Backhaul may not be the sexiest part of a 4G migration, but legacy backhaul networks cannot support the onslaught of data traffic generated by next-generation mobile services.
Meticulous planning for mobile backhaul is arguably one of the most important -- and at times underestimated -- ways that wireless carriers' can keep services up and costs down as they map out their Long-Term Evolution (LTE) or Wimax migration strategies.
"Backhaul really makes or breaks business plans in many markets," said Kelley Dunne, founder and chief strategy officer of mobile broadband provider Digital Bridge Communications.
"There are markets in Idaho that we simply could not deploy to because they did not have cost-effective backhaul. It is that big [of] a deal when you're doing an upfront business model and network planning."
Where fiber or copper is already deployed for fixed line services, backhaul is often no more complicated than securing a lease with a tower company and engineering the radios. But expanding a 4G footprint by trenching new fiber or using microwave backhaul raises a slew of concerns beyond just the expense and time to deploy the physical plant -- spectrum licensing, local zoning and right of way issues to name a few.
Dunne made his comments as part of a panel discussion on 4G backhaul network strategy last month at 4G World in Chicago. MetroPCS, the first North American carrier to launch a commercial LTE network, and LightSquared, a startup whose wholesale LTE network goes live in late 2011, also shared their strategies with the panel.
"It's as much about total cost of ownership modeling in the design process as it is the actual traditional engineering and design," said Mike Dodson, vice president of core, transport and backhaul planning for LightSquared's greenfield terrestrial and satellite LTE network.