February 1, 2005

6 Min Read
Looking Up

By Khali Henderson

Growth in mobile wireless traffic is 35 percent year over year, according to the latest data recorded in June 2004 by the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. More than 500 billion minutes were used in the first half of last year compared with 800 billion in all of 2003, the trade group reports.

The dramatic rise is only expected to increase as next-generation networks attract more users - penetration is slightly greater than 50 percent of the U.S. population, according to a 2004 report from Wintergreen Research Inc. - and enable them to do more and morebandwidth intensive activities, such as sending text, images and video, without wires. Subscribers increased 14.5 percent year over year between June 2003 and June 2004, CTIA reports.

This remarkable growth is driving mobile operators to expand the coverage and capacity of their networks. The number of cell sites in service, CTIA says, are up 18 percent during the same June-to-June timeframe. Cumulative capital investment is up 16.8 percent for the period.

This translates to a growing opportunity for carrier’s carriers to provide vital connections between mobile switching centers (MSCs), data centers and landline networks.

Speaking at the CompTel/ASCENT Convention & Expo in November, Nick Lenoci, national vice president of sales and marketing for metro optical service provider Looking Glass Networks Inc., outlined some of the requirements wireless carriers have.

Among them are circuits - ranging from DS1 to OCn - that would connect MSCs to other MSCs in a metro market for disaster recovery, mobile-to-mobile calling and traffic hubbing. Wireless carriers also may require inter-MSC transport for data services, such as text messages sent from Blackberry devices.

Another requirement, says Lenoci, is connecting MSCs to IXC PoPs within a metro for long-haul trunking. Or, connectivity from the MSC to the ILEC end office or to tandem switches of which there may be more than one in a major city.

Finally, he says they may want to connect an MSC in one metro via intercity private line to an MSC in another metro. The advantage, says Lenoci, are flat rates versus usage-based rates and mobile-tomobile calling at no additional charge.

Looking Glass Networks provides SONET/SDH, wavelength and Ethernetbased metro data transport services, as well as dark fiber and carrier-neutral colocation in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and D.C./Northern Virginia.

Randy Dunbar, senior vice president of transport services for Level 3 Communications Inc., says the wholesaler also is finding a home for its services among wireless operators, claiming six of the seven top providers as its customers. He says cellular providers are using Level 3’s metro, long-haul private line, wavelength, dark fiber and colocation services.

Some operators are beginning to look beyond traditional SONET-protected networks and are warming to the idea of managing their own packet networks built on transparent wavelength services, Dunbar says, adding they also are beginning to purchase metro Ethernet services, but are making only limited IP purchases.

One of the newer problems Level 3 solves, he notes, is providing a converged backbone to support new data services and to collapse what are now separate networks for voice, data, signaling and IT. In addition, it is able to serve as a core network provider in place of multiple ILEC and CLEC vendors providing connectivity between COs and national or regional data centers.

Simplifying vendor management by consolidating providers was a theme mentioned repeatedly by vendors serving mobile operators. While many purchasing decisions are made at the local or regional level, some are being kicked up to corporate for a nationwide strategy.

Being able to coordinate projects at whichever level - local, regional or national - was cited as a significant value-add for providers trying to win business.

One broker, Paradigm Telecom, for example, has built a lucrative business by doing just that (see sidebar). The company provides free network design services and bids on PCS carrier business by piecing together product from more than 50 carriers and equipment vendors. “If you are talking about long-distance or connecting retail stores, it’s a national decision,” says Paradigm CEO Karen Toth. “If it’s network or backhaul, it’s usually regional or subregional. We deal with all three levels. We coordinate it. We do way beyond what most other carriers do.”

Even metro providers like Looking Glass Networks have the opportunity to become a total solutions provider, says Lenoci, explaining that they can manage multiple IXCs and partner with other ILEC or competitive access providers where they don’t have network.

David Kelley, president of PPL Telcom, says his company offers cellular carriers “the opportunity for one-stop shopping and fulfills their requirement from performance, diversity, QoS [standpoints] and provides lower-cost solutions than what they might get from the RBOCs. In most cases, RBOCs are thinking linear circuits. We have a total solution.”

That total solution for PPL Telcom includes cell tower space, site design, engineering and construction. PPL Telcom, the unregulated subsidiary of PPL Corp., offers a fiber-optic network in the mid-Atlantic region, servicing 15 markets in six states and the District of Columbia. The network consists of more than 2,500 route miles of fiber utilizing a DWDM OC192 system. PPL Telcoms network provides service to customers throughout the northeast corridor between New York and Washington D.C. Locations in the network corridor include Allentown, Bethlehem, Baltimore, Harrisburg, Lancaster, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, Washington D.C., Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Williamsport and York.

One of the key advantages of using a power company’s existing “verticality,” says Allen Garrison, wireless manager with SRP Telecom, has nothing to do with the technical feasibility and everything to do with politics - specifically streamlining the zoning process. SRP, for example, gets preapproval for cell tower placement, so that it can easily file applications for its mobile carrier clients. While tower operators offer a similar advantage, SRP Telecom says it usually comes at a higher price. Additionally, utility telcos can provide the circuits as well.

SRP, or Salt River Project, provides wireless carriers with high-capacity private lines (DS3 and DS3, typically) over the same SONET network that it uses to manage its electric system. The SONET backbone operates at OC192 speeds with network nodes located at the substations where the cell sites are deployed. SRP operates one of the largest fiber-optic communications networks in Arizona. It spans a 2,900- square-mile service territory transiting 15 cities. Rather than a typical metro ring, it offers 950 route miles that include about 2,000 individual segments with splice points at nearly every mile to meet custom network requirements. Additionally, its fiber footprint is unique to provide route diversity that is unmatched by competitive metro providers in its service area.

The dense footprint offered by utility companies is oft-cited as an attractive selling point for wireless providers seeking to increase coverage within a region.

While there are ever fewer facilitiesbased cellular/PCS carriers requiring service, vendors say many of these same carrier services will be needed by the plethora of wireless ISPs and municipalities deploying large-scale fixed wireless networks based on Wi-Fi, WiMAX or even licensed bands. One backhaul provider serving Wi-Fi operators, for example, is using Looking Glass for its off-net circuits, notes Lenoci. SRP Telecom also is entertaining requests from WISPs for backhaul and cell tower space.



Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association www.ctia.org
CompTel/ASCENT www.comptelascent.org
Looking Glass Networks Inc. www.lglass.net
PPL Telcom www.ppltelcom.com
SRP Telecom www.srpnet.com
Level 3 Communications Inc. www.level3.com
Wintergreen Research Inc. www.wintergreenresearch.com

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