Can Wi-Fi Really be used to Backhaul Cellular Voice?

Operators are currently confronted with an insane demand for mobile data and as a result, need to start looking for possible solutions to add more capacity. This is the sentiment of Ruckus Wireless.

February 15, 2012

Under the strain of a mobile data onslaught, the move to small cells is opening the door to new and unexpected uses of smarter Wi-Fi says Ruckus Wireless

Operators are currently confronted with an insane demand for mobile data and as a result, need to start looking for possible solutions to add more capacity. This is the sentiment of Ruckus Wireless.

According to Michael Fletcher, Sales Director for Ruckus Wireless, Sub-Saharan Africa, to solve the problem at hand now there are three ways the industry can address it – increase capacity of the affected network resource, offload the network resource to relieve congestion, or do both. “The move to smaller cells to augment existing macro networks is widely viewed as a potential panacea to the access radio network congestion, but it also creates a new one – backhaul. Today, this has become one of the telecom industry’s biggest debates especially as mobile operators look to achieve the capacity required by the rapidly rising mobile Internet bandwidth demand.”

Getting Smaller

It is for this reason that mobile operators need to start thinking differently about the way they want to achieve this. Small cells are low-powered, multi-radio access points such as cellular/Wi-Fi/backhaul that improve indoor and outdoor coverage to increase capacity and offload traffic. Even though small cells benefit 3G service deployments today, their importance will only grow as the industry moves towards higher capacity like 4G or LTE, especially in urban environments.

Adds Fletcher; “This is because as network operators continue to increase coverage and capacity and look to offload data to relieve traffic pressures, they also increase the stress on their cell site backhaul connectivity,” adds Fletcher. “Another viable option is using licensed spectrum as it is better suited for carrying mobile data traffic, but when using licensed spectrum, there are some limitations, these spectrum bands are expensive and frequently not available for licensing. In this case fiber is clearly the preferred backhaul option for mobile operators but in some instances could be non-viable as it is too expensive, disruptive and time consuming. And therefore traditional cellular backhaul solutions must be rethought in the context of moving to smaller cells.”

Wanted: New Backhaul Options

Mobile operators need to find a sustainable backhaul technique, which meets all the requirements. The new backhaul option needs to be well suited for dense urban environments as well as for close-to-the ground equipment, and lastly need to make small cells more viable.

In light of these, Ruckus Wireless suggest that unlicensed smart Wi-Fi be used as a viable and affordable option to solve the cellular traffic problem and here is why this could be the answer to the pending problem:

• Wi-Fi has evolved to become an ideal solution for the small cell backhaul problem, that is, if done properly

• New Wi-Fi technology has been developed especially aimed at the congestion of the mobile networks; the new technology combines integrated adaptive directional antennas with smart meshing technology and predictive channel management. The combination of these technologies makes the use of Wi-Fi accessible for all users.
 
• Backhaul links can be automatically moved to a better channel with less interference thereby identifying higher data rates. This is definitely a more affordable solution and with greater resiliency in crowded urban environments which are in dire need of more capacity.

• Wi-Fi backhaul technology is currently being built into small cell nodes housing cellular and Wi-Fi access – with a fairly small footprint. This allows operators to deploy a single box to provide Wi-Fi access, cellular access and backhaul together.

“Ultimately with small cells and better backhaul, mobile subscribers should enjoy higher speeds with more coverage in more places. In turn, mobile operators can reduce subscriber churn and increase revenue by having visibility into both cellular and Wi-Fi traffic – giving the customers more options to connect in more places,” concludes Fletcher.