Operators must consider backhaul as part of overall network design

LONDON--Operators should be considering backhaul as part of their overall network  deployments, panellists at the Transport Networks for Mobile Operators trade conference here said on Tuesday.

In a session on future-proofing networks, Peter Jennings, CTO of MLL Telecom, said treating backhaul separately from a network's coverage requirements is less cost effective than designing the backhaul as part of the total network.

At the same time, Roberto Micali, senior mobile network engineer at Telecom Italia Lab, noted there is no "one fits all" approach to backhaul technology. Operators must "find the best way to use current technologies," and work out the "best way to choose a single technology" for each backhaul scenario, he said.

While the panellists agreed that LTE is emerging as a viable backhaul and offload technology, Jennings noted it must compete with Wi-Fi. "4G may be faster, but Wi-Fi is free," he pointed out, adding that consumers will always choose the cheaper option. The trick for LTE is to offer "the same service for the same price" as Wi-Fi, he said.

Peter O'Donnell, head of transport network design and planning at EE, commented that Wi-Fi is not the best option to handle data traffic. "The performance of hotspots is hugely variable," he said, adding that the difference in speed has a direct effect on consumers' experience. It's about "perception of our service," O'Donnell said, noting that customers "may not realise they're on a Wi-Fi network" and so blame their network operator for any drop in speed and performance.

Micali agreed, noting that Wi-Fi "doesn't have the same quality as 3G/LTE" when it comes to offloading traffic.

In a separate session, Vanesa Diaz, market development for EMEA at Corning Optical Communications, argued the case for fibre backhaul. On the sidelines of the event, Diaz told FierceWireless:Europe that fibre and wireless backhaul options must coexist. "I'm a big believer in balance. It's not all about fibre. In some scenarios, for example in rural areas, you will need wireless" to handle data offload and backhaul, because fibre coverage typically doesn't extend beyond major urban areas.

"The reality now is we all wish fibre was more available. Operators say they will use it where it's available. Where it isn't [available] they give up," Diaz said, adding that wireless and fibre backhaul will "coexist and help each other."

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