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Exalt-Sponsored Survey of Telecom Professionals Reveals Rural and Urban Broadband Challenges in the U.S.

Data highlights lack of consensus as both sides of the broadband “digital divide” face different challenges in network access, capacity, and performance

CAMPBELL, Calif. — April 25, 2012 — Exalt Communications today released the findings of an exclusive blind survey of telecom professionals revealing that the telecom industry is split regarding the best way to expand rural broadband penetration in the U.S. and enhance mobile broadband capacity in urban areas. The survey was conducted in Q1 2012 and includes responses from 124 telecom professionals, a majority of whom identified themselves as affiliated with tier one (44%) or tier two (11%) mobile operators. Respondents were asked for their opinions on U.S. broadband penetration, the role of government funding, connectivity in rural areas, and the expansion of mobile backhaul capacity in urban centers.

“Considering the head start the U.S. once had, today’s broadband networks are woefully inadequate,” said Amir Zoufonoun, president and CEO of Exalt Communications. “We sponsored this survey to better understand why, in terms of broadband speed and penetration, the U.S. is falling behind smaller countries with fewer resources. By polling only telecom executives, engineers, and field techs, we thought we’d gain some insights or, at least, find some consensus that could help us understand if product deficiencies might be behind the slowdown. Instead, we found misperceptions and disaccord on the future of broadband networks in both rural and urban regions of the U.S.

“It seems broadband service providers could agree on only one issue – that they’re not making enough money,” said Zoufonoun. “While 32 percent of survey respondents believe that broadband connectivity should be a basic human right, 65 percent admit that what’s holding back connectivity in rural areas isn’t technology or demand, but ROI for service providers. The situation isn’t any clearer for mobile operators in urban areas grappling with subscriber demand for data. Although 76 percent of respondents agree on the importance of small cells to improve mobile backhaul capacity, their willingness to consider equipment from small-cell startup companies shows they are still developing their small-cell strategies and searching for the best ways to implement them.”

Current state of U.S. broadband: According to the most recent report from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which used data from the 2010 census, U.S. broadband penetration is 68%. The Exalt-sponsored survey of telecom pros, however, shows that 39% thought that no more than half the U.S. had broadband connectivity, and another 11% overestimated this figure, replying that three-quarters of the population currently has connectivity. Although telecom pros should be the people closest to understanding how their broadband networks are built and used, the survey revealed that the industry is far removed from the reality of U.S. broadband penetration: only half of respondents accurately assessed the country’s current broadband penetration rate.

The survey revealed further disparities when respondents were asked what would most positively impact the availability of broadband connectivity in rural areas. More competition from local utility providers scored the highest here with 32%, and more government funding scored second with 26%. Meanwhile, demonstrating the mixed feelings regarding government interaction, less government regulation (15%) was cited two-to-one over more government mandates (7%).

Additional U.S. broadband survey results include:
• 32% believe that residential broadband should be a basic human right.
• 65% said ROI for service providers is most responsible for lack of broadband connectivity. Only 20% cited lack of technology as the cause.
• 59% responded that “neither would do more than the other” when asked which major political party would do more to promote broadband in rural areas. Democrats (25%) outscored Republicans (16%) among those who had a preference.

Increasing capacity in urban areas
While rural areas struggle with access to broadband connectivity in places where running fiber-optic cables is not a realistic or economically viable option, urban areas are struggling with capacity issues. Research firm Infonetics predicts the small-cell market will be worth $2.1 billion by 2016, with approximately 3 million units shipped. The firm also reports that, for the next three years, most mobile operators will deploy small cells “only in the urban core.” Acknowledging the role that emerging small-cell networking technology plays in urban areas, the Exalt-sponsored survey asked a series of questions regarding the importance of small cells and the current vendor landscape.

Here the industry demonstrated some agreement. When asked about small cells’ importance in network architecture, 76% responded that it was either key to their network’s future (29%) or at least an element of their networks (47%). Another 73% agreed that small cells would help improve network and service performance and the customer experience at the network edge.

Mobile operators can agree on the importance of small cells, but their opinions differ on the vendors and sourcing strategies that will shape the new networks. The survey reflected the wide-open nature of the small-cell market. 39% of respondents said they would be “likely” or “very likely” to turn to a startup vendor for small-cell technology, and 30% said that only established or incumbent vendors would be considered. This change in mobile operator buying patterns is driven by the need to quickly expand and scale networks under increasing traffic demand that can change dramatically in a short period, as evidenced by Apple selling 3 million of the new iPads in just three days.

Additional survey results include:
• 36% said the need driving small-cell deployments is to meet high demand for capacity in urban areas.
• 35% said small-cell deployment plans are somewhere between “on the radar” and “in the investigation and planning” stage, while another 35% simply replied “don’t know.”

About Exalt Communications
Exalt Communications provides next-generation microwave backhaul systems to mobile operators, service providers, government agencies, and enterprises worldwide. Exalt systems are designed to solve the network bottlenecks associated with the growing demand for IP-based voice, data, and video applications and the resulting migration from TDM to IP-based networks. With a flexible architecture and universal product platform covering multiple market segments, Exalt provides a full range of microwave backhaul systems that meet the demand for cost-effective and flexible alternatives to fiber and leased lines.

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