use has increased, we've seen more and more instances where wireless networks
get jammed as data-hungry users attempt to surf the Web and perform other tasks
from their handhelds. These wireless carriers could soon get relief from a
somewhat unexpected source—cable companies.
is trying to sell wireless carriers such as AT&T and
Verizon Wireless on a service that uses its underground cables to carry mobile
calls and Web downloads. This service would ease the load on the wireless
carriers' networks and help to avoid some of the jams. The service is known in
the industry as wireless backhaul. After revenue tripled last year, it has
become the fastest-growing business for Time Warner Cable.
When mobile calls are made, a signal travels over radio
waves to an antenna. The backhaul system pulls this signal from the antenna
into a wired network. During high-demand periods, carriers can add capacity by
adding lines to the backhaul pipes.
“Backhaul is the first line of defense in addressing the
capacity pressures on wireless networks,” said Craig Moffett, a Sanford C.
Bernstein & Co. analyst in New York who has followed the telecommunications
industry for more than two decades.
According to Bernstein, Apple's iPhone
eats twice the
capacity of other smartphones. This strains AT&T's network. In December, AT&T
wireless chief Ralph de la Vega admitted that New York
and San Francisco are particular trouble spots. Time Warner Cable currently has
backhaul lines in place that could serve New York. Comcast is the major cable
company in San Francisco.
Sadly, backhaul alone won't solve the crunch; there can
still be congestion while the signal is traveling from tower to tower in the