Startup Fastback peddles 'Any Line of Sight' small cell backhaul

Fastback Networks is stepping out of stealth mode with its pitch for backhaul technology that bridges the gap between where fiber networks are deployed and where operators want to place small cells.

The San Jose, Calif., company was founded in June 2010 and funded 11 months later by Series A investors including Foundation Capital, Granite Ventures and a strategic investor identified only as a "very large data OEM," said Kevin Duffy, Fastback cofounder, president and CEO.

Fastback's pitch to mobile operators as well Ethernet backhaul providers is that its products can provide a wireless extension from fiber to the pole, delivering freedom and flexibility to locate access nodes on any public or private asset with fiber-equivalent, carrier-grade performance. Duffy said Fastback's platform will enable Ethernet backhaul providers to extend locations where a radio access network (RAN) can go "as opposed to the burden being all on the mobile operator to figure out how to get it back to an existing point of service."

U.S. mobile operators deploying small cells generally want to use fiber backhaul, which is also their preferred backhaul method for macro towers. But getting fiber to what are expected over time to amount to millions of pole-mounted small cells will be an impossible task, said Duffy, who is a former CEO of Proxim. "Fiber's very pervasive but it's not ubiquitous. We all know that," he added.

In the absence of fiber, operators often turn to microwave backhaul, but that won't work for most small cells "because of the non-line-of-sight issue," he said. "But the problem domain doesn't end by saying, 'I have to build a non-line-of-sight radio.'"

Fastback's approach is "Any Line of Sight" (ALOS), a trademarked term that refers to an adaptive system that can be deployed in line-of-sight (LOS), near-line-of-sight and non-line-of-sight (NLOS) situations.

"This is where we begin to break ranks with the rest of the world. We don't see this as a backhaul problem. We see this as a service-edge extension opportunity," said Duffy. Because Fastback delivers uniform multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and carrier Ethernet for a seamless extension of edge services to the access layer, "We provide the same SLA (service level agreement) capabilities at the service edge (as fiber) even though (the service is) delivered over a wireless medium," he said.

To that end, Fastback has created what it calls intelligent wireless transport, which relies upon versatile components to deliver connectivity to any desired service location. The three main components in Fastback's solution are an intelligent backhaul radio, which operates in NLOS or LOS modes and delivers a range of 500 meters to 5 kilometers, 500 Mbps throughput and 500 uSec of latency per link; a four-port intelligent backhaul controller, which is basically a small form factor, outdoor-mounted customer edge (CE) switch; and an intelligent backhaul management system, which is a full-featured element management system (EMS).

Though Fastback told certain people such as John Donovan, senior executive vice president, technology and network operations, at AT&T (NYSE:T) more than a year ago what the company intended to do, Duffy said Fastback has been trying to play close to the vest because "we are making some very dramatic advances in technology" and wanted people to "see it for themselves" once the technology was ready for market.

Fastback's product line is in the beta phase with customer trials slated for the fourth quarter and general availability targeted for the first quarter of 2013. Duffy declined to specify who would host the trials or where they would be held.

For more:
- see Fastback's website

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