Small cell wireless backhaul is hot. But are network operators choosing the right type of small cell wireless backhaul?

To meet wireless demand, many network operators are turning to small outdoor base stations known as small cells. These small cell wireless backhaul solutions provide a number of benefits, including additional capacity for high-traffic locations, offloading traffic from congested macro-cells, delivering higher capacity and performance at the edge of macro-cells, and extending coverage at the edge of the network into isolated areas.

There are many technologies that operators can choose for small cell deployments. Blinq Networks recently produced a case study that suggests that operators may not be choosing the right technology for their small cell wireless backhaul deployments.

“There are a number of backhaul solutions being proposed today for small cells,” wrote the study. “Most of these solutions are extensions of what is used on macro-cells: fiber and other wireline technologies, point-to-point line-of-sight microwave and millimeter wave technologies and point-to-multipoint microwave solutions.”

The main factor to consider with these solutions, however, is cost.

“When it comes to small cells, the question is that of scalability: do such solutions allow the operator to deploy the number of small cell base stations forecasted? What would be the total cost of small cell backhaul?” wrote Blinq in the study. “Without cost effective backhaul, it is too expensive to deploy small cells to address the growing demand for mobile data traffic which is being fueled by advances in mobile computing devices.”

The Blinq study looked at the leading small cell technology solutions—and came to a surprising conclusion, at least if operator adoption is any indication.

Looking at small cell wireless backhaul technology from a cost standpoint, it found that non-line-of-sight (NLOS) small cell backhaul was substantially cheaper than technologies such as point-to-multipoint (PMP) microwave, point-to-point 60 GHz, or line-of-sight PMP at 60 GHz.

The study found that the average 10-year total cost of backhaul per small cell base station was between $18,916 and $20,628 for line-of-sight PMP and even more for the other major options, while NLOS small cell backhaul came in at between $13,607 and $16,291.

“While non-line-of-sight wins on total cost, it is not a solution that is used today by wireless operators (with very few exceptions),” noted the study.

At the same time, NLOS not only wins on cost, it also scales better.

NLOS “is inherently scalable due to its main characteristics: block spectrum pricing, point to multipoint configuration, ease of deployment and installation,” noted the study. “Additionally, NLOS wireless backhaul is more suited than other wireless backhaul solutions for integration with the small cell base station.”

With small cell wireless backhaul such a hot topic among network operators, these are interesting findings indeed.

Edited by Brooke Neuman