Light Reading

What the [Bleep] Is Fronthaul?

Dan Jones
2/21/2014
50%
50%

Oh goody, another day, another new mobile industry buzzword to learn!

You might have seen the term "fronthaul" crop up in some of our stories recently. If you're like me, you may also have stopped and wondered: "Wait, what the f*** is fronthaul?" (See ADVA Adds Fronthaul for Mobile Versatility.)

As you might expect, it's a somewhat similar concept to backhaul, which, at its simplest, links the mobile network back to the wired network. In essence, fronthaul is the connection between a new network architecture of centralized baseband controllers and remote standalone radio heads at cell sites. (See LTE Base Station Challengers.)

Remote radio heads (RRHs) aren't some kind of robot band created because the real Radiohead got too lazy to tour. Rather, RRHs take the radio elements of a basestation and separate them from the baseband controller. This makes it easier to deploy the radios right at the top of a cell tower, eeking out a greater coverage range for the signal. (See AT&T: Why Our LTE Is Better.)

This separation, however, means that you need to connect the disparate radios to the centralized controllers via the standard Common Public Radio Interface (CPRI) in order to communicate. This also means that the point-to-point links need to be really fast in order to synchronize the transmissions across the network. Today, that means using point-to-point fiber links between the radios and the controllers, Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown tells me.

"You can, in theory, do it over microwave [radio], but for now it's point-to-point fiber," he notes.

Essentially, fronthaul is one of the many elements that will make distributed LTE-Advanced networks -- a.k.a. Cloud-RAN (C-RAN) -- a reality, making 4G data faster and coverage more dense in the future. The need for point-to-point fiber links is an upfront capital expense for operators in the process of deploying these networks, but could deliver better networks, as Brown noted in a report last year: (See Why You Should Care About LTE-Advanced (Eventually) and C-RAN Blazes a Trail to True 4G.)

    The need for point-to-point fiber between remote radio units (RRUs) and baseband units (BBUs) is the Achilles' Heel of the C-RAN architecture. This is balanced by lower costs associated with other aspects of C-RAN, such as the ability to reduce cell site costs related to civil works, lease fees, power consumption and maintenance. Once fiber is in place, the C-RAN model becomes much more attractive. Perhaps for this reason, markets where operators are motivated to install fiber at scale, and where there is government encouragement for fiber deployment (e.g., China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore), the cloud RAN concept is more appealing in the nearer and medium term.

Here's a nice diagram to help you get it through your head:

From Remote Radio Head to C-RAN
(Source: Heavy Reading)
(Source: Heavy Reading)

So, that's fronthaul, any questions?

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

(9)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
melao2
50%
50%
melao2,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/12/2014 | 7:57:49 AM
Re: Fronthaul is a relative of DAS in a way
Hi Dan, you are totally right, in some scenarios it is really a competing technology, especially if you think that it is possible to do RAN Sharing. So you could share the RRH among different operators.

DAS and CPRI are being considered here in some scenarios for the Olympic games in 2016, where you cannot install so many telecom equipment in a same place.

 

DAS is better in some cases, CPRI is better in other cases.

 
DanJones
50%
50%
DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
2/24/2014 | 7:38:49 AM
Re: Fronthaul is a relative of DAS in a way
Thanks, just heard an operator talk about mobile networks of the future where the packet spends the least time in the air possible, so....
Jon B Transmode
50%
50%
Jon B Transmode,
User Rank: Light Beer
2/24/2014 | 6:52:26 AM
Re: Fronthaul is a relative of DAS in a way








Hi Dan, The first time I heard the phrase fronthaul I thought the speaker was making it up on the spot.

Fronthaul, and C-RAN in general, are interesting technologies and it will be interesting to see how they spread across the globe in the next few years. Some Asian operators are well down this path already and we've seen an uptick in interest in Europe and the Americas recently so it is certainly an area that many operators are looking into.

It is an area of networking that could be a great opportunity for optical networking vendors as operators move from the initial fronthaul over fibre to fronthaul over WDM. If they can support the tough latency and sync requirements that the CPRI and OBSAI standards require. Of course, fibre availability will be a key requirement and perhaps a limiting factor in some locations.

As an industry move that has largely been driven by the wireless operators rather than vendors it has some real traction behind it. The whole C-RAN business case (consolidated BBU clusters to support current and future wireless network architecture trends and lower power costs and space in cell sites) is the main driver for fronthaul as you mentioned in your piece. So fronthaul plays an important supporting role to C-RAN that can make or break the overall C-RAN business case.


Anyhow, interesting times!
DanJones
50%
50%
DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
2/24/2014 | 3:36:54 AM
Re: Fronthaul is a relative of DAS in a way
Yes, I would say so.
kq4ym
50%
50%
kq4ym,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/23/2014 | 2:24:46 PM
Re: Fronthaul is a relative of DAS in a way
That's what I was guessing about too. With the tremendous surge in mobile device useage, what's going to be the best technical while still economic solutuion to handling all the new traffic at speeds customers want or need?
danielcawrey
50%
50%
danielcawrey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/22/2014 | 9:47:52 PM
Re: Fronthaul is a relative of DAS in a way
It sounds like fronthaul is going to be needed in some of the most densely packed urban areas in order to deliver the amount of data people require. There is only so much physical space in these areas.

Would this be the most important application for this?
DanJones
50%
50%
DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
2/21/2014 | 9:40:55 PM
Re: Fronthaul is a relative of DAS in a way
I'm certainly over it!
Liz Greenberg
50%
50%
Liz Greenberg,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/21/2014 | 9:36:05 PM
Re: Fronthaul is a relative of DAS in a way
So fronthaul added to backhaul equals overhaul?  I think that I get the picture...DAS the point right?
DanJones
50%
50%
DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
2/21/2014 | 4:40:56 PM
Fronthaul is a relative of DAS in a way
Fronthaul is not dissimiliar to DAS in concept. The difference being that traditional distributed antenna systems share bandwidth whereas using the point-to-point fiber links gets each RRH a really fast connection.
More Blogs from Jonestown
Cisco CEO predicts the digitization of everything will change, like, everything!
The connected car is driving the IoT market now, but that's just the start of it.
It's the Claure and Legere show! Sprint and T-Mobile CEOs trade barbs -- or at least retweets -- over rival Super Bowl ads.
Google is now backing or actively exploring three ways of delivering cheaper Internet connectivity to the world: satellites, drones and balloons.
Flying killers turn into duckface enablers!
Flash Poll
From The Founder
The New IP is actually bigger even than business. Like another hugely important tech that Light Reading is digging into right now, the New IP has the potential to change the world by fundamentally advancing what it is possible for people to achieve with communications.
Between the CEOs
EXCLUSIVE: Cisco's Chambers on Reinvention

3|3|15   |   8:24   |   (1) comment


Light Reading CEO Steve Saunders talks transformation and virtualization – including Light Reading's independent testing of the vendor's virtualization solutions – with Cisco CEO John Chambers at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
LRTV Documentaries
The Three Cs of MWC15

3|2|15   |   2:33   |   (1) comment


My visit to this year's Mobile World Congress is going to dominated by three Cs – cloud, cells and coffee.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei Shares Its Vision of the Future of Mobile Networks Innovations

2|26|15   |   2:30   |   (0) comments


Mobile broadband is changing our lives. It's reshaping the Internet, industry, and society. It allows us to freely connect with one another anytime, anywhere. At this year's Mobile World Congress, Huawei will share its latest insights and newest ideas and technologies that will shape the future of MBB. They will showcase their end-to-end MBB solutions that will ...
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Accelerate Digitizing, Boost Digital Business

2|26|15   |   6:14   |   (0) comments


A new digital revolution is leading us to a better connected world. Together with millions of digital partners, Huawei will help CSPs to build their digital service ecosystem and aggregate a wide variety of digital services. In this video, we find out how Huawei is going to help CSPs implement digital operations.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
The Secret Recipe to Enabling Hyper-Growth Industries

2|26|15   |   3:38   |   (0) comments


With a number of successful cases on network capability exposure, Huawei is going to share the secret recipe to enabling hyper-growth markets with a step-by-step approach.
LRTV Documentaries
BTE 2015 Is Bigger & Even Better

2|25|15   |   03:13   |   (4) comments


This year's Big Telecom Event (BTE) in Chicago is going to provide more opportunities than ever for networking, getting to grips with key industry challenges and opportunities and, equally as important, having some fun.
LRTV Interviews
Light Reading ICT Leaders Roundtable at MWC 2015

2|12|15   |   1:07   |   (2) comments


On Sunday March 1, 2015, Light Reading will host an ICT Leaders Roundtable in partnership with Huawei. At this half-day event, CIOs, analysts and researchers will discuss key industry trends like virtualization in the cloud with a specific focus on new business models. Located at the luxurious Renaissance Hotel near the Fira Barcelona, space is limited so please ...
LRTV Documentaries
Going Green in 2015

2|12|15   |   02:04   |   (0) comments


Energy efficiency is set to be an incredibly hot topic in the telecom industry this year.
LRTV Custom TV
SDN & NFV: Where Are We Going From Here?

2|11|15   |   11:27   |   (0) comments


Vitesse Semiconductor CTO Martin Nuss gives his perspective on why SDN and NFV should be tightly interconnected and how he sees the industry moving forward.
LRTV Documentaries
Time for Gigabit Europe?

2|9|15   |   01:27   |   (4) comments


Gigabit broadband networks are springing up all around the US and they'll soon become more commonplace in Europe.
LRTV Interviews
Brocade Brings New IP Vision to 2020 Vision Executive Summit

2|3|15   |   4:23   |   (0) comments


In December 2014, Light Reading gathered telecom executives in Reykjavik, Iceland to discuss their vision for high-capacity networks through the end of the decade. The intimate, interactive meeting was set against the backdrop of Iceland's spectacular natural beauty. As one of the event's founding sponsors, Brocade's Kelly Herrell shared his company's strategy at ...
LRTV Interviews
Brocade's Kelly Herrell on the New IP

2|2|15   |   12:36   |   (0) comments


In December 2014, Steve Saunders sat down with Brocade VP of Software Networking Kelly Herrell at Light Reading's 2020 Vision executive summit in Reykjavik, Iceland. They spoke about Brocade's approach to the New IP, the future of the telecom industry, and more.
Upcoming Live Events
March 17, 2015, The Cable Center, Denver, CO
April 14, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City, NY
May 12, 2015, Grand Hyatt, Denver, CO
May 13-14, 2015, The Westin Peachtree, Atlanta, GA
June 8, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 10, 2015, Chicago, IL
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Net neutrality, broadband services and the current outlook on data consumption, as presented by the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Hot Topics
Internet Pioneers Decry Title II Rules
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 3/2/2015
Small Cells Enabling Location Services
Sarah Thomas, Editorial Operations Director, 2/25/2015
Verizon Takes Radio Dot to Detroit, VoLTE Overseas
Sarah Thomas, Editorial Operations Director, 2/27/2015
FCC Adopts Title II Rules
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, 2/26/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Check out Light Reading's interview with Jay Samit, the newly appointed CEO of publicly traded SeaChange International Inc. With a resume that includes Sony, EMI, and Universal, Samit brings a reputation as an entrepreneur and a disruptor to his new role at the video solutions company. Hear what he had to say about the opportunities in video, as well as the outlook for cable, telco, OTT and mobile service providers.