Carriers: Don't neglect backhaul assets


Carriers: Don't neglect backhaul assets

As wireless operators increase the bandwidth of their transport networks to allow for more data and voice traffic, they have to carefully monitor their backhaul infrastructure. Too little backhaul capacity and carriers risk putting a stranglehold on their network traffic. In other words, it doesn't do much good to fatten the transport pipes if you aren't planning to also increase your backhaul capacity.

Sprint has said that it expects to triple its backhaul assets. At the company's Technology Summit in August, Kathy Walker, Sprint's Chief Network Officer, said that currently more than 95 percent of the company's backhaul traffic is handled by the local exchange carrier and 5 percent by alternative sources. That equation will change and will likely include such alternatives as cable, microwave and fiber.

That message was reiterated at the FierceMarkets backhaul event "Beyond T1: Evaluating Backhaul Options" held earlier this week in Dallas. Clearly, operators are looking at the various alternatives to T1 backhaul and it's unlikely that they will choose just one solution.  

But managing all these different backhaul technologies will likely be a challenge for operators. Many of our panelists at the conference said that this could signal a growing opportunity for systems integrators because few carriers have employees well versed in all types of backhaul technology.  This, of course, may also signal a growing opportunity for dedicated backhaul networks such as FiberTower. The company recently signed a deal with Sprint to backhaul for seven of its WiMAX launch markets.

But it isn't just the growth of traffic that is driving operators to look at other backhaul technologies. Tony Kent, senior vice president, engineering and network operations at Cellular South, emphasized the need for operators to deploy backup backhaul technology at their cell sites for disaster recovery. Kent said that during Hurricane Katrina his company had some network outages and many were caused by the company's dependency on T1 backhaul. Kent advises operators to plan, test, prepare and train for disasters and to make sure that they have redundancy in their backhaul.

I expect we'll hear more about backhaul in the coming year as vendors develop and launch new backhaul products and operators slowly update their backhaul assets to include some of these alternative technologies. I don't think that operator's will make the transition away from T1s as much as supplement their existing backhaul with other options. -Sue