Mobile Operators Turning to Packet Backhaul as Mobile Broadband Traffic Volumes Explode, New Report Finds

Extensive, unprecedented Heavy Reading survey provides the first real insight into what today's live packet backhaul network deployments really look like

Aug 27, 2009

The transition from TDM to packet-based backhaul networks is now underway around the world, and the latest report from Heavy Reading ( offers a clear, first-ever view of how network operators and their technology suppliers are tackling this vital task, by presenting and analyzing 50 different real-world packet backhaul deployments, covering tens of thousands of cell sites worldwide.

Packet Backhaul: Carrier Strategies & Real-World Deployments provides the first insight into what today's live packet backhaul deployments really look like - where they are, what architecture they conform to, what technologies they use, and, critically, how many cell sites were actually in live service as of the second quarter of 2009. By presenting and analyzing this first large and reliable sample of live packet backhaul deployments, the report provides a unique and timely perspective on whether mobile operators are reducing their backhaul costs at the rate they need to as they make the transition from voice-centric service and revenue models to data-centric models.

For this report, Heavy Reading conducted the first survey of its kind among equipment vendors active in the packet backhaul equipment space. Vendors were asked to provide as many as three account references anywhere in world where they have backhaul equipment deployed and where that equipment is in live service with packet backhaul to the cell site. Vendors were also asked to provide the following details about each packet backhaul deployment:

  --  Region
  --  Type of carrier (i.e., integrated, pure-play cellular, or pure-play
  --  Cellular technology or technologies supported
  --  Whether the deployment is "hybrid" or "pure packet"
  --  Whether the initial packet interface at the cell site is supported in
      the base station itself or in a dedicated transport device serving as
      a cell site gateway
  --  Layer 1 technologies involved in the deployment (fiber, copper, or

  --  Number of cell sites in live commercial service in packet mode as of
      April 2009

  For a list of technology suppliers included in the report, please see:

"Carriers have been experimenting with different packet backhaul solutions for three or four years now," says Patrick Donegan, Senior Analyst with Heavy Reading and author of Packet Backhaul: Carrier Strategies & Real-World Deployments. "With mobile broadband traffic volumes now increasing by a factor of ten year-over-year in many cases, there is an urgent need for real-world insight into just how much progress carriers - and by implication, their vendor suppliers - are making in executing on this transition."

The pace of mobile broadband growth is likely to accelerate with the expected commercial deployment of Long Term Evolution (LTE) within three years, Donegan notes. "TDM circuits no longer provide the capacity, flexibility, and crucially, the cost-per-bit metrics that are needed to enable the mobile industry to make a profitable transition from a voice-dominated business model to a data-dominated business model," he adds. "The big question now confronting operators is whether packet-based technologies are ready to take the place of TDM."

Key findings of Packet Backhaul: Carrier Strategies & Real-World Deployments include the following:

The transition from TDM to packet backhaul is still in its infancy. As of the end of April 2009, there were fewer than 55,000 2G or 3G cell sites in live service with packet backhaul worldwide, out of a global total of 2.4 million sites.

The average live packet backhaul deployment today consists of just over 700 cell sites. More than half of the live deployments referenced by vendors for this report consist of fewer than 500 live cell sites. Only 18 percent of deployments consist of more than 2,000 live cell sites.

Europe is the world's leading regional market for packet backhaul deployments. Europe came first in terms of the number of live packet backhaul references, as well as in terms of the live cell site count provided by the vendor respondents. European operators BT and Vodafone Portugal also emerge at the leading edge of packet backhaul of voice and data services in additional carrier research undertaken to support this survey.

Central and Latin America is seeing significantly more traction in packet backhaul than other emerging market regions. Several vendors provided deployment references in this region. Deployments in this region are currently more likely to leverage a packet transport interface in the base station itself, rather than a dedicated cell site gateway, than deployments in developed markets.

Two thirds of live packet backhaul deployments are by carriers that own a mobile network. Mobile carriers are more likely to trust themselves or their wireline parent to turn up hundreds of cell sites to packet backhaul service at this stage of the market's development. Some integrated carriers are deploying new packet backhaul networks as part of a converged transport network buildout, providing packet transport services to various fixed and mobile access networks out at the edge of the network.

Packet Backhaul: Carrier Strategies & Real-World Deployments is essential reading for a wide range of industry participants, including the following:

  --  Packet backhaul technology suppliers: How does your current deployment
      base for packet backhaul compare with your competition? Are your
      customers behind or ahead of the curve regarding the transition from
      TDM to packet backhaul? Is your company emerging as a market leader in
      this critical sector? In what regions and in what types of network
      operators is packet backhaul gaining the most traction right now?

  --  Network operators: How does your strategy for transitioning from TDM
      to packet backhaul compare with other operators? Do your technology
      choices give you a clear competitive advantage in terms of packet
      backhaul deployments, or are there better alternatives? Which
      technology suppliers are in the best position to deliver the solutions
      you need for your packet backhaul plans?

  --  Investors: Which suppliers are emerging as the leaders for deploying
      packet backhaul products? Which regions are moving fastest to packet
      backhaul, and how will this migration affect network operator revenues
      and profitability in the coming months and years?

Packet Backhaul: Carrier Strategies & Real-World Deployments costs $3,995 and is published in PDF format. The price includes an enterprise license covering all of the employees at the purchaser's company.

  For more information, or to request a free executive summary, contact:

  Dave Williams
  Sales Director, Heavy Reading

  Press/analyst contact:
  Dennis Mendyk
  Managing Director, Heavy Reading

  About Heavy Reading

Heavy Reading is an independent market research organization offering quantitative analysis of telecom technology to service providers, vendors, and investors. Its mandate is to provide the comprehensive competitive analysis needed today for the deployment of profitable networks based on next-generation hardware and software.

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SOURCE: Heavy Reading

CONTACT: Dave Williams, Sales Director, Heavy Reading, +1-858-485-8870,; or Press/analyst contact, Dennis Mendyk,
Managing Director, Heavy Reading, +1-201-587-2154,

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