HGC launches wholesale mobile fronthaul service

09 Mar 2016

ITEM: Hutchison Global Communications Limited (HGC) revealed plans Wednesday to launch what is being billed as one of the the world’s first wholesale active mobile fronthaul service in Hong Kong.

The mobile fronthaul deployment – supplied by Infinera – will not only provide HGC’s sister company 3 Hong Kong with the fronthaul fiber infrastructure necessary to roll out a centralized or cloud-RAN architecture, but allow HGC to lease the same infrastructure to rival cellcos, enabling them to reduce operating expenses and improve RAN performance. HGC’s initial fronthaul services will range from 2.5 Gbps to 10 Gbps.

“This is a new revenue generating service for HGC, expanding their services in the mobile transport arena,” says Jon Baldry, Infinera’s director of metro marketing. “Their mobile operator customers will be able to use mobile fronthaul as part of a wider C-RAN architectural shift and will be able to benefit from better network economics and a network capable of supporting new LTE-A and 5G services to their customers. Without C-RAN and mobile fronthaul they will not be able to make this shift.”

Infinera has a number of customers trialing its TM-Series Mobile Fronthaul Solution, but HGC is the first one to go public.

For the uninitiated, “mobile fronthaul” is the fiber network that enables a C-RAN architecture, in which the baseband units (BBUs) and remote radio heads (RRHs) are separated. The RRHs stay in the cell towers and the BBUs are aggregated in a central office (CO), either as physical boxes or – in the case of cloud RANs – virtualized. Fronthaul is the fiber connecting the RRHs to the BBU CO, running the CPRI (common public radio interface) protocol that’s designed for very low latency and optimal synchronization performance.

Cellcos are increasingly looking at centralized or cloud RAN architectures as they evolve their networks towards 4.5G and 5G to handle exponential mobile data traffic growth. According to the latest annual Visual Networking Index from Cisco Systems, global mobile data traffic will reach 30.6 exabytes per month in 2020 – up from 3.7 exabytes per month last year. Over 75% of that will be video.

“The trend towards C-RAN is just starting and the drivers are a combination of better economics for the mobile network and preparation for LTE-A and 5G networks which will require this new architecture,” says Baldry.

Hence the interest in mobile fronthaul. But not all fronthaul solutions are created equal, and the suitability of a given solution depends a lot on what exactly you plan to do with it.

For example, in order to offer a wholesale service, HGC needed to ensure that its fronthaul architecture could support all possible RAN vendors that their potential mobile customers might want run over it, explains Baldry.

“The selected Infinera solution supports this via the use of active WDM which provides a RAN neutral demarcation point,” he tells telecomasia.net. “Many other deployments to date have used passive WDM –just passive filters and colored optics directly in the BBU and RRH at the cell site – and this can be limit the deployment to just some of the possible RAN vendors. By choosing to use active WDM, HGC then had to ensure that the solution they chose had ultra-low latency and very good sync performance as these are vitally important in mobile fronthaul.”

Of course, some cellcos can (and will) elect to keep their fronthaul fiber to themselves, particularly in cases where cellcos have access to dark fiber.

“But this isn’t always possible and therefore fiber owners are looking to capitalize on their networks to offer connectivity as a service to mobile operators,” Baldry says. “We are also seeing cases where a wholesale operator can offer better economics through the deployment of a shared resource to be used by multiple mobile operators.”

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