It's pretty much a fact that when wireless communication was just plain voice--and we should still not rule out voice--the notion of wireless backhaul meant renting a copper-based T1 circuit from the local ILEC. And, according to estimates by Infonetics Research, about 85 percent of U.S. cell sites are still, surprise, surprise, copper fed. This scenario creates a perfect opportunity for wholesale operators to offer new alternative options to wireless operators as they expand their respective data and next-gen voice capabilities.
In response to this need, a diverse set of wholesalers that include obviously the traditional ILECs (AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon and Qwest) and traditional wholesalers (Zayo Bandwidth and Level3), but also cable operators (Cox Business) and now wireless backhaul specialists (TTM and Fiber Tower) are presenting new wireless backhaul alternatives.
- Traditional ILECS: Traditional ILECs are an obvious fit for wireless backhaul. For years, wireless operators have relied on them for traditional T1 and higher circuits DS3s. Now, they are all focusing on bringing more fiber to more cell sites and building out hybrid Ethernet over SONET and fiber-based IP/Ethernet services. CenturyTel, Qwest, Verizon have both publicly said they are expanding fiber facilities to thousands of cell sites over the next year.
- Wholesalers: Of course, the question for wireless operators is if they want to buy something from what is essentially their competitor? While wireless operators traditionally had, and still do have that mentality, they also now have other options. Lacking the legacy T1 baggage inherent in an ILEC, wholesale operators such as Level 3 and 360 Networks are neutral carriers that have been leveraging fiber from their long-haul networks to serve wireless towers for a number of years. Level 3, for example, is moving to extend its fiber capabilities from existing amplification points to serve rural markets that pass along its fiber routes.
- Cable steps up: No less compelling are the cable operators. Already building out fiber for their own internal backhaul network and selling wholesale services to IXCs and other competitive carriers, the MSOs are emerging as sound providers of wireless backhaul. Cox, for instance, said 11 percent of its total wholesale service revenue comes from wireless backhaul.
- Wireless Backhaul Specialists: The newest group in the wholesale wireless backhaul provider mix is what might be called wireless backhaul specialists. Led by pioneering providers Telecom Transport Management (TTM) and FiberTower, this group is offering a mix of traditional fiber, TDM and even microwave-based alternative services.
In the first installment of our two-part special report on wholesale wireless backhaul services, we chronicle the methods and strategies of six top wireless backhaul wholesale operators, including two incumbents (Qwest and Verizon), two wholesalers (Level 3 and Zayo) and a cable MSO (Cox Business). Check back in early next week for part two of this series and feel free to download an accompanying eBook on the topic by clicking on this link.
Take a look and let us know what you think? --Sean