Docsis® network vs. fiber backhaul for outdoor small cells how larger footprint of docsis networks lowers tco in the outdoor use case – cablelabs

In our recent blog post, we talked about how, from a total cost of ownership (TCO) perspective, DOCSIS networks triumph as either backhaul or fronthaul over traditional fiber backhaul for the indoor use case. In this blog, we bring that TCO analysis to a more intuitive, outdoor use case: a head-to-head comparison between TCO of DOCSIS backhaul and fiber backhaul, both of which serve the same set of outdoor small cells.

The basic idea here is: leverage the existing real estate of DOCSIS networks for additional use cases beyond residential/business services. This approach applies to the markets where DOCSIS networks already have a larger footprint than the fiber on the ground.

We have seen data points suggesting that there typically is 3~5X more coax cable than fiber in major North American metro markets. This enables a large subset of small cells to be deployed on cable strands or at a short distance from the cable strands, using short drops.

Through primary research, one of our members with dual operations (cable + wireless) confirmed that from a small cell radio planning perspective, they exhaust all cable strand mounting options first, before looking into the gaps for additional sites. This is the key differentiator for DOCSIS technology vs. fiber, where most of the backhaul connections require either new build or premium lease rates.

• Secondly, leveraging existing cable infrastructure, and in particular aerial plant i.e., cable strands, that takes out a lot of steps (and cost) from the small cell deployment process. Using existing infrastructure eliminates/lightens the need for permitting and site acquisition, preparation/construction and also powering. Along with site access (typically covered by existing pole-line attachment agreements) and power, cable strand deployments also come with readily accessible DOCSIS links as backhaul.

Figure 1 below shows a typical strand-mount small cell installation, consisting of a small cell gateway and a 4G/LTE-A small cell as reported in the technical paper prepared for SCTE-ISBE 2018 Fall Technical Forum by Dave Morley from Shaw Communications Inc./Freedom Mobile. The small cell gateway here contains a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem and power supply.

In terms of backhaul specifications ( 2 nd requirement), Belal Hamzeh and Jennifer Andreoli-Fang from CableLabs® have articulated how DOCSIS technologies, with recent developments, fulfills all three fundamental backhaul needs around capacity, latency, and timing in the technical brief titled DOCSIS Technologies for Mobile Backhaul (CableLabs members only). In that paper, the authors have argued that, depending on the mobile operator’s defined SLA, even DOCSIS 3.0 can support backhaul capacity needs. And, significant downstream capacity improvement can be added with DOCSIS 3.1 and significant upstream capacity improvement can be added with Full Duplex DOCSIS.

Regarding latency, control and user plane latency is expected to improve significantly, achieving ~1-2ms latency with the pipelining/Bandwidth Report (BWR) technique across DOCSIS and mobile technologies. Finally, DOCSIS 3.1 already has the mechanism to natively distribute IEEE-1588 timing over the network. With recent CableLabs work on a DOCSIS synchronization specification, DOCSIS 3.1 will also be able to achieve the stringent phase precision as required in LTE TDD/5G networks.

For TCO analysis, we considered a hypothetical market covering 100 sq.km. with 290K housing units (HU) and ~700K people in it. There will be 640 outdoor small cells deployed in the market with 150Mbps/50Mbps max DL/UL throughput per cell (20MHz 2*2 LTE cell). For simplicity, using 1:1 mapping between radio and backhaul throughput, we considered peak backhaul capacity of 150Mbps/50Mbps per small cell.

However, since the peak data rates are required/achieved only under ideal conditions, the average DL/UL throughput during the busy hour is much lower, typically 20-25% of the peak rates. We considered the average throughput to be 20% of the peak, thus forming a small cell cluster comprised of 5 small cells that results in 128 total small cell clusters in our market. Each of these clusters is served by a single cable modem capable to handle 150Mbps/50Mbps.

• As mentioned earlier in Table 1, the TCO analysis outcome is primarily dependent on base case assumptions for the distribution of BH connectivity types. If existing cable strand/WiFi hotspots can handle 80% of small cell sites, then, instead of ~50%, the TCO for scenario B will be reduced by ~60%. On the contrary, if that ratio drops down to 50%, then TCO reduction in scenario B will also come down to ~40%.

As we also mentioned in our previous blog (on indoor use case), it’s self-evident that a DOCSIS network-based deployment would have favorable economics compared to a fiber-based model just by virtue of its larger footprint/incumbency alone. When we throw in additional advantages such as lower power requirement/utility charges, that gap only widens. Our TCO model introduced here quantifies that perceived benefit and numerically shows the cost savings in serving outdoor small cells via DOCSIS. This sort of use case strengthens our view that DOCSIS technology has a huge role to play in 5G deployments.