The challenge of providing back-end capacity is a growing issue for wireless operators world-wide as they move to faster broadband networks, in an effort to both increase data revenue and withstand the onslaught of smart phones and other mobile broadband devices which seem to be taking over the airwaves these days.
The issue of capacity is pressing: the backhaul infrastructure must cope with base stations that support growing numbers of data users: browsing the internet, texting, downloading music and videos, using video chat, or listening to internet radio. The carriers compete on how fast their data networks are, hoping to attract data-centric consumers and business users. Data download speeds is what sells today – be it WiMAX or LTE.
According to August 10 report from Light Reading, T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network delivers 5 Mbps average download speeds (available in 50 major cities). Further from the Light Reading report: “Clearwire claims average mobile download speeds of 3 to 6 Mbit/s, with bursts of up to 10 Mbit/s, for its mobile WiMax service. Verizon is promising average downloads of 5 to 12 Mbit/s for its LTE service, which is due to be launched later this year.” That’s a lot of traffic to backhaul on the back-end!
Carriers are building out extensive fiber infrastructures to support their network upgrades and 4G rollouts, but can they do it fast enough? And what about today, with some carrier networks are widely believed to be crumbling under the ‘data weight’ of smart phones (see Exhibit 1: AT&T and iPhone).
Does Firetide wireless mesh and point-to-point come into play?
Yes! Firetide wireless infrastructure grants you 3 wishes, even if one of them is for an iPhone 4. Joking aside, Firetide does have a solution for cellular backhaul.
Carriers are already well familiar with licensed microwave. Now, the latest advancements in 802.11n MIMO technology have brought increases in capacity to the unlicensed spectrum. MIMO point-to-point bridges deliver up to 150 Mbps of UDP user throughput at distances of about 2 miles (typical base stations are placed .5 to 1.5 miles apart).
Taking wireless approach a step further, wireless mesh adds redundancy and multi-hop capabilities to the backhaul, as an alternative to costly and time-consuming fiber deployments. A quick and effective way to increase the cellular network capacity is to set up a MIMO wireless mesh network to connect base stations to each other. This solution enables service providers to reliably and cost-effectively install and connect new base stations to fill in the coverage gaps.
Licensed vs unlicensed spectrum?
The big challenge is convincing carriers to use unlicensed spectrum, typically 5 GHz band, for backhaul. However, Firetide mesh works just as well when converted to a different (licensed) frequency – the secret sauce of our mesh in not in the spectrum the radios use, but in the proprietary routing/switching architecture of the mesh and network management. In fact, wireless mesh network for Seoul Subway is being deployed in a licensed 18 GHz band, using up- and down-converters. This adds cost to the project, but at least it’s a viable option (and still cheaper than fiber).