From 2016, there will be a sharp uptick in deployments of small cells in enterprise and urban environments, as operators see their LTE macro networks coming under pressure from data traffic that never stops multiplying. In any project to densify networks in areas of high outdoor usage, the issue of backhaul will be central to success.
Clearly, densification opens up new opportunities for backhaul providers. According to a recent forecast from IHS Technology, the shift from macro layer to small cell deployment by mobile operators will drive total spending of $6.4bn, between 2016 and 2020, on outdoor small cell backhaul equipment. The company says the number of connections will rise from 42,600 last year to 878,000 in 2020.
There are still challenges in making those figures come true. Finding the right technology, at the right price, to backhaul large numbers of small cells in close proximity has been one of the key challenges for small cells since they started to move out of the home and into the urban areas. To date, most outdoor roll-outs have been modest, and so there has been some breathing space to test out solutions and refine technologies – especially in wireless backhaul, which can be a more cost-effective and flexible solution than fiber.
That breathing space will soon disappear in many markets, as densification becomes urgent. To deliver the targeted, high quality capacity they need, operators will be making heavy demands on their backhaul suppliers. To be economically viable, the backhaul solution needs to be simple to deploy, with a readily repeatable process that can scale to huge numbers of links. It also needs the flexibility to cope with many different types of obstacles, since most small cells will be installed in the clutter, presenting performance challenges for wireless connections.
A great deal of progress has been made. Solutions have proliferated. Some are technical – millimeter wave wireless options; various point-to-multipoint and multipoint-to-multipoint topologies, for instance. Others are business-related, including SCaaS (small cell as a service) and managed fiber options.
Richard Webb, IHS’s research director for mobile backhaul and small cells, said: “Network operators are currently testing and field trialing many outdoor small cell and backhaul options in dense urban areas to choose technologies, products and vendors, as well as to develop operational procedures. The issues of urban deployment are gradually being resolved.”
Much of the work has been driven by Small Cell Forum’s Backhaul SIG (Special Interest Group). While Julius Robson, chair of the SIG, acknowledges that backhaul is perceived as one of the biggest barriers to urban small cell roll-out, he argues that cost effective solutions are increasingly available. The Forum’s network architecture, for instance, is designed for scalability, starting by connecting small cells in a simple way into the existing macro transport network, and then adding dedicated small cell core nodes as required, with backhaul links which are optimized for small cell characteristics.
On Thursday July 7, Robson will lead a webinar for Forum members and invited guests, which will set out the most important priorities for HetNet backhaul, and describe the Forum’s roadmap to address them, both to enable near term deployments and looking ahead to 2020.
He will be joined by Caroline Gabriel, research director of Rethink Technology Research, who will share some up-to-date insights into operators’ small cell backhaul plans, based on a recent global survey.
Click here to apply for an invitation to attend this exclusive webinar: https://www.smallcellforum.org/events/calendar/webinars/