T-Mobile: 95% of our backhaul is fiber

T-Mobile's prescience in deploying fiber to the vast majority of its cell sites over the past five years has given the company's LTE rollout a significant head start, according to a company executive.

"T-Mobile began an aggressive rollout of enhanced backhaul in 2007--well ahead of our competitors and long before we began to offer 4G--which has enabled us to deliver a competitive, fast and dependable 4G experience. T-Mobile has enhanced backhaul covering 100 percent of our 4G network, 95 percent of which is fiber backhaul," wrote Dave Mayo, T-Mobile's senior vice president of technology strategy, finance and development on a company blog.

As most operators have discovered, even multiple T1 or E1 backhaul circuits at a wireless site cannot deliver the bandwidth needed for video and other data-intensive services. By upgrading most of its legacy time-division multiplexing (TDM) circuits to Ethernet, T-Mobile says it has been able to avoid backhaul bottlenecks and deliver fast data speeds over its HSPA network.

"Our aggressive deployment of cell site backhaul is one of the reasons our 4G network outperformed Verizon's LTE network in download speeds in 11 markets in PC Magazine's recent Fastest Mobile Networks test," wrote Mayo.

AT&T (NYSE:T) CFO John Stephens said last month that 90 percent of AT&T's mobile data traffic is now traveling over "enhanced" backhaul, though he declined to be more specific.

An even bigger payoff looms as T-Mobile rolls out LTE, minus the backhaul concerns that usually plague such deployments. "Because we've already upgraded to fiber backhaul on over 32,000 cell sites, the transition to LTE will be a much faster process, enabling us to rapidly deploy LTE in 2013," Mayo said.

T-Mobile, which is the last of the nation's Tier 1 carriers to begin an LTE rollout, will formally launch LTE in 2013 as part of a $1.4 billion investment T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom is making this year and next year; the investments will total $4 billion over time.

In May, T-Mobile selected Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Nokia Siemens Networks as primary infrastructure vendors for its forthcoming LTE network. The vendors will install LTE Release 10-capable equipment at 37,000 cell sites across T-Mobile's HSPA+ network footprint as part of the carrier's effort to increase signal quality and improve network performance this year.

T-Mobile's choice of fiber for backhaul is not surprising. Although microwave and millimeter-wave backhaul is preferred in much of the world and is gaining popularity among some U.S. wireless operators, fiber is still seen as the preferred mode of backhaul transport in this country.

In a report earlier this year, research firm iGR predicted the demand for U.S. mobile backhaul will grow at a compound annual growth rate of nearly 58 percent between 2011 and 2016. Further, iGR found that growth of fiber backhaul is expected to reach a CAGR of nearly 85 percent during the same period.

For more:
- see this T-Mobile blog post

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