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Macrocell and Small Cell Mobile Backhaul are Different Markets

Wireless Backhaul

Wireless Backhaul Industry News.

December 05, 2011

Macrocell and Small Cell Mobile Backhaul are Different Markets

By Gary Kim
Contributing Editor


Mobile backhaul is an application that seemingly has gotten steadily more attention for most of the past decade, driven by the expansion of 3G networks globally and now by new needs for support of 4G networks (Clearwire (News - Alert), initially). In fact, some regional fiber network providers began to notice a significant uptick in the volume of mobile backhaul connections requested and sold starting about the middle of the first decade of the 21st century.

But most of that demand was for backhaul to support traditional macro-cells. These days, a new application is emerging, namely "small cells" that are designed to provide supplemental coverage in dense urban areas.

Where it comes to small mobile cell sites, which will, by definition, cover small areas primarily in high-traffic areas, backhaul costs will have to scale to match the large number of sites, and the relatively small number of customers served at any single site.

That suggests wireless backhaul will be important, for cost reasons. There are three main categories of contending wireless backhaul solutions, many will note, including:

1. Line-of-sight (LOS) microwave systems typically operating in the 10 GHz – 42 GHz bands.
2. “E-band” LOS solutions that operate in the 60 GHz band (or in some cases at 80 GHz).
3. Non-line-of-sight (NLOS) utilizing sub 6 GHz licensed TDD spectrum. The Options for Small Cell Wireless Backhaul

In some cases, fixed network solutions might also be affordable, though it is unlikely a fiber connection often will fall into that category.

For that reason, a new approach to small-cell backhaul is required to bring down the per-megabit costs. Small cells are forcing vendors to rethink wireless backhaul for an environment where most cell locations are not in line of site with each other or with aggregation points. That means the traditional approach of relaying traffic from one tower to another before handing off to the fixed backhaul network is not possible.

source: Mobile Experts

Wireless backhaul for small cells is forecast to grow rapidly until about 2013, according to Mobile Experts. In 2016, for example, Mobile Experts expects sales of about $1.5 billion worth of small cell gear for wireless backhaul, for example.

Also, new levels of cost optimization are needed, as the total cost of deploying dense small cell networks would be excessive, compared to other bandwidth approaches, without a new lower cost parameters. Small cell backhaul costs

That should suggest an opportunity for cable operators. “We priced the cable companies and they’re always way too expensive, twice as much as the LECs,” one wireless service provider says. “You talk to them and they get you all excited and then at the end you’re bummed because they don’t deliver on what they promise.” Cable backhaul

One should not expect that situation to continue, though. A market now recognized by cable executives as significant will lead to more market-based pricing.

Verizon (News - Alert) Wireless will deploy small cell technology to supplement its Long Term Evolution coverage and help manage its network capacity. "Small cells are one way we will keep up with the growth," said Verizon Wireless' (News - Alert) executive vice president of network planning Bill Stone. Verizon to use small cells to supplement LTE

That has obvious implications for mobile backhaul, including the likely need for more-affordable access circuits than are used to support macro cells. Up to this point, femtocells have been seen as tools to give consumers better in-home voice coverage. In an increasing number of cases, though, small cells will be used by carriers to beef up bandwidth in congested urban areas. LTE will drive deployment

Whichever technology is used to backhaul small cells, it has to be cheap, "it has to be massively cheap," said Andy Sutton (News - Alert), Everything Everywhere principal architect, access transport. "We have a financial envelope for small cells and it's challenging."

Cost is so important because small cells will have relatively low usage compared to a macrocell and there will be lots of sites to support. Compared with macrocells, small cells will cover distance of about 50 square meters or 538 square feet. That's an area about 23 feet by 23 feet.

One way to look at matters is that this is an area smaller than the range of a consumer's home Wi-Fi router. Small-Cell Backhaul Must Be Cheap

source: Senza Fili Consulting

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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