LONDON – Passive optical networks (PONs) are increasingly being used for mobile traffic backhaul because the onslaught of 3G and 4G LTE cellular data is straining the old copper-based T1 connections that cell sites once depended on. According to research firm Ovum, this is especially true for the busiest cell sites – macrocells (or full-size cell towers) and small cells located in or near urban areas. Because significant amounts of mobile traffic are created in urban areas, such as train stations, shopping centers and cultural and sporting events, fiber-to-the-cell networks are typically deployed first in urban areas.

“While small cells will help relieve capacity constraints on macrocells, similar to macrocells, data traffic will need to be backhauled,” said Julie Kunstler, principal analyst at Ovum. In other words, data must travel back to the Internet over wired, and preferably fiber-wired, lines.

Several communications service providers began their PON deployments by focusing on business services, rather than residential services, because of the opportunity for higher revenue from commercial customers, including mobile operators seeking data backhaul services.

Fiber to the Cell Site Helps Accelerate FTTH

“Today, given the costs of building the fiber network, more and more communications service providers are planning their FTTx around mixed services, including FTTH, fiber to the enterprises and mobile data backhaul,” Kunstler continued. “From a technical perspective, PON is a superb fit for mobile backhaul. PON component and equipment vendors have added essential timing synchronization functions to meet the stringent timing requirements of wireless networks.

“From a total addressable market perspective, the growth in public carrier small cells could represent a $1 billion market for PON component and equipment vendors. Governments should welcome this market application for PON as it will accelerate network monetization, encouraging communications service providers to accelerate FTTx network deployments.”