Rethinking backhaul


Rethinking backhaul
I suspect I may be the first editor to write a commentary on backhaul. It's not a particularly controversial subject, nor is it a sexy topic. But backhaul, which is defined as carrying voice traffic from the cell site to the network core, is drawing a lot of interest from wireless operators. The reason is simple--money. Specifically, vendors see an opportunity to make money by selling backhaul solutions to wireless operators that are looking for cost-saving backhaul solutions.

Emmy Johnson, analyst with Skylight Research, says that carriers spend between 12 percent and 18 percent of their capital expenditures on backhaul every year and that figure could rise to as much as 25 percent in the future as carriers deploy 3G and 4G technologies and their data and voice traffic increases dramatically. When you hear figures like this, it's not surprising that everyone is talking about backhaul.

Of course, T1 lines have long been the dominant technology used by U.S. operators for backhaul, but Johnson thinks that trend is going to change. She says currently most cell sites support four to eight T1 lines but when traffic increases, these cell sites will need to support 16 to 32 T1 lines or more. This extra capacity demand will force operators to decide whether they should lease additional T1s or own the backhaul transport mechanism by using other technologies such as microwave links and wireless mesh networks.

Tier 1 operator Sprint is considering an assortment of options. The company is committed to not being dependent upon T1 lines, which makes sense since Sprint doesn't have a wireline arm like its competitors Verizon and AT&T. Durga Satapathy, manager, next generation access in Sprint's Technology Development team, says that Sprint will leverage multiple architectures and technologies (wired and wireless) to provide backhaul for the company's new and legacy networks.

I'm certainly not a backhaul expert, but I find it intriguing that U.S. operators are finally starting to look beyond the T1 when it comes to selecting their next-gen backhaul options. If you want to learn more about the pros and cons of different backhaul solutions, click here to view an archive of the FierceWireless Webinar on backhaul.

I hosted the event yesterday with Johnson, Satapathy and Ken Izatt, Alcatel-Lucent's business development manager in the wireless transmission division. I think you'll find their comments and presentations interesting, I certainly did.  Look for more from FierceWireless on operators' backhaul dilemmas. We're hosting an executive summit on backhaul in Dallas on Oct. 2.  I personally put together the agenda. Check it out, here.  -Sue