Hilbert ditches T1s for microwave backhaul

Jessica Scarpati
08 Apr 2010

By combining microwave backhaul systems with intelligent routing, US rural GSM and Wimax operator Hilbert expects to save millions in operating expenses by eliminating the 150 leased T1 lines that it uses to connect its cell sites.

"We have the opportunity to stop our op-ex from growing and actually reduce it, so I think it's a smart business decision, and we're making our network more resilient," said Jake Brown, CTO of the Wisconsin-based Hilbert Communications. "We're able to completely get rid of the incremental cost to upgrade to 3G." The wireless operator offers roaming network services throughout Wisconsin for about 30 carriers.

Hilbert launched the microwave backhaul project -- playfully dubbed "Operation Badger Sky" as a nod to the University of Wisconsin-Madison mascot, the badger -- when it became evident that an all-T1 network could not support a transition from 2G to 3G and 4G, according to director of network design Kevin Kluge.

Hilbert's 2G network had typically required just one T1 line to each cell site, usually costing between $800 and $1,200 each month, Brown said. The total annual expense was $1.5 million last year.

Just upgrading to 3G would require eight leased T1 lines at each site, he said. Multiplied by about 200 cell sites, the math did not make for a pretty financial picture, so the rural wireless operator started vetting microwave backhaul options.

"With the growth of the network, we saw that there was going to be a need to make a change to the backhaul plan somehow to get the sites combined," Kluge said. "Once we started doing that, we saw there was an absolute need to terminate T1s from our network completely."

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