Optimizing the backhaul

Staff Writer
Mobile Internet Supplement

By upgrading their RAN architecture, Alex Zinin, CTO of Cisco's Asia-Pacific service provider business, explains how mobile operators can offer multiple differentiated services, which open up additional revenue opportunities

Mobile Internet supplement: What are the challenges facing service providers with RAN backhaul apart from the obvious capacity issues?

Alex Zinin: Faced with as much as 100 times the capacity demand, operators cannot afford a simple renovation of their RAN backhaul networks. So they're back to the drawing board, to re-architect a solution that will survive this growing onslaught of mass-market mobile internet demand, all the while keeping the current networks running. This requires a delicate balance for simultaneously operating any generation of multi-vendor radio, over any available transport media, for many services - what we refer to as "backhaul unification".

They also face a cultural challenge to step beyond their comfort zone, which was built from a point-to-point transport operating model. The mobile internet requires more interconnected multi-service networks. At the risk of over simplifying the challenges, operators need to sharply reduce power consumption per Mbps; re-design network for multi-service, multi-access, multi-path transport - i.e. make better/broader use of  backhaul real-estate; and unify operations and management across any multi-vendor radio, over any media.
  
Operators are putting more emphasis on the customer experience as a benchmark of network performance - what extra challenges does this create? 

First, they need to get their subscribers to recognize that the internet isn't free, and that all experiences/services aren't created equally. This requires service differentiation and service assurance, which in turn require new service monitoring and assurance tools, an intelligent network that can respond to and enforce differentiated service assurance, and new operating procedures, including new billing and subscription models. In addition, operators must look outside their traditional Òwalled-gardenÓ eco-system, seeking partners to strengthen their services offerings. 
  
With operators looking at a variety of new services - including video and cloud services - as well as access strategies that include Wi-Fi offload, what issues does all this raise from a network management perspective? 

Network management, and intelligence within the network, gives operators insights into how their networks perform. These systems must provide the means to monitor, assess and even allow subscribers to control their own service quality destiny. This poses a number of challenges for operators as they move outside their traditional comfort zone and into the realm of application performance reporting and end-to-end service level management, and service assurance. 

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