Meeting the 3G/4G Challenge

Maintaining Profitability in the Mobile Backhaul Through Ethernet

The impact on bandwidth demand in the mobile backhaul is tremendous. In 2010, mobile traffic was approximately 240,000 Terabytes/month. With the transition to 4G, this figure is expected to increase to 6,300,000 terabytes/month by 2015. To put the problem into perspective, consider that all of the mobile traffic carried in 2010 will be carried within the first two weeks of 2015.

Existing mobile backhaul networks, typically built on legacy Time-Division Multiplexing (TDM) technology are reaching capacity and carriers are scrambling to upgrade to much more efficient Ethernet-based networking to manage the massive new bandwidth requirements.

Ethernet as the standard medium for the backhaul of 3G and 4G services is rapidly taking hold, as evidenced through announcements from operators such as Verizon Wireless. “Ethernet backhaul is something we have been working very hard to get,” stated Verizon Wireless CTO and Senior Vice President David Small at the recent FierceWireless Path to 4G conference.

Meeting mobile bandwidth demands is proving difficult for the existing TDM-based infrastructure. As a technology, TDM does not scale well with bandwidth: to double bandwidth, the size of the network must double as well. This means that as traffic volume increases, the cost to transport that traffic rises at a similar rate. At this point, it costs more to build out TDM infrastructure than the network can hope to generate in subscriber revenue.

Ethernet offers a proven means for addressing the performance and economic challenges brought on by the explosive growth of mobile traffic. Ethernet technology provides cost-effective connectivity that scales to rising bandwidth demand (i.e., 10/100/1G/10/100G). Advances in Ethernet technology enable Ethernet-based equipment to provide up to 1000x the bandwidth of a TDM-based connection for a significantly lower cost, allowing manufacturers to drive down equipment costs even as bandwidth throughput increases. With Ethernet technology, Service providers are able to operate networks at a level that yields consistent profit margins and reduce capital expenditure (CAPEX) on mobile backhaul equipment by up to 50 percent.

Because of its high value-proposition and ability to scale, Ethernet is well-suited to lead the transition of the mobile backhaul over from TDM and manage the bandwidth needs of consumers as the transition to 4G progresses. In terms of market share, Infonetics predicts that by 2014 the $8B expected to be spent on new network equipment in this space will be entirely Ethernet-based. Ethernet will also bring substantial annual operating expenditure (OPEX) savings to service providers of up to 75% as compared to T1 leased line costs.

This shift should not be surprising, given Ethernet’s consistent history of replacing existing infrastructure as bandwidth needs increase. Ethernet quickly replaced ATM in DSL access concentrators, as well as ATM and other protocols in the aggregation and transport networks. It is now time for the same changes to take place in the mobile backhaul.



Edward Doe serves as Associate Director, Switch Products, for the Infrastructure & Networking Group (ING) at Broadcom Corporation. In this role, Doe is responsible for Service Provider product management in the StrataXGS Product Line.

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