Mobile Backhaul “Mutual Fund” and Technology Trends

“I don’t follow any one mobile backhaul provider’s stock anymore, including my own – I just count the number of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile ads.” This comment was made by an admitted stock-a-holic who, it turns out, is a regional sales VP for a national backhaul provider. Watching for the frequency of ads from the national providers, many of whom use his backhaul service, he points out, is his own version of a “mutual fund”. He tracks the status of the entire xscheme.pagespeed.ic.BRnMP02eG_market and, he added, it is always up and to the right! And that last bit is especially true and important. Mobile is hot and mobile backhaul is thriving. But, the idea behind mutual funds is that traditional due diligence which requires an investor to fully investigate a company and its stock prior to making an investment is replaced by a herd mentality. Many times real opportunities are missed in the trade-off for reduced risk, but such is the trend.

Does the herd mentality apply to the actual purchasers of wireless voice and data plans? To an extent it seems to. Tech savvy early adopters no longer comprise a substantial portion of the user base and, therefore, are less influential. They are still there, looking for new trends and the great new app, but their influence has been diminished due to their small contribution to the population of wireless users. Services have also become largely commoditized so price has become an important selection criteria but I still have a few observations to report supported at least by strong anecdotal evidence.

QoS/QoE Variations by Market influence Market Share

When I think of “road warrior’ it usually involves an airline ticket. But, that would be an “air warrior”, wouldn’t it? It is interesting and noteworthy that many mobile users, a majority in fact, never leave a specific metropolitan area. Think insurance adjuster, alarm installer and busy parents. For the most part mobile service is reasonably consistent within the more heavily populated sections of any metro area but the “predominant carrier” may change from metro area to metro area, almost inexplicably. There is an answer, though. In many cases the users’ needs are the same and the carrier backbone network is the same but what is different is the quality and/or availability of the bridge between the two: mobile backhaul. And, in many cases, this makes all the difference in the world.

SLAs Help Smooth out the Rough Edges

Strict Service Level Agreements are a step in the right direction in terms of developing consistency of service delivery across a vast empire such as AT&T or Verizon’s national footprint, but the written SLA is only one step. SLA compliance must be measured and enforced across all markets, seasons, special events and other variations. One of our backhaul clients has an internal SLA that surpasses the demands that their customers make of them. Now, that is the way to do an SLA.

Unified Communications Is Subtly Influencing Mobile Communications

In days gone by large, robust purchasing organizations issued tech-savvy Requests For Proposals that covered every little detail of how the company wanted employees to communicate, which devices would be on each desk and how those systems would be networked. The cost justifications and pay-back models often were worked out for several years and contracts might be for a decade or more. And, because those procurements were so time-consuming and could, themselves, cost more than the GDP of a small country, they are just not happening that much anymore. So, what is happening? Many organizations are implementing Unified Communications platforms – either in Do-It-Yourself model or as a cloud-based service – as the organizational glue that is used to create a unified menu of services that are common across all employees, contractors and sometimes even customers. Which drives directly into the next observation.

Wireless Carrier Choice Is Becoming More Personal: Even for Business Users

Businesses lead the way in mobile because mobility was historically necessary for certain employees but beyond the financial reach of those employees personally. My first company issued wireless brick, for instance, cost over $1,500 plus almost a dollar a minute and, even though the battery weighed as much as half a slab of concrete it had a talk time of less than 20 minutes and I was tied to a single tower! There was no way I was going to pay for that myself. Eventually devices got slimmer, talk time went up and I was able to afford a cell phone of my own. But my company still issued theirs to me and I had two devices to manage, answer, recharge and maintain. Now many companies are allowing, or even encouraging and sometimes demanding, that individual employees have certain features on their own personal devices and that they use those devices for work, as well as personal, communications. The company compensates for the wide range of systems with unified communications providing a set of common services usable by the standards-based phones their employees, contractors and often customers already own.

Mobile Backhaul Is the Variable

If one were to put this in mathematical terms the wide variety of mobile devices would be a constant, as would the multimedia demands of those devices. The peculiarities of wireless operations would be a constant as well and so would the impact of different air protocols and systems. The variable in all of this, from market-to-market, and occasionally in the same market, especially markets where the big providers provide some of the backhaul and contractors provide the rest is … backhaul! Some backhaul is terrestrial using fiber and some is terrestrial using copper. Some is radio frequency wireless point-to-point and some use free space optics. Still others use satellite. Some use SONET or SDH and others uses Carrier Ethernet. There are many, many variations on all of these themes and therein lies a problem, especially when a single wireless carrier mixes and matches different technologies and different providers. It all adds up to a lot of service variability while consistency = quality.

What to Do?

So, what does this mean and what actions should you take? If you are providing a mobile data solution, be more aware of individual users and their needs. Fully understand Quality of Experience vs Quality of Service and how QoE impacts individual user experiences and influences buying decisions and users’ recommendations to others. You don’t want the herd to turn on you and stampede over to another provider. Also, understand the important role that backhaul plays in consistency and the end-to-end QoE, and do your engineering accordingly. And finally, use your own service in different markets to learn for yourself if there are variations and, if there are, why. One way to do this is to have a specific file to download or video to watch, or both, and see how their performance varies from one market to the other.

If you are a user of mobile services choose your provider on more than just price: use your own experiences and the combined wisdom of others to guide your choice of provider and try to get a sense of their strengths and weaknesses in the primary market or markets in which you will be using their service.

Editor’s Note: Besides 30+ years of experience that includes hands-on engineering, consulting, and training on a wide range of networking technologies, Jim Cavanagh, a Principal Member of our Telecommunications Faculty, is our resident expert on mobile backhaul as well. He has taught numerous classes for clients using a wide range of backhaul options — including traditional SONET/SDH, multiple broadband technologies, satellite, and other wireless technologies — to get the multimedia traffic from their users’/clients’ hands  to the ‘net. He has instructed backhaul engineers in the proper set-up of multiple backhaul devices; advised large multinationals, government, and public safety agencies on backhaul security and the use of backhaul as a part of VPN and Cloud-based networks; documented backhaul best-practices; helped establish SLAs and service descriptions; and even written backhaul marketing materials. He shares his extensive, practical knowledge of wireless backhaul with our clients via onsite and WebLive™ classes that are part of the Eogogics Mobile Wireless Backhaul Curriculum. See Jim’s Detailed Bio.