Bayly blows bullhorn on backhaul

Bayly Communications Inc. says its “T-1 optimization program” could help wireless carriers save big bucks – if only the carriers would listen.

Bayly, an Ajax, Ont.-based network gear manufacturer, says its digital cross-connect switches built specifically for use in base stations could spell savings for mobile service providers.

These days carriers use fat connections – perhaps too fat – to bring voice traffic back to their switching centres, explained Gary Johnson, Bayly’s vice-president. Wireless calls go from the user’s cell phone to the base station, where they’re ported onto a T-1 and sent to the switching centre for further routing.

The trouble is, T-1s provide 24 phone lines (DS-0s) and it’s an embarrassment of riches. Many carriers don’t need so much capacity at the cell site. Rural base stations, which carry less traffic than do urban base stations, might require just six or 12 DS-Os to get the job done.

As well, wireless technology advancements mean many carriers need fewer than 24 channels even in urban base stations.

“The efficiency is so much greater now,” Johnson said. “A GSM (global system for mobile communication) base station can’t even use an entire T-1 in many cases.”

Nonetheless, wireless service providers often have no choice but to purchase T-1s for backhaul connections.

“The lowest subset you can lease is the T-1,” Johnson said, which means some wireless carriers buy too big a pipe and spend too much money on backhaul connectivity.

Bayly has an answer in its “Omni” line of products. The OmniBranch and its follow-up sibling OmniFlex digital cross-connect switch could help carriers squeeze savings out of the backhaul network.

For example, the OmniBranch lets carriers avoid the expense of dedicated T-1s. When installed at the base station, the OmniBranch divides T-1s into channels and then shares those channels with other base stations. As a result, the carrier need not lease separate T-1s for each site.

That spells cost savings, but the Omni boxes aid network enhancements as well, Johnson said.

Let’s say a carrier wants to turn on 3G wireless services to provide quicker e-mail access for subscribers on the go. The carrier can’t just drop its 2G customers or force them to take up the next-generation service. It must support both 2G and 3G until users choose to migrate.

With Bayly’s boxes, the carrier could accommodate both the 2G and 3G camps. In the beginning it could allocate the majority of the backhaul channels to 2G traffic, to support the current customer base and its initial preference. But as the marketing campaign ramps up and subscribers are wooed to 3G, the carrier could shift the channels to follow suit.

It all makes perfect sense to Johnson, but just try selling it to the carriers. The mobile market is not kind, perhaps because of the classic divide between business and network know-how that plagues many a service provider.

“When you start talking to the bigger carriers, the guy who wants to save the money doesn’t know the technology and the guy who knows the technology doesn’t have a money-savings mandate.” As a result, the big boys sometimes miss out on high-tech cost-saving solutions like this one, Johnson said.

Nonetheless, Brownlee Thomas, an analyst with Giga Information Group Inc. in Montreal, seemed optimistic about Bayly’s prospects. She said carriers would consider seriously what the company has to offer.

“If you can show me (as a carrier) how I can take what I currently have and for a very small amount of money…help me do a lot more going forward, great,” she said.

Stephen Howe, vice-president of technology development with Telus Mobility in Toronto, said although he sees some merit in Bayly’s T-1 optimization plan, he’s not convinced it would benefit his firm.

Telus Mobility, whose backhaul network consists of wireless links and T-1s leased from incumbents, is “frugal in…operational expenditures.” The company therefore really has no need for the extra equipment that Bayly sells.

“We’re interested in cost control and the bottom line, so where Bayly says those operational savings would occur…that wouldn’t happen for us,” Howe said. However, he added, carriers focussed on time-to-market at the expense of operational efficiencies might benefit from Bayly’s boxes.

For the record, Howe said Telus Mobility’s business and technology lines maintain close communication, although he said other carriers, notably some in the U.S., exhibit the traditional divide Johnson described.

Giga’s Thomas suggested carriers could use Bayly’s technology not only for cost savings, but also for revenue. Service providers could resell unused DS-0s to competitors, thereby turning a cost centre into a profit generator.

Brian Sherk, Bayly’s sales manager, said, “We have some CLEC (competitive local exchange carrier) customers that do just that.”

Johnson said Bayly’s best bet for success is in the U.S., where carriers are obliged to turn on “e-911” in the near future. E-911 lets operators locate a mobile phone when it’s used to contact emergency services.

To implement e-911 “carriers have to put equipment at the base station,” Johnson said. “That equipment needs a single channel back to the switch. Now they have this device that only wants one channel. There’s no point in bringing an entire T-1 for one channel.

“Even if you didn’t want to optimize, even if you didn’t want to be efficient…you’re still going to end up putting a product like ours in your base station for this e-911 equipment.”

Bayly’s OmniBranch, designed for four T-1s, costs approximately US$4,000. The OmniFlex, designed for eight T-1s, costs approximately US$8,000. For more information see Bayly’s Web site,