When it comes to 5G, there are no shortage of potential challenges, but -- according to one third of those who voted in a recent Light Reading poll -- upgrading backhaul to support the enormous amount of traffic coming to 5G is the biggest challenge the industry will face.
In our poll of nearly 500 readers, 31% said that backhaul was 5G's biggest challenge, followed by "too many consortiums trying to influence the standards process" at 19%. Another 16% selected "backwards compatibility with 4G, 3G and even some 2G networks," 13% said "meeting challenging and diverse performance targets," 9% chose "future-proofing the network for the next ten years" and 8% selected "ensuring 5G networks are secure." (See 5G Challenges.)
Here's another look at the survey results, excluding the 4% of voters who selected "other" for 5G's biggest challenge.
The poll should have included an "all of the above" option, because 5G will certainly present operators and vendors with all of the aforementioned challenges and more. It's no easy task to deploy a new network, even if elements of it are evolved from 4G. That's the reason so many consortiums have popped up -- for better or for worse, as some of our readers fear. (See The 5G Clubs, 5G: Meet the Influencers and You Can't Spell 5G Without LTE.)
It's also not surprising that backhaul was voted the most challenging as it relates to all of 5G's other challenges, from security to backwards compatibility and future proofing to meeting performance targets. If the network can't support the huge amount of data 5G will bring with then no number of compelling use cases will matter. (See 5G: What Is It & Why Does It Matter?)
Making backhaul even harder is the fact that 5G has to be designed to support massive-scale but bursty data for IoT, be reliable for public safety and self-driving cars and have extremely high capacity and fast speeds for video. Oh, and 5G has to span many different spectrum bands spanning the millimeter wave bands with high speeds, but poor propagation, and the sub-6Ghz bands where LTE is already running today. (See Ofcom Releases Its 5G mmW Band Play List and Heavy Reading Q&A: Getting to the Heart of 5G .)
The backhaul challenge is not without solutions, however. There are a number of vendors, like the newly merged Fastback Networks and Sub10 Systems, working to address the new complex backhaul environment for 5G by building denser radio networks and adding additional backhaul links to move wireless packets more efficiently. (See Fastback & Sub10 Merge for Millimeter Future .)
SDN may also play a role as it allows operators to better manage the transport networks that provide backhaul to each base station. Jeff Steinheider, a product manager for Freescale Semiconductor Inc. , suggested in a recent blog post for Light Reading that SDN will also help operators better manage their wireless equipment so they can coordinate multiple wireless technologies and vendors for seamless connectivity with 5G -- addressing the backwards compatibility and future proof challenges as well. (See 2G to 5G: Wireless Becomes the Fourth Utility.)
Backhaul is pretty much always a challenge for wireless operators grappling with ever-increasing data, whether we're talking small cells or any network "G." This will only be magnified on 5G, but it's one reason the industry is tackling the challenge now -- still years in advance of commercial deployments.
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading