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CenturyLink picks Calix GPON for mobile backhaul


CenturyLink is using Calix technology to offer fiber-bed mobile backhaul services to wireless carriers with cell towers in the CenturyLink footprint, marking the largest deployment of this type to date for Calix, the vendor announced today. CenturyLink will leverage its existing deployments of Calix C7 broadband service nodes and will use three different types of Calix optical network terminals (ONTs) to extend fiber optic links to cell towers that will enable wireless operators to easily add bandwidth to support growing mobile data usage.

“Everyone saw this coming with 3G and 4G network capacity requirements – challenging what the backhaul network opportunity was,” said Geoff Burke, senior director of corporate marketing at Calix. “Most towers have only basic T-1 backhaul today. What we have been doing with CenturyLink over the course of the last year is utilizing the GPON and optimized ONTs from Calix to enable this wireless marketing and the increasing bandwidth needs.”

CenturyLink is able to use the existing Calix C7 platforms deployed throughout its footprint and, with the addition of a card to the C7 chassis, extend a gigabit passive optical network connection to a cell tower with deployment of a single fiber. Using GPON technology to create up to 64 separate channels of up to 2.5 gigabits per second each, CenturyLink can “satisfy the needs of not one but every carrier on that tower with reliability and extraordinary future bandwidth,” Burke said. “This will enable them to go out and win backhaul business, because they are often in a competitive situation where they are not the only ones dying for this mobile backhaul business.”

A recently published New Paradigm Resources Group (NPRG) report found that less than 16% of the more than 250,000 cell towers in North America are fiber-fed. Using an existing broadband platform and existing fiber access rings, along with GPON technology, service providers can more cost effectively deliver bandwidth, Burke said. “There is an enormous difference in the cost of deployment if you are talking about a drop from a C7 to a tower versus a fiber run all the way from the [central office] to the tower for an active Ethernet drop,” Burke said. 

The Calix solution uses a low-cost ONT at the cell tower for each cellular carrier and there are options for whether the equipment is deployed in a hut or mounted directly onto the tower, Burke said. The ONTs can support up to eight T-1s, depending on which ONT is deployed, or up to 8 gigabit Ethernet ports. Moving from traditional T-1s to GigE is a simple transition that can be done at the pace dictated by the customer, he said. There is also an option for moving to two-way active Ethernet that is more symmetrical for support of high-speed data.

Calix is touting the fiber solution as superior to Ethernet over copper options because of the lower vulnerability of fiber optics to lightening strikes and the lower maintenance costs of fiber. Calix is also offering an ONT option with the positive 24-volt powering more common in the wireless industry than the negative 48 volt power options traditional to telecom.

“Dozens of our customers are deploying this right now,” Burke said. “We anticipate this will be a pretty broad opportunity for our customer base, it is a very lucrative business. There are a lot of RFPs on the street right now – Verizon has one, for instance, that says that if you bring fiber to their cell tower, they will lock you into a five-year contract today. For the service provider, once you get fiber to the cell tower, it’s not just Verizon, it’s all the other wireless carriers on that tower, and if you have a better mousetrap, you win.”

“By incorporating Calix GPON solutions into the portfolio of options available to our mobile operator customers, we can easily address their demands for more bandwidth to deal with the ever-increasing volume of multimedia and data traffic,” said Dennis Huber, executive vice president network and IT, CenturyLink, said in a prepared statement.  “We have been aggressively deploying fiber to cell towers and selling backhaul transport to assist wireless operators. Our goal, leveraging our extensive Calix footprint and Calix’ powerful ONT portfolio, is to continue to meet the transport needs of our wireless operator customers.”


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