Timing the shift to Ethernet in mobile backhaul

Jim Theodoras, Ethernet AllianceA bad situation just got worse. Traditional mobile backhaul infrastructures are already long past overcapacity due to 3G phones and video streaming. Now here comes an influx of high-bandwidth 4G phone and iPad traffic, both soon to be video phone call-enabled. Bandwidth consumption has simply grown more quickly than legacy backhaul technologies can withstand--a double whammy of more users plus more data per user.

While Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) T1 services might've been able to shoulder backhaul when the 2G mobile-traffic mix was dominated by voice, explosion in bandwidth-intensive data applications in the 3G and 4G eras is changing everything. Carriers are rapidly reducing TDM's role in mobile backhaul. An April 2010 Infonetics report, "Mobile Backhaul Equipment and Services," documents the "shift in thinking by mobile operators and transport providers around the world:"

  • The firm's August 2009 survey of 18 mobile operators and transport providers indicated that 60 percent were taking a hybrid approach to backhaul that leverages both Ethernet and TDM. At that time, only 47 percent intended to commit to pure Ethernet.

  • Infonetics' survey in March 2010--just six months later--showed a near flip in the ratio: 45 percent hybrid, 65 percent Ethernet-only.

Over the past 18 months, it is pure, high-capacity Ethernet that is assuming preeminence as the universally accepted backhaul interface solution.

Over the past 18 months, it is pure, high-capacity Ethernet that is assuming preeminence as the universally accepted backhaul interface solution. This is due largely to ease of use, cost-efficient scaling and its compatibility with the very types of packet traffic that are driving most of the growth. The intensity of the trend, in fact, has been reshaping business models. With 4G jockeying and competition so fierce, overlapping coverage areas, and subscriber growth outpacing build-out schedules, a mobile-carrier partner ecosystem has evolved that helps carriers reach more subscribers quicker. 

Mobile carriers now partner with second-, third-, fourth- and even fifth-tier service providers in areas where they typically haven't offered advanced services. Such a diverse ecosystem is possible only with Ethernet, and only those service providers with a state-of-the-art Ethernet backhaul capability have been able to capitalize on carriers' eagerness to expand their 4G coverage.

Continue to Part 2 >>

Jim Theodoras is the President of the Ethernet Alliance, and a columnist for FierceTelecom.

Timing the shift to Ethernet in mobile backhaul
Read more on