Frost and Sullivan Cellular Backhaul Report Foresees Greater Use for Satellite

Frost and Sullivan Chart

Frost and Sullivan cell tower pricing breakout cellular connectivity market chart for 2013. Photo: Frost and Sullivan

[Via Satellite 04-15-2014] The average amount of data used by smartphones is closing in on 2 GB per month, according to a research report by Frost and Sullivan. As more people boost their data use, the consulting company anticipates satellite-based cellular backhaul will play and increasingly vital role.

“The reality is that although perceived connectivity is high due to cellular network evolution in densely populated areas, many more remote locations still have low to no connectivity and subpar service,” the firm said in the study. “However, the opportunity to address this challenge is bright with carriers recognizing the benefits of adopting satellite backhaul technology to reach previously cost- or resource-prohibitive locations with modern cellular technology.”

Sponsored by Hughes, the report is based on Frost and Sullivan’s prediction that 3G technologies will account for the vast majority of Radio Access Network (RAN) deployments. Key cost drivers for cellular backhaul stem mainly from end-user expectations for content, which necessitate an increase in traffic capacity. The merging of cellular and Wi-Fi access networks along with performance monitoring and Service Level Agreement (SLA) guarantees further add to costs.

Frost and Sullivan’s report calls it a “common misconception” that RAN backhauled over satellite creates a sub-par user experience for live applications. Digital services such as video-conferencing and gaming are very sensitive to latency; the time data spends between points, and jitter, the variation between latencies. Geosynchronous satellites have a minimum Round Trip Time (RTT) of 500ms, and jitter is roughly 20 ms. End to end traffic processing typically adds a few hundred milliseconds to the RTT.

A distributed software approach may smooth out differences in satellite RTT, but terrestrial alternatives still remain much faster. The real strength of cellular backhaul over satellite remains in its ability to reach remote locations cost-effectively. RAN contributes to more than a third of the average mobile operator’s network operating expenses. The further fiber and microwave towers are installed from population centers, the more costly they become, and varying geographies can exacerbate costs.

“Currently, both satellite backhaul and microwave backhaul installations can cost as little as $25,000 or less for a single installation,” said the firm. “However the microwave installation can only maintain this low cost within a 30-mile range where line of sight (LOS) is achievable. With rough terrain and long distances requiring three or more hops, costs can quickly exceed $100,000 and add complexity to the deployment and operation of the solution. Thus, microwave often has the same limitations as fiber when reaching remote locations, as the deployment quickly multiplies in price and complexity.”

Satellite’s other benefits include quicker installation time and a lower capex. Satellite backhaul solutions can also route traffic through an IPsec tunnel to improve the security of the network. Frost and Sullivan projects an estimated compound Annual Growth Rate of 5 percent for the satellite backhaul market from 2012 to 2017. Additionally, the research group mentioned High Throughput Satellites (HTS) as a boon for such services.

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