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Mobile and Optical Fiber - the need to work together


cell_phone_towerOver half of us now have a smartphone and we’re using mobile devices for more and more data intensive applications. It is predicted that by 2014, more people will access the web through mobile devices than PCs.

Little wonder that Cisco’s Visual Networking Index predicts that global mobile data traffic will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 78% between 2011 and 2016. That means they will generate over 10 exabytes of data every month. 4G technologies such as LTE and WiMAX will increase this even more – with sustained data rates of 100 Mbps (downlink) and 50 Mbps (uplink) already available on some handsets. Compare this to the 3G specification of 144 kbps in a moving vehicle, 384 kbps while walking and 2 Mbps inside and you get an idea of the scale of the approaching tsunami of data.

Coping with this information overload will be a challenge for existing mobile networks as they need to scale up their infrastructure. A 2G base station generates 1.3 Mbps of traffic, but an LTE version requires 80 Mbps capacity – 60 times more. Of course the vast majority of this traffic isn’t wireless at all – once it reaches the nearest cell it uses mobile backhaul, being transferred to fixed line networks to optimise performance and efficiency. This reduces the need to use expensive and scarce spectrum for anything but the smallest distances.

Existing copper-based backhaul networks simply cannot cope with predicted traffic, which is why mobile operators are increasingly turning to optical fibre. A single optical fibre has more capacity than the entire radio spectrum, making it the ideal choice for hard-pressed telcos. In many cases, particularly cities, there has already been a huge investment in Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) networks, meaning that the infrastructure is already there, minimising capital expenditure.

However the complexity and cost of connecting antennae and base stations to fibre infrastructure shouldn’t be underestimated. Demand for mobile data is normally highest in urban areas where space for traditional mobile towers is limited. That’s why new approaches such as Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) are becoming popular. DAS networks allow operators to mount radio antenna close to subscribers on street furniture, such as street lights, utility poles or street signs. These are linked via optical fibre to central hubs.

While they extend for short distances these fibre links have complex routes, travel round tight bends and involve digging up busy roads, which needs the permission of city authorities, making installation time consuming and expensive.

This is where our technology helps speed up deployments and lower costs. Specifically designed for the last section of a network, PPC’s ruggedised microduct and Miniflex pushable fibre cable are both easy to install and able to withstand the demanding nature of the topography. Flexible enough to bend round tight corners but rugged enough to withstand ground pressures of 5800psi (40 MPa) with no fibre loss increase and the 400  F (204  C) temperature of road sealants, m2fx’s patented technology is pushable (meaning it doesn’t need expensive specialist blowing equipment) and small enough to fit into 1 inch micro trenches.

This has helped in AT&T’s successful Chicago network expansion. The operator is working with installer Geo-Path and PPC to roll out over 100 DAS nodes in the busiest area of the city. Using micro trenching and PPC Tuffduct and Miniflex Outdoor Microducts has reduced installation times by 30%, meaning crews could be in at 7pm and out by 10pm in many areas. Combined with our pushable technology, which meant that Geo-Path’s installers were able to simply push or pull the fibre cable from the nearest AT&T manhole to the DAS site, this contributed to a 70% reduction in installation costs compared to traditional methods – with lower labour costs as crews could do more in less time.

Given the huge increase in mobile usage, with many householders cutting the cord on their home telephone, there’s a tendency to see it as a competitor to fixed line fibre networks. But as AT&T’s experience shows, these are two complementary technologies that should be used together to deliver the high speed, high capacity service that data hungry mobile users demand now and in the future.

Image by danielfoster437

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