Fiber-optic connections help grow cellular bandwidth
Pieter Poll's 13-year-old son used nearly 340 megabytes of data on his Motorola Droid smart phone last month, about 70 times more than Poll's wife consumed on her BlackBerry.
"If he's interested in a sports game, he will actually look at that on his wireless device even though he's at home," said Poll, chief technology officer for Denver-based Qwest.
in data consumption among smart-phone users is taxing the
nation's wireless networks. In response, wireless carriers have
asked companies such as Qwest and Broomfield-based Level 3
Communications to connect their fiber-optic networks directly to
thousands of cellular towers in
The fiber connection replaces older copper lines and offers carriers access to 10 to 100 times more bandwidth, which eases network congestion and supports the deployment of faster technologies.
"It is the wave of the future for backhaul (connections)," said Lisa Pierce, president of Strategic Networks Group, an industry consulting firm.
Much of a cellphone call or data connection is carried over a land-based network, as the signal typically travels just a short distance in the air from a handset to a tower and vice versa.
The fiber-based backhaul won't help eliminate dropped calls, which are usually caused by unavailability of a nearby tower, Poll said. But when a video is streamed or an application is downloaded, the quality of the stream or speed of the download relies heavily on land-line capacity.
Qwest has contracts to build fiber to 2,000 cell sites in its 14-state local-phone-service territory.
"It's a number that's growing quickly," Poll said.
He estimates that within five years, about half of the 18,000 cell towers in Qwest's territory will have high-capacity connections.
Fiber-to-the-tower requests two years ago were largely for central business districts, said Level 3 spokeswoman Kimberly Greene.
"However, with improved wireless penetration, usage and bandwidth demand, Level 3 is fielding requests for fiber to the tower at locations outside metro markets," she said.
Verizon and AT&T, the exclusive wireless provider for the bandwidth-hogging iPhone, have acknowledged that fiber-based backhaul is key to offering faster cellular speeds.
the mobile goods is lucrative because data and text-messaging
revenue account for about 25 percent of total wireless revenue
AT&T doubled the number of fiber-served cell sites last year and will triple the rate of deployment in 2010, said spokeswoman Brooke Burgess.
The launch of Apple's 3G-enabled iPad in April is expected to drive mobile data consumption to new extremes.
"The data usage, again, is going to go up because as the screen gets larger and the experience gets richer, there's more and more data that's involved," Poll said.