Poll: Backhaul Presents 5G's Biggest Challenge

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.

For all the news on 5G from Light Reading's 5G month and recent "Building America's 5G Ecosystem" event, visit the dedicated 5G section here on the site.

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, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

johnmayer 5/12/2015 | 4:32:55 AM
Re: Dark fibre Excited to see 5G rolling. Bring it on
thebulk 5/6/2015 | 2:10:21 PM
Re: Dark fibre @Joe, i wouldnt doubt if those same factors were driving addoption here in Thailand. 
Joe Stanganelli 4/29/2015 | 10:38:06 PM
Re: Initial rollouts will be urban. Right? Could be smaller urban areas, possibly.  Google Fiber, for instance, has focused on smaller cities thus far in its limited rollout.
Joe Stanganelli 4/29/2015 | 10:37:05 PM
Re: Dark fibre When I went to South Korea about 15 years ago -- well before cell phones were particularly popular in the US -- EVERYBODY in South Korea had at least one (usually at least two, frequently more) cell phone.

And when I say everybody, I mean everybody.  Every baby I saw had a lanyard around his or her neck with a cell phone attached.

I would later learn that part of the reason for this rapid and massive early adoption of cell phones was because of S. Korea's infrastructure; landlines were frequently expensive and/or difficult to get because of connectivity issues.  Koreans, consequently, took very quickly, easily, and eagerly to the cell phone revolution -- well before cell phone penetration in the US had reached even 20 percent.
nasimson 4/27/2015 | 12:05:42 AM
Initial rollouts will be urban. Right? I'm a little confused by the survey results. When 5G will be deployed it will be in the urban areas first. In these areas fiber is fast getting ubiquitous. So how much of challenge is backhaul atleast in the initial rollouts.
thebulk 4/26/2015 | 11:52:42 PM
Re: Dark fibre @Joe, I have seen it here in Asia, especially here in Thailand, even major metro areas outside of the Bangkok / Central Thailand area lack the infastructor all together. I can imagine in other less developed areas it might be even more questionable. 
Joe Stanganelli 4/26/2015 | 11:20:45 PM
Re: Dark fibre That's very true -- especially considering the lack of even basic broadband connectivity in many parts of the world (including substantial parts of the US).

Of course, certain, older major metro areas can present their own cost problems when dealing with bad infrastructure.
Joe Stanganelli 4/26/2015 | 11:18:37 PM
Standards/Consortiums Creating and influencing standards just has the opposite effect and breeds uncertainty these days.  (Randall Munroe hit the nail on the head here.)
thebulk 4/25/2015 | 3:52:52 AM
Re: Dark fibre Having the fiber is key, in a metro area its generally not an issue, but as you push outside those metro hubs it can become difficult and expensive to get what is needed. 
R Clark 4/25/2015 | 2:21:25 AM
Dark fibre I think backhaul is already making claims on 4G network resources.  The Asian players who've been aggressive in rolling out 2- and 3-carrier aggregation say they couldn't do it without near-ubiquitous availability of dark fibre.  4.5G mobile broadband should be a nice earner for metro fibre operators.
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