Light Reading
If, like me, you were wondering what the hell 'fronthaul' is? Well, this is the simplest explanation I could pull together.

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

(8)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
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.
Educational Resources
sponsor supplied content
Educational Resources Archive
More Blogs from Jonestown
CFO Carter Braxton says that T-Mobile's network was 'much more dense' from the buildout.
SoftBank appears to be taking tighter control of the still-ailing US operator.
CEO John Legere stresses T-Mobile has options, as Iliad's $15 billion bid for a stake in the operator proves.
Tune in today to get the latest on the newest wireless tech on the block.
Alpental buy gets Google some radio talent now and helps it hedge bets on a 5G future.
Flash Poll
LRTV Custom TV
VeEX – Live from the Show

8|21|14   |   5:58   |   (0) comments


An overview of VeEX Test and Measurement solutions including TX300S multi-service test set with VeExpress cloud-based management system, UX400 universal modular platform supporting 100G testing, and the redesigned RXT modular platform.
LRTV Custom TV
Transitioning CE 2.0 Networks Into the SDN & NFV Era With Telco Systems

8|19|14   |   5:19   |   (0) comments


Telco Systems' Ariel Efrati (CEO) and Moshe Shimon (VP of Product Management) discuss virtualization and how the company's new Open Metro Edge solution utilizes the SDN and NFV concepts to accelerate and orchestrate service delivery through its innovative product portfolio and software applications.
LRTV Custom TV
NFV Myths: Is NFV Still Several Years Away?

8|11|14   |   1:13   |   (0) comments


Some say that NFV (network functions virtualization) is still several years away from being implemented on mobile operator networks. This isn't the case. Operators can get started on their paths to NFV now, as this short video from Skyfire shows.
LRTV Custom TV
A New Security Paradigm in SDN/NFV

7|28|14   |   02:54   |   (0) comments


Paul Shaneck, Global Director Network Solutions for Symantec, discusses the evolving virtualized network, explaining how Symantec is leading the security discussion as it relates to SDN and NFV, and helping to ensure the network is protected and compliant.
LRTV Documentaries
Sprint's Network Evolution

7|24|14   |   14:59   |   (0) comments


Sprint's Jay Bluhm gives a keynote speech at the Big Telecom Event (BTE) about Sprint's network and services evolution strategy, including Spark.
LRTV Documentaries
BTE Keynote: The Software-Defined Operator

7|24|14   |   18:43   |   (1) comment


Deutsche Telekom's Axel Clauberg explains the concept of the software-defined operator to the Big Telecom Event (BTE) crowd.
Light Reedy
Numbers Are In: LR's 2014 Salary Survey

7|24|14   |   1:25   |   (7) comments


Our fourth annual Salary Survey paints a picture of who's hiring, firing, earning, and yearning for a change in the telecom industry.
LRTV Custom TV
Driving the Network Transformation

7|23|14   |   4:29   |   (0) comments


Intel's Sandra Rivera discusses network transformation and how Intel technologies, programs, and standards body efforts have helped the industry migration to SDN and NFV.
LRTV Custom TV
Distributed NFV-Based Business Services by RAD

7|18|14   |   5:38   |   (0) comments


With the ETSI-approved Distributed NFV PoC running in the background, RAD's CEO, Dror Bin, talks about why D-NFV makes compelling sense for service providers, and about the dollars and cents RAD is putting behind D-NFV.
LRTV Custom TV
MRV Accelerating Packet Optical Convergence

7|15|14   |   6:06   |   (0) comments


Giving you network insight to make your network smarter.
LRTV Custom TV
NFV-Enabled Ethernet for Generating New Revenues

7|15|14   |   5:49   |   (0) comments


Cyan's Planet Orchestrate allows service providers and their end-customers to activate software-based capabilities such as firewalls and encryption on top of existing Ethernet services in just minutes.
LRTV Custom TV
Symkloud NVF-Ready Video Transcoding, Big Data

7|9|14   |   3:41   |   (0) comments


Kontron and ISV partner Vantrix demonstrate high-performance video transcoding and data analytic solutions on same 2U standard platform that is ready for SDN and NFV deployments made by mobile, cable and cloud operators.
Upcoming Live Events!!
September 16, 2014, Santa Clara, CA
September 16, 2014, Santa Clara, CA
September 23, 2014, Denver, CO
October 29, 2014, New York City
November 6, 2014, Santa Clara
November 11, 2014, Atlanta, GA
December 9-10, 2014, Reykjavik, Iceland
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
Infographics
Today's Cartoon
Hot Topics
Level 3 Does Big Data Differently
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 8/21/2014
T-Mobile: Small Cells? We're Dense Already
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 8/22/2014
Comcast Streams Back to School
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 8/21/2014
Sprint Drops Prices, But Also Speeds?
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 8/21/2014
Line-Powered Phone Lines: A Hot Topic Again
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 8/20/2014
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed