Changes are brewing in the mobile industry. Mobile broadband has grown phenomenally over the last several years and has spawned the rapid evolution of cellular networks from 1/2G to 3G and now 4G/LTE. In response to this growth, mobile operators have been deploying more cell sites with higher bandwidth and are now in the process of debating just how far they can scale their existing networks and when they should make the move to pure packet.
The decision won't be an easy one as some high pressure demands are in play. Namely, how can growth be managed more efficiently, cost-effectively and flexibly in an evolving network environment? And how can more bandwidth be supported at a lower cost per bit? To address these pain points, operators need to be able to deploy services quickly, address bottlenecks and reduce cost per bit. They need future-ready solutions that can handle not only mobile traffic but also serve as a converged infrastructure that's ready to support new business models.
The answer won't be found in the single layered systems of the past. What's needed now is a next-generation, multi-layered transport solution that can help operators make mobile backhaul a strategic asset and key competitive advantage. But the question is whether this solution will come in the form of a packet-optical transport system (P?OTS) – or something else altogether.
The Future of Mobile Backhaul
It should come as no surprise that mobile broadband is currently the "killer app" that's driving the telecom industry. More and more consumers are utilizing smartphones, tablets and laptops to access an ever-growing array of bandwidth-hungry multimedia content and apps on mobile networks. And this shows no signs of slowing down. Industry analysts are predicting that the number of mobile broadband connections worldwide will exceed 900,000 next year.
Other forecasts have mobile broadband traffic outpacing wireline traffic by a factor of three by 2015. This means that 3G and 4G networks will become increasingly data driven, making it necessary for operators to migrate their backhaul networks from TDM to packet-based transport. Previous generations of mobile infrastructure based on PDH, ATM and SONET/SDH technologies were deployed to support voice services, and they simply aren't up to the task of providing the capacity and scale that applications today require.
To plan for the future, mobile operators must account for a traffic mix that will be primarily packet with some legacy TDM voice. While a number of operators today have taken the intermediate step of running parallel networks (an optical network for voice and a packet network for data), this is not a practical option for next-gen transport as it ultimately results in scalability issues as well as opex and capex inefficiencies. The only viable solution is one that integrates optical and packet technologies into a single platform.
P-OTS or Not?
Packet-optical transport systems (P-OTS) were introduced by infrastructure vendors to help address the issues of bandwidth, capacity and scale in telecoms networks. P?OTS aimed to do this by integrating the different layers of technology – WDM, SONET/SDH and Carrier Ethernet – in a single device. The theory was that the integration of layers would help operators reduce the cost of building and operating networks by streamlining operations and training costs, reducing the number of network elements and spares, lowering power consumption and simplifying network management. The resulting efficiencies would, in turn, lead to lower total cost of ownership (TCO) and reduced cost per bit.
Unfortunately, these first-generation P-OTS platforms failed to deliver on their promises because many of the platforms were initially designed to protect the installed base. The platforms were built upon yesterday's technology and architecture, which did not adequately address the unique problems that operators face today.
But what these systems did do is illustrate the value of integrating packet and optical technologies into a single system as a means to more cost-effectively scale and efficiently support packet- and circuit-based services. The lessons learned from P-OTS are now being used to shape the next generation of transport.
What Mobile Operators Really Need
The repurposed P-OTS platforms of the past are not the answer. What's really required is a new innovative purpose-built next-gen multi-layered transport solution that offers:
- Convergence of network layers to reduce the cost of building and operating networks
- Integration of Layer 0-3 functionality in a single platform to reduce capex, opex and cost per bit
- A modular and flexible design that enables a low entry cost and pay?as?you?grow scalability for added functionality
- A single management system for all network layers, allowing new services to be introduced quickly and maintained easily
Only a true next-generation transport solution with these attributes will allow mobile operators to scale cost effectively, make maximum use of network resources, optimize TCO and protect existing revenue streams while enabling the creation of new revenue opportunities – today and beyond.
The Time Is Now for Next-Gen
Mobile operators are racing to keep pace with the explosive growth in mobile broadband traffic. But their existing networks can only scale so far, and the P-OTS platforms aren't up to the task. What's needed now is a solution that allows them to manage this growth efficiently, cost effectively and flexibly in an evolving network environment. This will come in the form of a fully integrated next-generation multi-layer transport solution that simplifies operations and optimizes performance and cost for a rich and changing mix of packet and optical services.
Jimmy Mizrahi is NG Optical Networking Product Line Manager at ECI Telecom.