Alcatel-Lucent revamps backhaul portfolio for small cells

Backhaul issues can break the business case for small cells, and Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ: ALU) is hoping that by expanding its mobile backhaul portfolio it can help make small cells even more attractive to mobile operators.

Alcatel-Lucent said its expanded mobile backhaul portfolio leverages the company's Internet protocol (IP)/multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) capabilities to provide a consistent approach to supporting backhaul, whether it is delivered over optical fiber, copper or microwave.

Operators are taking different approaches to small cells, with U.S. operators engaging in rapid LTE rollouts with an eye toward using small cells to boost 4G coverage and capacity. Operators in Europe, the Middle East and Asia--which are largely in the early stages of transitioning to LTE--are looking primarily at small cells as a 3G offload strategy, Heidi Adams, director of product marketing for Alcatel-Lucent's networks business unit, told FierceBroadbandWireless. "As operators go through these transitions, they really need to take a look at the backhaul to ensure that's not a barrier to the work that's going on in the mobile services side of the house," she said.

"Enhancements to address small cell backhaul help to make small cells a more attractive and viable way to address demand for ubiquitous high-quality mobile broadband. The ability to use the network for macro and metro means even greater economies of scale--which is critical given escalating mobile broadband demand," said Nick Marshall, principal analyst of mobile networks at ABI Research.

Small cell locations can include lampposts, bus stops, public buildings and stadiums. "In dense, urban areas, we expect anywhere from three to 10, or even more, small cell sites could be deployed for every macrocell site," said Adams. "Of course each one of these sites has to be connected (to the network) and the bandwidth is going up. So as you go from 3G to LTE, we're going from connectivity in the tens of megabits to the hundreds of megabits and even gigabit capacity looking forward."

Source: Infographic courtesy of Alcatel-Lucent

As part of its backhaul revamp, Alcatel-Lucent's is introducing new variants of its 7705 Service Aggregation Router (SAR) family to support 3G, LTE and Wi-Fi over any backhaul access, leveraging any networking topology. Among other things the updated 7705 SAR offerings provide an end-to-end service layer for more efficient operations, administration and management.

The company's new 7705 SAR-W is specifically designed for use with outdoor metrocell sites. "What we're doing here is extending our macrocell backhaul portfolio on the MPLS side with this new platform that is really optimized for public access, outdoor, small cell deployments," said Adams.

Further, Alcatel-Lucent has upped capacity on its flagship 9500 Microwave Packet Radio to enable greater platform backhaul bandwidth capabilities for both their macro and small cell sites.

The vendor is offering an expanded range of microwave transport options, including 60 GHz point-to-point line-of-sight and sub 6 GHz point-to-point and point-to-multipoint non-line-of-sight applications. "We're seeing a growing need for unlicensed solutions, which enable you to get deployments out quicker. You need smaller form factors, and they need to be very easy to install," said Adams.

Alcatel-Lucent also introduced a new GPON (gigabit passive optical network) fiber-based metro cell backhaul access solution, which is designed for carriers with both landline and mobile operations. "On the fixed arm, they may have made a fair amount of investment in GPON infrastructure, or perhaps in copper plants," said Adams, and being able to leverage those investments in their small cell deployments can save operators significant investment. To that end, Alcatel-Lucent introduced a GPON SFP ONT, which provides an optical network terminal for GPON services in a very small form factor that slides into a port on a small cell radio or small cell MPLS device.

In addition, the vendor is pushing a broader range of professional services to help design, optimize and deploy backhaul networks to support metro cell deployments. This further extends the recently announced Alcatel-Lucent lightRadio Metrocell Express solution for turnkey deployments.

Alcatel-Lucent claims to have deployed more than 200 mobile backhaul networks for operators around the world and holds lead ranking in market share according to ABI. This year the vendor signed contracts with Russia's VimpelCom, India's Bharti Airtel and U.S. operator C Spire Wireless.

A recent report from Infonetics Research predicts a cumulative $43.6 billion will be spent on macrocell mobile backhaul equipment from 2012 to 2016 as operators outside of North America buy up microwave gear to support rising capacity requirements. Nearly 95 percent of all macrocell mobile backhaul equipment spending is on IP/Ethernet gear, with 54 percent of this going for packet-capable microwave equipment, said Infonetics. The firm expects Ethernet mobile backhaul router revenue to peak in 2015 as the buildout of macrocell mobile backhaul subsides and the focus shifts to small cells.

For more:
- see this Alcatel-Lucent release
- see this Infonetics release

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