Issues of 3G/4G Build-Out: Ethernet Base Station Backhaul I

Last week I wrote about Thailand’s 3G spectrum auctions in Thailand Should Leapfrog 3G and Move Directly to 4G. Some readers disagreed, mostly on the grounds that 4G was not ready or that existing users of 3G-in-2G-spectrum would be upset that their 3G handset investment would be obsoleted sooner than expected.  I felt these comments somewhat missed the point I had hoped to make, and was therefore somewhat gratified when Don Sambandaraksa of the Bangkok Post supported the idea.

The comments to my original article, both positive and negative, got me thinking about the impediments that face a 4G deployment in Thailand. The one that is probably the easiest to address is the availability of nationwide Metro Ethernet. Read on as I explore this critical requirement of 4G mobile networks.

So I sought the websites of Thai ISPs and backbone providers and descriptions of their Ethernet offerings. Below is a partial listing. I start with service providers who own their own network, rather than resellers, although the initially-deployed backhaul network is likely to be a heterogeneous patchwork of nationwide and regional providers using multiple technologies. If I were trying to build backhaul network using Ethernet, I’d need first to see a map of a Provider’s backbone, and the major and minor access nodes distributed throughout the country.

Communication Authority of Thailand (CAT). I speculate that CAT own their own fiber network, rather than leasing fiber from another provider, though that is not clear from their website. The website also offers no online contact information, at least not in English. They provide only a qualitative description of the product, no map and no pricing.

Telecommunications Organization of Thailand (TOT). For a “Metro LAN” product, the description states that it is a “metropolis service”, which probably means it is offered in the larger cities only. Like CAT’s website, one must call for more information, as there is no online link to submit questions.

Symphony Communications. Symphony has a rather good site, with several interesting Ethernet products well-described. They offer Ready Ethernet, for fully diverse network routing, and Ethernet over SDH (EoSDH) which looks a fine high-bandwidth backbone product. The site also shows 28 Bangkok high-rise office towers they say are on-network. Symphony seems also to have partnered with many other network providers and and ISPs to offer a more widespread solution. Links to websites of the partners are conveniently provided.

True Move.� True is a large Thai telecoms and this page shows that they offer a wide selection of services, including Metro Ethernet and MPLS.� Hoever, the English-language descriptions are not sufficient to provide keen insight into their offerings.� The Thai language pages also appear to offer qualitative information rather than bandwidth, coverage and pricing.

TT&T might own their own network. But their website is Thai only.

That seems to be the only providers owning their own fiber. I’d speculate that the following ISPs probably resell capacity on the one of the above service provider networks, though it’s possible they own some or much of their own fiber.

Internet KSC. KSC do offer Metro Ethernet, without details of speed, location and price. They helpfully have an online contact form for sales-related questions.

Pacnet Thailand.  Pacnet have one of the nicer websites, and one of the only ones with an online link for more info (the others require a telephone call.) They seem to be primarily a reseller.

Loxinfo. Loxinfo does not appear to offer Ethernet services. However they do offer hosting and leased-lines. They also provide a handy map of their off-network connections. Not essential, as contractual Service Level Agreements will capture the required information, though helpful nonetheless.

That seems to be the extent of Metro Ethernet service providers in Thailand. I have concentrated on the English websites, and if the Thai versions offer more comprehensive information I will have missed that. When new backhaul networks are to be built, they will opportunistically use a variety of service providers to carry the traffic. We’ll say more about the building of backhaul networks later.

For now, it seems safe to conclude, from the survey just conducted, that much work needs to be done to allow a 4G network to launch. Metro Ethernet coverage outside of the major cities seems non-existent, and will need to be built either to cost-effectively, for the mobile operators, support 3G or to allow a 4G network to be built at all.