As bandwidth speeds on cellular networks increase and data intensive services such as email and web access become more popular, traditional backhaul networks are unable to cope, analysts warned this week.

Against the background of last week’s Transport Networks for Mobile Operators conference in Hong Kong, industry analyst Ovum highlighted the growing nuisance that wireless backhaul is becoming for mobile operators in Asia Pacific.

“PCCW, StarHub, MobileOne, Chunghwa Telecom, along with a number of suppliers, agreed on one thing: as bandwidth speeds on cellular networks increase, and packet based mobile services (video, gaming, email, Internet access via PC cards, etc.) attract more users, traffic growth is making traditional backhaul network designs unmanageable”, said Matt Walker, senior analyst at Ovum.

Carrier Ethernet, network and site sharing, fibre network expansion and WiMAX are among some of the techniques being explored for backhaul cost optimisation.

Ethernet in particular has been the subject of much hype, in particular by vendors and it is likely part of the most suitable long term solution, Walker said. However, big obstacles remain, such as unsettled standards, the need to exploit the installed base, the need to train field personnel with new boxes and test equipment and interoperability. Comments from a spokesperson at Hong Kong operator PCCW reflected the general mood: “We’ve developed an IP/Ethernet solution for our backhaul…but we’ll still be using E1s for a long time to come. Starting in 2009 IP-based backhaul may carry more of the traffic but [revenues are another story].”

Ovum believes that while SDH/SONET-based optical edge devices are becoming more packet centric with each passing quarter, legacy service interfaces – from low speed SDH/SONET down to E1/T1 – are growing steadily. “A key driver for this growth is mobile network expansion across the globe”, said Walker.

“We expect this segment to continue to be a hot one for vendor product innovation and carrier investment, as mobile operators around the world try to improve the efficiency with which they manage the traffic emanating from new packet based wireless services,” he added.