Report: small cell backhaul to shift away from copper, fiber toward wireless

According to the recent report "Mobile Backhaul for Small Cells" by research firm ABI Research (Oyster Bay, N.Y., U.S.A.), by 2016 an estimated 58% of outdoor small cells will be backhauled using wireless techniques.

According to the research firm, while outdoor small cells have received a lot of attention lately, small cell backhaul has yet to see the spotlight, mainly because there hasn't been any significant outdoor small cell deployment yet, as well as the fact that operators are still in the process of trialing and testing small cell backhaul technologies, especially the newer contenders.

While fiber, copper, and traditional microwave are currently being used to backhaul rooftop micro base stations, the emergence of wireless technologies like NLOS OFDM (sub 6 GHz), MMW (60-80 GHz) and Wi-Fi backhaul solutions are likely to find preference due to their flexibility, low cost and ability to use point-to-multipoint (PMP) and point-to-point (PTP) techniques to backhaul clusters or rows of small cells, says ABI Research.

"Small cell backhaul space is still in its early days, with a number of small vendors positioning their solutions, especially on the wireless backhaul side," says Aditya Kaul, practice director, mobile networks. "While the majority of small cell backhaul activity is concentrated in OFDM NLOS sub 6 GHz and to some extent in the MMW 60-80 GHz space, the cost of these solutions will need to come down to allow operators to make a favorable small cell business case."

According to the report, due to its unique characteristics, there are numerous considerations that need to be taken into account for a small cell backhaul solution, include product footprint, range, cost, Ethernet/IP support, and capacity.

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