The Emerging Market for Wireless Backhaul

Level 3 has launched a wireless tower access service offering direct connectivity to the Level 3 backbone. Analysts say wireless backhaul in metropolitan and rural locations is a growth market as mobile operators scramble to meet capacity demand.

John Rath

October 28, 2009

3 Min Read
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Last Thursday Level 3 launched a wireless tower access service offering wireless tower operators direct connectivity to the Level 3 backbone, which would provide cost-effective options for wireless backhaul in metropolitan and rural locations. This is a growth market, according to analysts like Jennifer Pigg from the Yankee Group, who says mobile operators are scrambling to meet capacity demand and predicts that mobile data traffic will grow by an order of magnitude in the coming years. 

The towers are located in rural areas and offer voice, data and Internet services as an alternative to incumbent providers. Level 3 also offers shared infrastructure to allow wireless carriers to expand without building their own towers. 

Wireless data networks have been an increasingly hot market in recent months, according to Visiant Strategies, which examined the market in a report titled US Mobile Backhaul 2010: Continued Expansion 2009 to 2015. "All wireless carriers in the United States are continuing to ramp up their networks with technologies that allow much greater capacity and the use of much more capacity per user, mainly a result of meaningful wireless data applications and devices, and this means much more backhaul capacity will be needed," wrote Andy Fuertes of Visiant Strategies.

It's been a busy time for news announcements from the wireless backhaul industry. Some recent examples:

  • Besides the wireless data coming from business and consumer communications devices, there is also a growing need for wireless backhaul from smart grid projects.  Last Wednesday the city of Glendale California announced that KEMA is assisting in deploying an advanced metering infrastructure and meter data management system.  Glendale Water & Power (GWP) will be replacing all of its electric meters, which serve over 100,000 customers, with smart meters enabled with two-way communications, and automating their 35,000 water meters to communicate over a secure wireless network."

  • On Thursday mobile backhaul network provider Tellabs announced it was acquiring WiChorus of San Jose, California.  Tellabs CEO Robert W. Pullen said "This move compliments, differentiates and advances our growth solutions portfolio including Tellabs Mobile, Optical and business solutions."  WiChorus' SmartCore mobile packet core platform is purpose-built for 4G, LTE and WiMax, with support for 3G.

  • Tower Cloud Inc., a wireless backhaul provider raised $20 million last week from an investor group led by telecom entrepreneur Cam Lanier and return backers  El Dorado Ventures and Sutter Hill Ventures.  Tower operates backhaul networks in south and central Florida, and is constructing a new network in Atlanta, Georgia.

  • Last month Qwest launched a new mobile ethernet backhaul service, targeting wireless service providers with fiber-based Ethernet to cell sites. This service will give WSPs incremental, scalable bandwidth which then allows them to increase capacity to cell sites on an as-needed basis.  It will also be available in either dedicated or shared models and is ideal for those migrating from traditional SONET backhaul services.

  • Cisco's acquisition of Starent Networks is said to fill the holes in its 3G and 4G core product portfolio, giving them an end-to-end mobile core solution.  Starent was selected by Verizon Wireless along with Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson to build their LTE (Long Term Evolution) core and they may win a forthcoming LTE core contract from AT&T in the future.  The Cisco / Starent deal pairs Cisco's IP routing strength with Starent's expertise in mobile data gateways.

  • Harris Stratex Networks (HSTX) received the 2009 Wireless Backhaul Distinction Award from the Technology Marketing Corporation (TMC). This was for the successful demonstration of commitment to innovation towards the 4G wireless evolution. Harris makes The Eclipse Packet Node platform which supports TDM, as well as carrier-grade Ethernet data traffic, via scalable Liquid Bandwidth.

There were a large number of vendor announcements from Chicago last week, where the 2009 Supercomm conference was held.  Announcements came from Juniper, BridgeWave, Exar and many others.  The opening keynote came from U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra.

Image copyright David Neale and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

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