The vendor says it believes 60GHz is the most promising wireless choice for small-cell backhaul because it is "zero-cost" spectrum (that is, usually not requiring a license fee) and there is good bandwidth availability at this frequency. Also, the spectrum boasts high channel re-use, which the vendor claims is well suited for delivering high-capacity, low-latency connections to hundreds of small cells.
A benchmark for the amount of backhaul capacity that a Long Term Evolution (LTE) small cell would need is 100 Mbit/s, while a 3G small cell would start with 20 Mbit/s, according to Dejan Bojic, NEC's senior product manager for backhaul. NEC's small-cell backhaul products will support any access technology.
But low cost is key. "The cost points of these solutions will be very low … significantly lower than existing backhaul solutions," says Bojic.
NEC's offering, expected to be ready for trials starting in the second quarter of this year, will include the wireless backhaul radios as well as a management system for provisioning backhaul resources and preventing performance degradation. Its first commercial offering is expected to be available in 2013.
Why this matters
NEC is among the first, if not the first, of the big equipment vendors to back a wireless technology for small-cell backhaul and begin to develop products based on that decision. There are many different wireless options for delivering small-cell backhaul, and NEC's move will give some clarity to this dynamic market, which has attracted various startups touting different technologies.
But the critical issue for NEC's 60GHz strategy, as with any small-cell backhaul technology, is cost. The capex and opex associated with wireless backhaul for small cells must be substantially less than traditional backhaul systems for macro networks. That's a challenge that could threaten the operator business case for small cells if it's not resolved.
How to provide backhaul for small cells will be a key theme at Mobile World Congress this year.
- BridgeWave Nabs $10.3M for 4G Backhaul
- More Startups Target Small-Cell Backhaul
- DragonWave Unveils Small Cell Backhaul Product
- Qualcomm Invests in Small-Cell Backhaul Startup
- Major Carrier: Small-Cell Backhaul Must Be Cheap
- Small Cells, Heavy Lifting
- LightPointe Gets Into Small Cell Backhaul
- Backhaul Startup Makes Millimeter-Wave Splash
- Chip Startup Spurs Small-Cell Backhaul
- LTE Backhaul Startup Rises From Nortel Ashes
- Startups Rush to Small-Cell Backhaul
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile