Perfect Timing: Engineering Ethernet-Based Cell Backhaul

Everyone knows that timing is everything in comedy. Apparently, it also is the most important element of cable's success or failure in the Ethernet-based cellular backhaul business.

Ethernet backhaul timing products from Accedian and EXFO were released late last month. The products, beyond their direct importance for vendors' customers, serve as good illustrations of the exacting demands that operators must satisfy if they are going to make it in this extremely promising emerging business.

On Jan. 19, Accedian Networks released version 5.1 of its High Performance Service Assurance platform, which works with the vendor's MetroNID and MetroNODE 10 GE demarcation units.

Craig Easley, the company's VP of marketing and product management, reports that the platform has been upgraded with two additional clock synchronization tools. The first is a GPS antenna that the network interface device (NID) uses to measure timing to a far more precise level than in the past. Easley explains that the accuracy is improved from several microseconds to less than one microsecond. This brings measurement into the nanosecond realm.

The other addition is aimed at improving timing where GPS is unavailable. This is done by networking NIDs and carrying the primary reference clock signal throughout the array. Easley says that accuracy level is the same as the GPS approach.

EXFO also is working on its timing. On Jan. 18, the company introduced the SyncWatch-110 synchronization testing unit. Sophie Legault, the company's senior product manager for transport and datacomm, says that the new product tracks a number of key performance indicators – including frame loss, jitter and latency – to ensure that backhaul providers are living up to the service level agreements that they have with wireless carriers.

Legault says that SyncWatch works with both systems of synchronizing frame transport across Ethernet networks, 1588v2 and Sync-E, and adds that 1588 may be a bit more prone to synchronization issues.

No Tripling of Engineering Staffs

Ethernet backhaul for wireless carriers is a hugely attractive potential business for cable operators, and they are at a great starting point: The need is growing as the explosion of mobility shows no sign of abating. Operators are in great shape because they have spent years deploying HFC networks – and deploying them largely near the cell towers that serve the residential areas that are the epicenter of the mobile growth.

It is not a sector without business and technical challenges, however. On the business side, a wireless carrier naturally will favor using backhaul services from a company under the same corporate umbrella if the quality and availability is comparable to a cable operators' offering. Indeed, the carriers see the same dynamics, and are using their own fiber initiatives – FiOS, U-verse and others – as a basis for a backhaul business, says Vertical Systems Group Principal and Co-Founder Rick Malone.

Still, it is hard to see the sector as anything but a huge opportunity for cable operators, and the sense is that there enough business to go around even with more telco capacity.

The biggest question is whether cable operators will be able to move seamlessly into position to meet demanding SLAs -- and to do so without "tripling their engineering staffs," as Easley points out. The main challenge -- which the introductions and upgrades from EXFO and Accedian are intended to help with – is whether operators can sufficiently control jitter, latency and loss to the demanding level necessary to ensure that calls are not degraded or dropped.

The level of difficulty is great. Not only must the networks meet stringent parameters, but they must have the hardware and software in place to prove it to their wireless network customers. These tools must be able to identify operational issues before they blossom into actual outages or, if service is disrupted, they must provide root cause analysis and other data that can lead to fast remedial action. Easley points out that not meeting SLA requirements can quickly eat into the revenue that makes backhaul so attractive in the first place.

Easley explains that the latency budgets shrink as bandwidth demands increase and that Ethernet performance dynamic and can change significantly as conditions shift over short periods. It is up to cable operators to demonstrate that they are up to the task.

"The infrastructure has to be proven in," Vertical's Malone adds. "MSOs have to prove that they can compete and deliver the same level of service. That is all part of the technical trials that they have to go through."

The bottom line is that from operators' perspective, cellular backhaul should be seen as a service that is orders of magnitude greater than most other new services -- both in terms of potential rewards and technical requirements to start pulling in that revenue. "Latency and jitter vary quite a bit based on congestion in the network," Easley says. "Usage changes throughout the day, and performance can change significantly. Without visibility into what is going on, without constant vigilance, you really are flying blind."

Carl Weinschenk is a reporter at BTR. Reach him at

Get the Broadband Technology Report Newsletters Delivered to Your Inbox

Subscribe to email newsletters today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • Video Technology
  • Network Technology
  • Technology Alerts
  • BTR LATAM (Latin America)

SCTE-Cable Tec Expo 2016 Video Show Dailies

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 3

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 3

In our Video Show Daily for Day 3 of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy covers trends in distrib...

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 2

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 2

In our Video Show Daily for the second day of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy highlights furt...

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 1

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 1

BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy reviews the hot technologies and announcements from the first day of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2016 in P...

Diamond Technology Reviews - 2016 High Scores

Diamond Technology Reviews 2016

Diamond Technology Reviews 2016

BTR's Diamond Technology Reviews, now in its twelfth year, is a technology recognition program wherein vendors serving the broadband cable ...

2016 Diamond Technology Reviews Slideshow

2016 Diamond Technology Reviews Slideshow

Related Articles

Keeping Cable Current: Pay TV’s Key to Adapting to the BYOD Shift

September 22, 2016

Supporters of the set-top boxes are admirable, as they promote continued...

Video: Focus Shifting from Features to ... What?

Video: Focus Shifting from Features to ... What?

September 20, 2016

By Monta Monaco Hernon - The times they are a changin'. The days when vi...


2016 SCTE Cable-Tec Expo Wrap Up

Whether you couldn't make it to Cable-Tec this year or want to see if you missed anything while you were there, you'll want to join BTR editors Stephen Hardy and Ron Hendrickson as they reveal their picks for the...

October 12, 2016
Sponsored by

Counting the cost: Efficiently transitioning from HFC to FTTH

HFC networks are uniquely positioned to provide compelling and competitive services, and are also uniquely positioned to transition to symmetrical FTTH as commercial requirements demand.  This webinar will d...

Date:September 22, 2016
Sponsored by

Maintaining High Quality of Experience in an Adaptive Bitrate System

This webinar will look at the many points in an ABR system where the video is touched.  From ingest (satellite, file, and IP), to egress, each point should be qualified for compliance to help maintain a high...

Date:August 25, 2016
Sponsored by

White Papers & Special Reports

Enhancing Revenues by Mining Subscriber Data

Enhancing Revenues by Mining Subscriber Data

October 2016

Cable operators have long collected data on the operation of their networks. Such data has helped warn of impending problems or assisted in overcoming failur...

Cable VoIP 2.0: Voice Moves to the Cloud

October 2016

Cable providers led the charge on the VoIP evolution and won customers and market share. Now voice networks are evolving again. The cloud voice platform has ...

Understanding Ultra High Definition Television

October 2016

Over the last 10 years, high definition television (HDTV) has been replacing standard definition television as the expected viewing format for television pro...

BTR Blogs

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

FCC Rethinks Set-Top Plan

September 10, 2016

By Ron Hendrickson - The FCC has reworked the "unlock the set-top b...


In Memoriam: Richard Covell

August 18, 2016

By Rob Stuehrk, Publisher - We at Broadband Technology Report were sadde...

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

Court Overturns FCC Municipal Broadband Order

August 11, 2016

By Ron Hendrickson - You win some, and you lose some, and the FCC just l...

Featured Hangouts

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K/UltraHD video is coming - consumers are buying the TV sets, and more content is becoming available. Watch this inf...

DOCSIS 3.1: A Look Ahead

DOCSIS 3.1: A Look Ahead

Watch a 30-minute video chat of experts from a variety of related disciplines discuss how close deployments really ar...

Featured Hangout

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K/UltraHD video is coming - consumers are buying the TV sets, and more content is becoming available. Watch this informative Hangout on demand by clicking the link above.

Sponsored by Verimatrix.