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Cell networks adopt Ethernet to solve bandwidth issues

Posted: 22 Jan 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Ethernet? network? bandwidth problem? smart phone?

A rising tide of mobile data from smart phones is pushing the adoption of Ethernet technology in cellular networks.

AT&T, the first carrier for the Apple iPhone, said mobile data traffic has grown a whopping 7,000 percent in the last 13 quarters, leading to reports of bandwidth-choked networks. "We've seen exploding demand for mobile broadband as our customers adopt smart phones," said at AT&T spokesperson.

The problem is not confined to AT&T as the number and variety of smart phones expand. "U.K. carrier [Telefonica] O2 early ran into the same problem with people getting poor service because everyone on smart phones was hogging the network," said Will Strauss, principal of market watcher Forward Concepts.

Strauss estimates 207 million smart phones will be sold worldwide in 2010. Carriers "acknowledge that's presenting some problems and part of it is they don't have enough backhaul or base stations," he said.

As a quick fix, some carriers are running Ethernet interfaces with circuit emulation to the NodeB systems at base stations, said Thomas Eklund, VP of marketing and business development for Xelerated, a network processor company. "Long term they want a pure Ethernet backhaul using frequency synchronization and Precision Time Protocol [IEEE 1588]," as well as Synchronous Ethernet (ITU G.8262), Eklund said.

China's carriers such as China Mobile are trying to get a jump on the trend. "What people are talking about for 4G, China is doing in 3G voice and data over Ethernet," he said.

Xelerated has delivered two generations of chips implementing such so-called Carrier Ethernet services. It competes with a handful of players including EZchip Technologies.

"Mobile operators and backhaul providers are looking for Carrier Ethernet equipment that supports G.8262 Synchronous Ethernet and IEEE 1588 PTP in silicon, so that these synchronization methods can be used for reliable and transparent services across the mobile industry," said Michael Howard, co-founder and principal analyst at Infonetics Research, in an Xelerated press statement late last year.

Carriers suggest the backhaul work is just part of their upgrade effort. AT&T has added 100,000 new backhaul connections in 2009 to link cell sites with its backbone Internet Protocol network.

However, it has also added about 2,000 new cell sites last year and nearly doubled the amount of spectrum available for its 3G networks, including use of 850 MHz bands. Looking ahead, the AT&T spokeswoman said the carrier plans to enhances its 3G nets with HSPA 7.2 technology and add more backhaul links over the next two years.

U.S. wireless carriers spent $120 billion on their networks in the last five years, $20 billion of that during the 2008 downturn, according to figures from the CTIA, the wireless industry's trade association.

Despite the rise in mobile data, carriers are trying to keep a lid on their capital equipment expenditures, said Amir Rozwadowski, a Barclays Capital analyst speaking in a recent conference call. He predicted incremental carrier spending increases in focused areas such as backhaul and network management starting in late 2010.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times





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