LTE boom strains backhaul networks

Ric Clark
05 Nov 2012
00:00

Asia is adapting to LTE networks in record time.

Korea, Japan and Hong Kong are adopting 4G mobile broadband technology well ahead of industry predictions, with Korea reaching 33% of its population in less than two years. By year-end 2013, 99% of Japan’s 127 million people will have LTE coverage while 4G traffic will overtake 3G in Hong Kong.

The transition to LTE and small cells is dramatically changing how mobile users consume data. Mobile data traffic volume itself is expected to explode, growing by a factor of 30 between 2011 and 2015. That change will determine how Asia’s mobile network operators run their mobile services business and stay ahead of LTE wars heating up across the region.

It is taken for granted now that transition to LTE and small cells will address the need to deliver increased capacity and coverage over mobile networks. Both will impact the mobile backhaul network. Ideally, mobile backhaul needs to be in place in advance of an upgrade to the new LTE radios. Mobile operators need to improve coverage and capacity of their services rapidly, but also at the right price.

Small cells have emerged as one of the most cost effective means for operators to meet those ends. To best leverage the benefits of small cells, however, there are challenges to tackle. Major among those challenges, of course, is how to connect them back into the network – or how to “backhaul” them.

Small cell designates a wide range of cellular radios that are smaller than the traditional high-power, longer-reach radios used in macro cell towers. We define a class of small cells known as metro cells which are MNO-owned and -managed, public access, low power consumption small cells.

Operators in different regions will take different paths to adding capacity, coverage and quality of service to their networks. Alternatives include the evolution to 4G/LTE, the introduction of small cells, Wi-Fi offload and RAN or infrastructure sharing. A combination of these approaches is expected to be used as mobile networks evolve over time.

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