The mobile data traffic explosion in the past five years has brought mobile backhaul into the spotlight
Operators not spending enough on mobile backhaul, which is the connection between base station and core network
A CHAIN is only as strong as its weakest link -- an adage that perhaps best describes the escalating challenges faced by mobile network operators (MNOs) in South-East Asia, according to telco gear maker Tellabs Inc.
Speaking to the media recently, Wong Kian Soon, Asean head of solution sales at Tellabs, noted that while MNOs are actively planning to increase their radio capacity by upgrading their mobile networks to newer technologies such as Long-Term Evolution (LTE), the same can’t be said about upgrades to their mobile backhaul connections.
The mobile backhaul is the nerve connection of a mobile network and is defined as the data link that connects base stations to an operator’s core data centre network through the use of microwave, leased line or fibre connections.
Citing a report by Strategic Analytics, Wong said that around the globe, mobile backhaul networks are undergoing a significant transformation as mobile broadband traffic has grown by orders of magnitude in an all IP-based (Internet Protocol) network with connections over fibre and next generation microwave that support HSPA+ (high speed packet access) and LTE capacity.
Commissioned by Tellabs and entitled, ‘Future backhaul needs of mobile network operators,’ the study by the Boston-based analyst firm noted that in the next five years, new developments in radio access network's (RAN) small cells, heterogeneous networks (HetNets), LTE-Advanced, as well high performance smartphones and tablets will push backhaul requirements to a new level.
“Massive new network backhaul capacity will be required to connect new and upgraded cell sites that accommodate peak traffic bursts, which are often four or five times as high as the average traffic throughput,” the report read.
The report also noted that mobile data traffic explosion in the past five years has brought mobile backhaul into the spotlight and it is now a critical element of mobile network design.
“Global mobile data traffic has increased 13 times over the last five years and will grow by five to six times more by 2017,” the report noted.
Wong said as long as MNOs continue to under-engineer backhaul requirements and at the same time over-engineer the ‘last mile’ access by building higher capacity networks using LTE, the entire mobile network will still suffer from poor quality of service and speed congestion, as the backhaul will still be the “weakest link in the mobile network chain.”
Quoting from the report, Wong said, “Operators have learned the lesson that under-provisioning backhaul can have serious consequences on network performance and lead to bad publicity and customer churn (customers leaving an operator).
“The cost of losing customers and re-acquiring them is going to be more expensive in the long run compared to pouring more investment into the mobile backhaul now,” he argued.
Spend to save
The Strategic Analytics study also revealed that globally, MNOs are not spending enough on their respective mobile backhaul requirements to keep up with the growing subscriber data demand.
Wong said that based on Tellabs' own data and the analyst firm’s study, MNOs typically spend an average of 17.5% of their total cost of operations on backhaul requirements. However, this planned investment figure will fall far short of meeting traffic demand worldwide, he added.
“For example, the forecasted data usage that MNOs are expected to experience in Asia Pacific by 2017 would be 9.4 petabytes and they would need to spend an extra US$5.3 billion just to meet this demand.
“Currently, many operators are not spending enough on mobile backhaul to prepare for the eventual surge in data usage,” he said. “MNOs may then experience poor quality of service, which would naturally result in churn.”
On what can be done to address this problem, Wong said Tellabs has advised its clients to spend more in preparing for the coming mobile backhaul data tsunami.
“Tellabs recommends that for every extra US$1 spent (above the average of 17.5% of the total cost of operations), MNOs, in general, can protect US$4 in revenues,” he claimed, adding that this includes protecting an operator from churn.
Besides this, he said MNOs, if they haven’t already done so, must also view mobile backhaul traffic planning as an essential part of network planning as it is a critical element in avoiding performance bottlenecks that would impact subscribers.
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