It all started two weeks ago in a sudden phone call. On the line was an MEF marketing manager asking me if I wanted to represent MEF in the TNMO Conference in London, speaking about CE 2.0 initiatives related to mobile backhaul. Do I want to speak on mobile backhaul? And on behalf of MEF? What is there to think about?
Two days later, I had my travel arrangements sorted out, and off we went.
MEF is putting a lot of focus on pushing and aligning its standards, educational papers and implementation agreements with the fast paced progress of the mobile backhaul environment. MEF 22.1 is an implementation agreement that was written to address some of the LTE and even 3G requirements, highlighting and recommending the requirements on resiliency and protection, service management, performance objectives and cross Class of Service (CoS) level service mapping.
Other updates have been made concerning time synchronization paper enhancing the latest requirements needed to meet LTE and LTE-Advanced standards. Time synchronization techniques are going to be even more challenging in the next couple of years with the introduction of more stringent accuracy requirements needed to support new functionality, like LTE coordinated multipoint (CoMP) and inter-cell interference coordination (ICIC). It looks like SyncE is becoming the de-facto requirement regarding frequency synchronization, while phase synchronization issues are still far from reaching a consensus.
While a few years ago, you still saw legacy solutions presented at these shows, it looks like the world is now fully packetized and most operators have stated that regardless of the physical medium (copper, microwave or fiber) all backhaul is becoming Ethernet based. Two important trends we see is that SLA assurance is being widely adopted, and there is growing need to increase network visibility.
Another interesting topic that is picking up is the C-RAN architecture adaptation. Some of you may remember, but I addressed the C-RAN architecture almost 2 years ago when we analyzed the backhaul requirements of C-RAN architecture and pointed out the required functionality in Better Backhaul to the Cell Site White Paper
Now the focus is not only on backhaul, but also on Fronthaul. Fronthual is the connection between the base band unit (BBU) and remote radio head (RRU). This connection combines high capacity requirements (few gigs) and a very low latency budget. As the fiber availability dramatically affects the business viability of C-RAN based solutions in countries that do not have large fiber infrastructure, it is not surprising that the first real deployments are done in Korea, Japan and China, where there is a high viability of fiber.
C-RAN architecture reduces operational costs (OPEX) and eliminates X2 backhaul traffic, which increases network and resource efficiency, thus making it a very attractive technology. C-RAN architecture is creating high interest from both operator and vendor communities, which may lead to new technologies that will overcome these fiber and latency challenges.
And last but not least, small cells.
There is no question in the market if small cells will be deployed – just how and when. It is very clear now that small cells will become a vital element in the operator toolset, handling the new data requirements of their networks.
Few mobile operators have presented the current situation and their small cells plans. Some wireline providers, like Virgin Media and Colt, have introduced their vision and future plans on backhauling small cells and even offering the small cells as a service. In some places, where fiber availability is limited, small cells are very attractive as wireless backhaul solutions, and some of the vendors have introduced new E-band and V-bands solutions. In small cells as well as in the macro cell casewe clearly hear the mobile operators declare “fiber when you can, microwave when you can’t”.
Small cells also impose a greater challenge for mobile backhaul service security, provisioning and traffic engineering, so there is a growing trend of extracting IP/MPLS services further into the network edge.
To learn more about small cells solutions, I encourage you to listen to this webinar.
Seems like a lot of challenges still lie ahead, but new technologies, new concepts and new solutions are also arriving – so it is going to be a very interesting year.