Small cells

The Tall Order for Small Cell Backhaul

Backhaul is still a bugbear for small cells. Specifically for outdoor, public access small cells, backhaul remains one of the biggest challenges to deployment.

This is not surprising considering the tall order of cost, capacity and quality of service (QoS) requirements operators have for small cell backhaul. First and foremost, backhaul for public access small cells must be extremely low-cost. It must also offer high capacity (e.g., about 50 Mbit/s for LTE small cells). The physical equipment must be compact, lightweight, unobtrusive and low-power to meet city zoning restrictions. Products should also support some form of automated provisioning for easier installation and activation. While not exhaustive, that's a weighty wish list.

But the nature of the backhaul challenge has changed over the last 18 to 24 months. Where previously there was a lack of solutions, now there is a plethora of technology options. Operators and vendors are investing much time and resources into addressing the issues of small cell backhaul. The new challenge for operators is to choose which technologies best meet their needs and decide where certain requirements can be relaxed in order to make the business case for small cells.

As discussed in the new Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider, "Wireless Backhaul for Small Cells: Who's Doing What," operators need a variety of backhaul options -- both fixed-line and wireless -- depending on the locations and use cases of the small base stations. This is commonly referred to as the "toolkit" approach to small cell backhaul, which stems from operators' desire to use existing infrastructure wherever possible. Fixed-line technologies are typically the first choice. For example, an operator that has access to fiber in city centers will want to use that network to backhaul traffic from small cells. But in cases where fixed-line assets are not available, or too expensive to install, operators will need wireless backhaul solutions.

Wireless backhaul for outdoor, public access small cells has been a hotbed of innovation recently, as many startups have flocked to the opportunity. The report counts 16 new or relatively young companies that have developed wireless products specifically for small cell backhaul. With this bevy of startups plus the 11 traditional microwave vendors that are profiled in the report, there is an overwhelming amount of choice.

But it is early days for wireless backhaul for small cells; operators are currently trialing and evaluating various technologies. The next 18 to 24 months are expected to be dynamic, as operators clarify their backhaul requirements and consolidation among the many vendors begins.

Backhaul is certainly not the only challenge to outdoor small cells -- site acquisition and interference risks rank high on the list of issues, for example. But if the vision of small, outdoor base stations deployed in large volumes to add mobile data capacity is to be realized, viable backhaul is critical.

— Michelle Donegan, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider

This report,"Wireless Backhaul for Small Cells: Who's Doing What," is available as part of an annual subscription (6 issues per year) to Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Inside, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit:www.heavyreading.com/4glte.

Page 1 / 2   >   >>
mendyk 8/28/2013 | 10:34:20 AM
Re: Operators will sure consider capacity & MTBF Sure, and a ride on Light Reading's prototype robot zebra drone would help seal the deal. For emerging products that have little or no field track record, MTBF claims would come from... the suppliers. Caveat emptor on that.
AmirB52 8/28/2013 | 10:18:29 AM
Re: Operators will sure consider capacity & MTBF As a mobile operator, I am surprised that the report (and comments here) ignore the most significant factor for us network operators with regards to backhaul: site visits. Every visit is an operational nightmare, and it is crucial for us to minimize them as much as possible. It's not only the cost and resources (a site visit may amount to as much as 25% of the backhaul gear cost), but also a wake up call to all those living or working nearby afflicted with radiation phobia.  Therefore, our primary goal is: install and forget about it for as long as possible. To this end, the most important specifications of candidate solutions are: capacity and MTBF. Yet this report completely ignores these two crucial specs. Add this to your report and we might consider buying it!!!
Vitesse Semiconductor 8/27/2013 | 6:54:05 PM
Operators must also consider timing requirements Michelle is absolutely correct in noting that operators must be careful when choosing which backhaul strategies to employ, as they seek to improve coverage and capacity while maintaining user QoS and operating within CAPEX constraints. One factor influencing their decisions will be the increasingly stringent 4G/LTE timing requirements. Specifically, the frequency synchronization and time-of-day synchronization that these 4G/LTE/LTE-Advanced networks demand. Meeting these timing requirements across complex backhaul networks becomes even more difficult when dealing with wireless backhaul for outdoor, public access small cells, where everything from varying modulation formats to changing weather can alter latency in microwave spans. Small cell network use of IEEE1588v2 will be instrumental in meeting such challenges. Especially in urban canyons or indoor environments where GPS-based timing is not viable, strategic use of 1588 backhaul timing architectures will make small cell backhaul truly viable.
pdonegan67 8/27/2013 | 5:14:47 AM
Re: Short lived gold rush Re "It would be great if Light Reading can host a vendor bakeoff".

I agree.

However the trouble is that the established microwave vendors would have little incentive to pay for it because backhaul solutions for small cells are just "one club in their kitbag", so to speak. There's nothing special about small cell backhaul if you're Ceragon or Aviat or NEC or Ericsson. Talking with customers about these issues, and bringing the right solutions to them at the right time, is just another day at the office.

As for the start-ups, hardly any of them would be able to fund such a bake-off. This is because mundane business model issues such as site acquisition are still at least as big a barrier to public access small cell adoption as the price/performance of the backhaul pipes; because there still aren't any small cell backhaul equipment orders out there worth speaking of; and because whenever the first sizable orders do start to materialize the CFOs in most of those start-ups know by now - don't they? - that the scale of the margin give-away needed to win those deals will be enough to turn their bowels to water.
allip 8/25/2013 | 1:04:41 PM
Re: Short lived gold rush I agree with Patrick, regarding most companies having only ketchup and not the secret sauce. Majority of them are wrapper around Qualcomm (designart or atheros) chipset.

Looking at the list of companies in the report, i can't see any of the companies listed in the report having done some innovation or provide a solution for SCB except few. Most of them are repackaging their eixisting LoS backhaul product for smalller size. I except most innovation to have happen in mmWave and Sub 6Ghz NLoS products.

It would be great if lightreading can host a vendor backeoff...

Airspan : No innovative backhaul, primarirly access packaged with canned qcom platform

Alcatel: Reselling

Aviat:  Reselling

CBNL:  Good form factor, if LoS available for SCB

Ceragon: Reselling

Dragownave; NLoS product only to fill portfolio, avenue lite looks like atheros based solution.

Ericsson: Have some good form factor 60GHz, NloS:Reselling

Huwawei: TD-LTE backhaul, very low

Intracom: Good form factor, if LoS available for SCB

NEC: No SCB offering, except LoS 60 GHz

ZTE: No new product

pdonegan67 8/23/2013 | 1:48:55 PM
Re: Short lived gold rush A couple will be acquired, no doubt. But I'd expect most to re-orient themselves towards other applications besides mobile backhaul or quietly expire without trace. And some sooner rather than later too.
DanJones 8/23/2013 | 1:13:16 PM
Re: Short lived gold rush So Patrick, you think none of these startups are an acquisition target or, snicker, IPO candidate?
pdonegan67 8/23/2013 | 4:12:24 AM
Short lived gold rush Most gold rushes at least have the merit of lasting a while. This one's coming to an end almost as soon as it's started. Most of the start-ups in this space have little or nothing that the bigger microwave-focused players and major OEMs couldn't turn around themselves within 12 months as soon as an operator is ready to place a decent sized order. Most of the start-ups in this space don't have any secret sauce - all they have is ketchup.
Kishore Karnam 8/22/2013 | 8:29:26 PM
Re: Having a hard time picturing the wired options WiMAX is also an option for wireless backhaul.
[email protected] 8/22/2013 | 6:35:33 PM
Re: Having a hard time picturing the wired options Carol - Absolutely right.  There will clearly need to be a combination of fiber and wireless solutions in general, but for outdoor "nomadic" areas only wireless will provide carriers and MSOs with flexibility to place small-cells assets in ideal locations for either LTE (rel 8/10/12) or 11ac offload. As one analyst put it recently during a discussion of the virtues of only fiber for backhaul of small cells -"why not just run fiber to the handset?" 
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Sign In