|Europe I 2012
|Meeting the needs of the mobilized economy
|Siklu Communication Ltd
Itzik Ben-Bassat is Chief Executive Officer of Siklu Communication Ltd. Mr Ben-Bassat has held executive positions in a number of publicly held companies, including Metalink, Scopus Video Networks, and Gilat Satellite Networks.
The rush to mobility is both a product of and a driver for increased development and economic advancement. To enable the mobilized economy, service providers in both developed and developing environments must continue to expand and enhance and improve their mobile networks. Their greatest challenge could be optimizing their backhaul transport to assure the higher levels of network capacity and performance required.
In developed and developing economies alike, mobility is the key to economic, business, and societal advancement. It plays that role in distinctly different ways in those two types of economies, of course, but it is the means by which each is moving forward rapidly in today’s world.
In developed economies, mobility is advancing business communications as fast as or even faster than it is advancing interpersonal communications. In the West, mobile communications has been in widespread use for 15 years or more, and has penetrated the consumer or interpersonal market nearly to the point of saturation. For consumers in these developed economies, the ability to connect with friends, families, and others anytime and anywhere is taken as a given.
In such environments, the new frontier of mobility is greater speed and bandwidth, so that consumers can enjoy the benefits of thousands of convenient applications. Many of these applications enable their users to combine location data, personal and social media information, and mobility to enhance their social lives and awareness. To accomplish this, it requires dependable mobile network coverage as well as sufficient network capacity to enable tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of individuals in a given urban area, for instance, to be able to take advantage of such applications simultaneously.
In the West, mobility has also been part of the business sector for nearly as long, but its development path was a little more deliberate, as enterprises adjusted to the new mobile reality. Today, however, the vast majority of enterprise and small business employees not only embraces mobility, but relies on a mobile device as their only communications tool. Today’s economies are truly mobilized and becoming more so every day.
Cloud computing, unified communications
Two powerful business trends in the developed world are driving the further embrace of mobility as well as a need for greater speed, bandwidth, performance, reliability, and coverage that parallels the need in the consumer sector. Those trends are cloud computing and its many associated applications, and unified communications.
The cloud is the environment in which enterprises reduce or eliminate their own use of data centers and computing and networking equipment and instead connect electronically, via the Internet or private Internet-like networks, to remote hosted data centers. The computing power to run an enterprise is moved off-premises, and the applications, from simple word processing to the most complex sales, financial, and management tools, are run on those distant computers.
The cloud is the future for enterprise data and applications. As the industry analyst firm ABI Research has predicted, more than 40 percent of all enterprise communications applications users worldwide will have migrated to the cloud within five years. This forecast sees 386 million individuals relying on the cloud by 2016. Most of those individuals will also expect to be able to access the cloud anywhere and anytime, whether in a formal office, or traveling, or working remotely. That means massively greater demands on the mobile network.
Unified communications is the integration of all types of communications technologies in order to enable collaborative work among employees and increase productivity. It connects employees in such a way that they can work anywhere and not only be able to reach their co-workers anytime and anyplace, but be able to use the optimal means of communication at any given moment to reach them. A collaboration session could start, for instance, as a simple text message, move into a telephone call between two people, and grow into a larger team meeting, with video and file sharing, in a matter of minutes.
Key to unified communications today and in the future is mobility. It must be integrated, along with wireline and collaboration solutions, in order to give users the control they need over how communication takes place. As more enterprises embrace unified communications, this too will place unprecedented demand on the mobile network. Unified communications users will have an absolute expectation of reliable, fast networks wherever they may be located.
In the developing world, the environment is considerably different. There, the immediate pressures on mobile networks come from consumers. In many cases, developing countries have never had more than a rudimentary wireline network; they are leaping over several generations of communications technology and immediately landing in a mobile-centric environment.
The rush to mobility in these countries and regions is both a product of and a driver for increased development and economic advancement. In many cases, mobile networks can’t be built fast enough to accommodate the growing consumer demand for communication. This trend will not only continue, but become even more pronounced as enterprises and other businesses in these developing countries move to deploy the kinds of cloud-based and unified communications solutions that they see in their more developed counterparts.
Driving improved mobile networks
What these trends mean to service providers in both developed and developing environments is that they must continue to expand and enhance and improve their mobile networks. The mobile carriers will focus on adding cell sites to improve coverage and assure that users have no problem accessing the levels of reliable bandwidth they need.
The addition of cell sites and more wireless access points is only part of the solution. Mobile carriers and the service providers who transport their data and voice and video traffic from the cell sites to the core network have to be sure that this transport portion of the network, the backhaul segment, never creates bottlenecks that will result in insufficient speed or bandwidth or in degraded performance.
Backhaul is accomplished in several ways, depending on the particular environment and specifications of a given cell site. Sometimes sufficient transport capacity is available on copper wiring, especially in rural or less heavily-used locations. When the capacity of copper is exceeded, ideally a cell site can be connected to the core network by fiber-optic cable, with its virtually unlimited capacity. A third option, and one that is the most likely solution in urban and congested environments, is wireless backhaul, usually using microwave or millimeter wave radios.
The deployment of 4G and LTE mobile technologies by carriers is a perfect answer to the demands of business and consumer users. These technologies have multiple times the speed and bandwidth, with high reliability and security. But as a solution, it addresses only half of the equation. Yes, it enables all of this speed, bandwidth, and reliability between the user and the cell site. But on the backhaul portion of the network, the transport requirements are multiplied as well. That requires mobile carriers and service providers to work harder to assure that the backhaul segment does not become a choke point that could limit the end-to-end network performance.
Dealing with congestion
Because the greatest demand for services and capacity – and this is true in both developed and developing countries – is in urban areas, it presents particular challenges for mobile carriers and service providers. Finding locations for cell sites gets increasingly problematic the more densely populated and congested an area becomes. Buildings block radio waves, so more and more access points must be deployed in order to guarantee the kind of coverage required to meet the demands of heavy users.
More access points and more mobile traffic mean ever-greater backhaul needs, and while access points can be deployed quickly, backhaul connections aren’t always as easy to put in place. To link cell sites via high-capacity fiber-optic cable can take weeks for the installation alone, and in congested urban areas, city governments may not allow the construction work necessary for fiber installation. The same is true for copper connections, which in any case are not really sufficient for backhauling the levels of traffic generated by heavy mobile use.
The optimal solution in these cases is microwave or millimeter wave backhaul. The difference between the two is simply a matter of their frequency, where they are located on the wireless spectrum, and their effective ranges. As radio technologies, they are relatively inexpensive and can be installed about as quickly as new cell sites or wireless access points. Thus there is no delay in establishing greater access to the network for users who are taking advantage of the cloud or unified communications solutions, or just contacting friends or enjoying social media or informational applications.
There are often licenses required for microwave or millimeter wave links, to assure interference-free operation in proximity with other radio equipment, but these licenses are typically low-cost and easy to obtain.
In a world that is growing more mobile with every passing day, the challenge for mobile carriers and service providers in both developed and developing societies is to meet the capacity demands of users. The carriers that best meet those demands are the ones that will thrive, growing their customer bases, increasing revenue, and minimizing customer churn. While carriers are doing an excellent job on the cell site-to-user side, the greater challenge will be optimizing their backhaul transport to assure the higher levels of network capacity and performance.