The future of mobile wireless networks: LTE and carrier Ethernet-based backhaul

The Current Wireless Network Landscape
As the popularity of smartphones, tablets and other intelligent mobile devices increases, and as consumer’s leverage these devices for increasingly high-bandwidth applications and services, today’s 3G wireless networks, and associated backhaul networks, are frequently overwhelmed. In fact, the amount of bandwidth currently consumed is reaching levels equal to that of wired broadband connections.

According to a recent report from market researching company eMarketer (New York), this problem is only going to grow. The number of smartphone users is expected to increase nearly 50% this year, and growth is projected at a steady double-digit pace through 2015. As such, wireless infrastructures will need to evolve quickly in order to meet demand and provide the necessary capacity. Specifically, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) now realize that their revenue growth depends more than ever upon their ability to not only deliver a wider range of mobile broadband applications and services, but also to provide these services while minimizing jitter, latency and downtime, and at reasonable price rates – all to ensure a quality user experience.

Moving to LTE – Challenges and Advantages
To meet bandwidth demands, MNOs worldwide are now looking to adopt next-generation wireless technologies, including WiMAX, HSPA+, and LTE, as well as a reliable backhaul architecture that overcome the limitations of 2G/3G networks and today’s largely TDM-based backhaul solutions. LTE is largely preferred over other next-generation technologies because it provides increased spectral efficiency and capacity as well as low latency. In fact, according to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), LTE is the fastest developing mobile technology in the industry’s history since it was first adopted by TeliaSonera in 2009. Additionally, GSA also recently noted that 248 operators (60% higher than a year ago), have committed to commercial LTE network deployments or are engaged in trials, technology testing or studies.

The main challenge MNOs face by implementing 4G LTE is the cost of network build-outs. A 4G LTE network usually requires that MNOs deploy new infrastructure, base stations, tower sites, backhaul and other gear. Designing the LTE network also requires substantial engineering to ensure support for traffic with different Class of Service (CoS) levels.

Despite these challenges, LTE is an ideal choice for MNOs because it provides increased 4G spectral efficiency, which supports more users at higher usage rates. It also minimizes latency and provides more bandwidth so MNOs can offer much more data capacity per user. Collectively, these benefits result in cost savings, which MNOs can then pass on to the customer in the form of competitive rate plans.

Carrier Ethernet-based Backhaul as the Backbone to LTE
According to Infonetics Research (Campbell, Calif., U.S.A.), when it comes to choosing a backhaul solution for LTE, MNOs and backhaul service providers are adopting Ethernet based-backhaul as the technology of choice because it is less complex and is six times less expensive than scaling legacy ATM and TDM technologies. The research also concludes that operators trust Carrier Ethernet because of the complete standards and extensive interoperability testing driven by the Metro Ethernet Forum.

Moreover, using a Carrier Ethernet-based backhaul framework is ideal because it provides both optimal transport and transparency to the mobile IP layer. A Carrier Ethernet-based solution – whether fiber-, microwave radio-, or millimeter radio-based – permits strong levels of control and robust functionality, allowing backhaul providers to scale the network quickly and achieve the lowest cost per bit as they increase bandwidth to meet growing user demand.


Additionally, this type of framework includes the key attributes needed by LTE including standardized interfaces, scalable services and synchronization, while providing a rich suite of Operations, Administration and Maintenance (OAM) functionality to provision, measure, and troubleshoot networks remotely. Carrier Ethernet avoids the added complexity and cost associated with IP routed backhaul solutions which dramatically increase both CAPEX and OPEX. Overall, Carrier Ethernet is inherently flexible, provides scalable bandwidth capacity and avoids use of costly over-provisioning of the network.

The Future of Mobile Wireless Networks
As a whole, consumers have – and will continue to demonstrate – tremendous demand for mobile bandwidth. While the implementation of LTE can be costly and complex, MNOs can leverage the benefits of increased spectral efficiency, low latency and increased bandwidth, as well as the increased backhaul capacity that a Carrier Ethernet-based backhaul solution can provide. By using LTE, MNOs can deliver a wider range of services and applications to satisfy consumer appetites, including SaaS, cloud services and high-speed mobile broadband connections, all while ensuring a quality user experience. By leveraging the right backhaul technology, they are also able to reduce the total cost of ownership and manage the scale of their networks efficiently and cost-effectively, which is essential to the future growth and success of their business.

Andy Walker is Director of Portfolio Solutions at Ciena Corporation. In this role, he is responsible for leading the Company’s strategy with mobile backhaul as an application and with mobile network operators as an industry segment. Andy has worked for several telecommunications equipment manufacturers holding various management positions in product management, marketing, sales and sales engineering. 

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