Every generation of mobile radio technology creates renewed demand for mobile backhaul, and 5G is expected to do the same. So, it is not surprising that the major 2020 trends in mobile backhaul all relate to 5G, what the latest mobile technology means for backhaul transport equipment, and importantly, what we will need “more” of.
Trend #1: More Fiber Backhaul. Undoubtedly, the mobile network will require more network capacity with the roll out of 5G. One of the many benefits of 5G is the option to use a larger amount of spectrum and bump up the capacity for users. This is the reason so many people start a conversation about 5G and immediately shift to talking about what new applications they can run if given more throughput and lower latency on their devices.
Trend #2: More Wireless Backhaul. As in past mobile network upgrades (3G and 4G), operators balanced the use of fiber backhaul with wireless backhaul because installing fiber everywhere was never conceivable. In continuation with this trend, we believe that the mantra of “fiber first” will continue, driving the growing use of fiber backhaul, but eventually cell sites will need to be upgraded where fiber will either take too long to deploy, cost too much, or is infeasible. Therefore with 5G, wireless backhaul systems, such as point-to-point microwave, will play an equally important role for operators to deliver on their targeted network coverage and capacity as fiber systems.
Trend #3: More Carriers. Microwave systems continue to evolve to meet each new generational challenge. We believe one technology that operators will increasingly use in the future, and for 5G backhaul in particular, is combining multiple carriers in one microwave backhaul link. The two options are multicarrier—combining carriers in the same frequency band—and multiband—combining disparate frequency bands such as E-band and 18 GHz. The advantage of both options is higher link capacity with little change in tower footprint (keeping tower lease costs from going up). The additional advantage of multiband is the availability of much higher throughput (over 10 Gbps) at an economical price-per-bit compared to standard microwave frequency links.
Trend #4: More Ethernet. The shift to Ethernet began with 4G and will conclude with 5G. Therefore, the need for TDM-based systems and hybrid systems will continue to decline in favor of Ethernet-based systems (carrier Ethernet switch, routers, packet microwave, etc.) this year and into the future.
Trend #5: More Fronthaul Transport. 5G will likely bring about greater instances where the mobile baseband unit is centrally housed further away from the mobile radio unit (and tower) to obtain greater efficiency. To achieve these longer spans, operators will increasingly use fronthaul transport systems such as DWDM. While this architecture of pooling resources has always been available to operators, we believe the entrance of eCPRI will increase the adoption of centralizing baseband units since it reduces fronthaul capacity requirements.