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Mobile service, costs and a green agenda

Written by  Lance Hiley
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Lance HileyIssue:Asia-Pacific I 2010
Article no.:12
Topic:Mobile service, costs and a green agenda
Author:Lance Hiley
Title:Vice President, Marketing
Organisation:Cambridge Broadband Networks
PDF size:193KB

About author

Lance Hiley is the Vice President of Marketing at Cambridge Broadband Networks; he is responsible for all marketing, market and channel development and the corporate brand. Before joining Cambridge Broadband Networks, Mr Hiley worked for Anite Telecoms as Marketing Director. Mr Hiley has worked for other wireless companies including Lucent Technologies Microelectronics and Parthus plc, defining products and managing alliances and acquisitions in Asia, Europe and North America. Lance Hiley studied Electrical Engineering at CEGEP Dawson in Montréal, Canada.

 

Article abstract

As data usage grows, the need for backhaul capacity multiplies. Operators have a series of complex operational, cost and strategic issues to consider when searching for solutions to their backhaul needs. Traditional solutions such as fibre or point-to-point microwave are costly and, generally speaking, increase power usage and carbon emissions. Point-to-multipoint backhaul, in contrast, costs less to roll out and run, use much less energy for transmission and cooling, reduce emissions and can scale up flexibly to meet growing capacity requirements.

 

Full Article

By the end of 2009 there will be more than 1.8 million cell sites connected using point-to-point microwave backhaul. The average power consumption of each one of these links is 85 watts, when modern, more power efficient microwave technology is used. Nevertheless, many cell sites are still connected using older, much less efficient, microwave backhaul technology that consumes over 153 megawatts . By upgrading these older links to the latest point-to-multipoint (PMP) microwave backhaul technology; power consumption could be cut as much as 66 per cent. Even calculating conservatively that power consumption could be cut by only 50 per cent, total energy saving would total 670,599 MWh per year. This would save almost 365,000 tons CO2 per year – equivalent to taking 123,000 cars off the road, but would this be enough to prompt the telecoms industry into investing in PMP microwave backhaul? Aligning mobile networking innovation and market growth with concern for the environment has never been a headline issue. Since mobile network operators are not among the major polluters, most of the attention focused on reducing energy consumption or carbon emission tends to overlook the wireless network infrastructure. Although mobile operators have faced some tough challenges in recent times, their environmental impact has never come under close scrutiny. The deployment of the 3G networks and the associated costs together with the current challenge of providing the capacity to continue to support data intensive applications on smartphones receive the most attention and investment. As with most sustainable practices, those that endure are those that not only benefit the environment, but that also offer cost savings or competitive advantages. Examples of this are easy to find, and almost every major industry in the world is now looking green ways to save costs with the services and products they deliver. Accordingly, mobile network operators would now like to know if PMP microwave backhaul can deliver strategic advantages and if it is worth investing in apart from its environmental advantages. In this regard, it is worth noting that most mobile operators’ backhaul networks are due for an upgrade. The growth of mobile data is already straining backhaul network capacity and can result in a poor service at peak times. This growth is becoming more severe as smartphones with ‘all you can eat’ data packages become more popular and users find new ways to consume data using a vast variety of ‘app store’ offerings. In developed markets, the existing network infrastructure, based on traditional point-to point-copper, fibre or microwave solutions, is not equipped to cope with the expected demand and solutions need to be found sooner rather than later. Despite the compelling arguments for the upgrade of backhaul networks, there are two significant challenges to overcome before operators can consider such an investment. First, backhaul is not cheap and in most cases, not that quick to deploy. Secondly, operators know that LTE (Long Term Evolution) is on its way. Be it two or five years away, upgrading backhaul networks to support LTE is going to be costly. This factor – the knowledge that heavy investment is just around the corner - is discouraging operators from making short-term investments to meet immediate data demands. The obvious temptation is to hold on tight until investment funds are available to channel into LTE. Delaying network upgrades until LTE rollout will increasingly degrade mobile data service for consumers and business users. Without upgrades operators will face lose customer confidence in their mobile data services, churn will increase and the sorely needed revenue growth mobile operators need will be lost. Investing today and ramping-up a scalable backhaul infrastructure to short-term and, later, LTE generated data traffic will help make sure uptake succeeds when LTE finally arrives. Operators have limited choices when it comes to deploying a future-proofed backhaul network, one that can meet the demands of today whilst being scalable to meet demand when LTE arrives. The obvious choices, including fibre and traditional point-to-point microwave backhaul, have their drawbacks. In the case of fibre the most significant drawback is the need for groundwork - the need to bury much of the cabling, which is expensive and time consuming, especially in urban environments where demand for mobile data is at its highest. Rolling out an underground infrastructure upgrade takes a long time, but demand needs to be met now - not two or three years down the line. Further, upgrades that require groundwork are not economically scalable. With fibre, the operators’ best investment is to deploy LTE immediately rather than to dig the earth twice. Point-to-point microwave backhaul, in contrast, requires little groundwork but, in order to support current and future data demands, especially with the introduction LTE is, considerably more cell towers will be required. Due to the numbers involved, a solution of this type would be expensive in terms of capital, operational expenditures and the sites needed for the cell towers. The latest generation of intelligent PMP microwave backhaul however, provides a real alternative to fibre and point-to-point microwave backhaul. PMP microwave systems can deliver fibre-like performance at a comparatively low cost and are quick to deploy. State-of-the-art PMP backhaul delivers peak data rates in excess of 140Mb/s, feature all-outdoor zero-footprint radios, operate on a selection of licensed spectrum and typically use half as many radios as point-to-point backhaul to build a network with equivalent coverage and capacity. These efficiencies are partly due to statistical multiplexing and the aggregation of traffic to increase available capacity. This removes the need for multiple aggregation points and the need to plan bandwidth requirements, including redundancy, for each and every point-to-point link. The net result is a backhaul network that can deliver Gigabits per second over a large geographical area with fewer cell masts and less network equipment. PMP networks are also scalable, they can be easily added to over time to extend coverage or increase capacity as required. Additionally, PMP microwave backhaul provides full support for current network standards and future all-IP network standards, concurrently if necessary. PMP microwave backhaul provides a seamless transition between standards - from legacy to LTE - by dynamically allocating resources between the demands placed on the network from all sources. As such, from a performance perspective, it provides the future-proofed solution that operators so urgently need. PMP microwave backhaul offers operators both capital and operational savings; PMP saves significant expenditures by avoiding ‘groundwork’, by dynamically sharing resources between new and legacy networks and by requiring fewer cell masts. This also reduces operational costs – half as many radios means half as much power consumption. It also means the backhaul network has a smaller carbon footprint since it uses half the energy and only half as many radio units need to be manufactured. Further, PMP microwave backhaul requires no energy for cooling, a significant part of the running costs of alternative backhaul solutions. Without even considering the environmental benefits, the argument for PMP microwave backhaul is strong. It saves money whilst providing a scalable and future-proofed solution. Fear of the future, including concerns over making the wrong investments or being left behind the competition, can stifle innovation and has almost certainly prevented countless environmentally conscientious initiatives from taking off. With PMP microwave backhaul however, this is not the case. In keeping with the rule of the best environmental innovations delivering strategic advantages, PMP microwave backhaul provides operators with the opportunity to cost effectively address present and future needs and in so doing, significantly reduce impact on the environment. By deploying PMP microwave backhaul solutions, improving service delivery and investing in the future goes hand-in-hand with being impressively green.

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