Making cell site routers smarter

How small cells can help operators in the region to face mobile backhaul
Gary Croke, director of Corporate Marketing at Aviat Networks.
Gary Croke, director of Corporate Marketing at Aviat Networks.

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A recent study conducted by Heavy Reading revealed the challenges network operators face regarding mobile backhaul. What keeps most mobile operators up at night is the rising costs of maintaining their networks. In fact, one in four (25%) identified Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) as their No. 1 challenge. One in five (22%) felt the biggest problem was increasing capacity.

Mobile operators are finding it hard to add more capacity to their network—without disrupting existing services. They are also grappling with the growing cost of maintaining backhaul equipment. Why? Because cell sites are loaded with equipment,which means more systems to upgrade, manage and maintain. All this adds cost for the mobile operator, wasting valuable resources at a critical time.

They can ill afford inefficiencies in the backhaul. Microwave connects about 50% of all cell sites worldwide, and today’s generation of cell site routers fail to integrate with microwave backhaul solutions. What operators need is a smarter cell site router that handles the headache of rising backhaul costs as well as the need for more capacity.

The answer cannot be to deploy regular routers into microwave sites. These devices represent separate boxes adding cost, complexity and performance issues such as increased latency and power consumption—not to mention the hassle of managing extra devices. Perhaps worse is that these devices have not been designed with the nuances of the microwave network in mind—leading networks to underperform. To reduce cost, complexity and prevent underperformance, routers and radios must be integrated, but so far regular routers and microwave radios have been limiting each other in what they can offer.

With the arrival of microwave routers early in 2014, operators have started to turn back the tide of complexity in the backhaul. Microwave routers include a microwave radio unit, an IP/MPLS router, a Layer 2 Carrier Ethernet switch, a Power over Ethernet (PoE) injector and a TDM pseudowire device all in one box. By combining critical pieces of network equipment into one, cell sites are immediately more cost and energy efficient as well as exhibiting lower latency, faster failure performance and easier management and troubles hooting.

The IP/MPLS capability in the smart cell site router also opens up the enterprise opportunity for mobile operators. This is especially true for operators in markets where there is limited fixed-line infrastructure, such as emerging or geographically dispersed markets.

Why? Because operators are suddenly able to deliver a whole range of enterprise-focused, fixed-line services. With access to Layer 3 at the edge of the network, access services such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) become easy and cost effective to launch and maintain.

That is good news for mobile operators in the region. It means offering new revenue-generating services without having large capital expenditure to alter network infrastructure. Because of the additional revenue opportunities offered by Layer 3 functionality, many network operators are already starting to see the need to integrate Layer 3 intelligence deeper into their own networks.

It is also great news for enterprises. Businesses already rely on their mobile operator to provide the cellular coverage needed for voice and data. With an enterprise class offering from mobile operators, businesses can benefit from bundled services from a single provider that combines robust mobility with reliability and security.

Heavy Reading surveyed a number of international mobile network operators to gauge their appetite for microwave routers. It found that 76%of operators they surveyed declared that they are “likely” or “very likely” to deploy a microwave router within three years. That is a remarkably positive consensus for such a recent innovation.

Robust telecommunications infrastructure is paramount for the healthy functioning of 21st century business. Data networks have become the arteries, and if mobile operators are unable to provide the capacity and bandwidth needed—that will negatively influence their own business, nevermind their business customers. That’s why we need to get smarter on cell sites—sooner rather than later.

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