaul solution, which is part of its Intelligent WDM (iWDM) TM-series of products.

Transmode's system supports native TDM and Ethernet traffic over a single wavelength and supports up to eight synchronization streams that can be either physical layer TDM synchronization, synchronous Ethernet, or packet synchronization. The system can support up to 4-Gbit/s transport out to each base station.

The solution is not just for mobile traffic backhaul: It also supports fixed network traffic and is designed to backhaul traffic from DSLAMs.

With the new product suite, Transmode claims to resolve one of the dilemmas facing mobile operators in the backhaul network -- that is, the need to deploy Ethernet out to the cell site for high-speed data while at the same time supporting legacy circuit-switched backhaul for voice and lower-speed data traffic. Transmode's solution carries legacy time division multiplexing (TDM) and Ethernet-based transport in parallel over the same wavelength to each cell site.

"We run [the TDM and Ethernet] in parallel," Transmode CTO Sten Nordell tells Unstrung. "Keep your TDM, which you know and love, but hate for cost reasons, without jeopardizing the [quality of service] by mixing them together."

The vendor is getting into the packet backhaul market when it is still in its infancy. A new Heavy Reading report, "Packet Backhaul: Carrier Strategies & Real-World Deployments," finds that operators are slow to adopt packet backhaul despite the growing data traffic volumes that threaten both network capacity and profit margins. (See Carriers Go Slow on Packet Backhaul.)

At the end of April 2009, there were fewer than 55,000 cell sites with live packet backhaul worldwide out of a global total of 2.4 million cell sites, finds the report.

The reasons for the low deployment levels are organizational issues within operators and operators' perceptions of the risks involved in shifting from circuit to packet-based transport in the backhaul network.

Nordell agrees that packet backhaul hasn't yet taken off, but says that's because it's a complicated transmission architecture. And if operators opt for an overlay approach -- where packet protocols are delivered over TDM, for example -- that "presents some problems," he says.

With the new solution, Transmode is betting on operators taking fiber out to their cell sites. The vendor says this is more likely to happen in urban areas for high-end 3G operators and next-generation Long Term Evolution (LTE) operators. The vendor also points to some estimates that 50 percent of base stations in the U.S. and Europe will have fiber connections in 2012. (See Verizon: Optical Equals Cheaper LTE.)

The Swedish vendor is hardly alone in identifying mobile backhaul as a new business opportunity. It could even be said to be somewhat late to the party, as rival transport equipment firms such as Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA) and a host of specialists are already well established in the growing market. See:

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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