In mobile network architecture, the backhaul infrastructure carries voice and data traffic between a cell site and its mobile switching center using copper, microwave or fiber for transport.
Traditionally, mobile backhaul has relied on TDM and used leased lines or microwave to transport traffic, depending on the geography and the accessibility of the cell site location. That architecture predominated in the voice-centric cell phone days of yore, but began to change with the arrival of mobile broadband.
To support growing mobile broadband data loads, service providers have been supplementing TDM with IP and Ethernet for mobile backhaul. Now operators believe an all-IP/Ethernet backhaul network infrastructure will best meet their evolving needs, although that transition will take several years.
The interest in and importance of mobile backhaul strategy has increased as broadband services have evolved. As more carriers recognized the value of supporting all-packet-based LTE services, they have begun to think differently about the transport portion of their networks. They now see mobile backhaul more as a strategic asset than a problem to be solved.
"Operators realize that if they have enough bandwidth capacity and QoS [capabilities] in the backhaul network, it can be a big differentiator for them. They can avoid issues like unhappy users, voids in service and periods of poor performance," said Glen Hunt, principal analyst, transport and routing infrastructure, with Current Analysis.
"The backhaul network can be a fundamental, positive asset in enabling carriers to support the growing number of services."