4G World Poses Five Questions about Small Cell Backhaul

The Portage Lake Michigan shore looking across...

In Chicago, the waves on Lake Michigan were nearly as big as the controversy surrounding the topic of small cell backhaul at the 4G World show it hosted. (Photo credit: Pedco via Wikipedia)

4G World struggled a bit due to Hurricane Sandy, but went on as planned. Unfortunately, some speakers and attendees were not able to get to Chicago due to travel cancellations. I have to admit that watching surfers ride the big waves on Lake Michigan was an added bonus for the week!

Back at the show, small cell was the focus and backhaul was its No. 1 topic. Everyone has heard the concerns over technologies, costs, etc. The soapbox was available for anyone to jump on and espouse the potential benefits of their products. I believe that companies are selling their product capabilities, not addressing mobile operators’ real needs. Why? The biggest issue is that mobile operators, in most cases, really do not know what they need. The complexities of implementation are so diverse in small cell, that it is taking operators a long time to draw conclusions about their best path forward. Enter the fog of vendor technology pitches!

I believe that the real issues to be resolved center around implementation and OPEX control not technology. A few technologies could help, but they are not ready to provide the Carrier Class performance that the operators need. They will only have marginal effect on the final solution, in any event. What we need are answers to questions such as:

  • Who can climb which poles in the city and to what heights?
  • What are the power restrictions and cost of power on these poles?
  • What size enclosure is allowed to be on the poles and on the ground?
  • What are the aesthetic requirements for such an enclosure?
  • What attachment height is needed to architect the best network for both access and backhaul?

Most people think fiber is a slamdunk—that is not the case. You need to read the fine print and ask:

  • How plentiful are existing fiber onramps in the metro core area?
  • What’s the cost of putting a new onramp in place and stringing fiber from below street level up poles to small cells?
  • What piece of the action are municipalities going to demand for all this new telecom construction?

My recommendation: keep an eye on the technology evolution but focus on the real issues at hand. Partnerships with companies that have proven skills will be critical as these problems are best handled by a team of diverse thinkers. Look for ones that have a history in the business and have demonstrated innovation in all its facets. They are the partners who will get you through these very difficult problems.

Randy Jenkins
Director Business Development
Aviat Networks

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It’s a Whole New World at 4G World

4G World October 29, 2012, ChicagoThe 4G World show is in 10 days in Chicago, Ill. Speaking of 4G, those of us at Aviat Networks are excited to see what LTE technology will be on display and its promise of 4G speeds for our mobile networks. Confusion will mount as vendors address the myriad capabilities of LTE and the challenges of implementing such an amazing network. Small cell access will be a key topic. Mobile operators need these outdoor-mounted, street-level smaller versions of their LTE basestations to offload some of the overwhelming demand for capacity in metro areas.

One of the critical small cell challenges is backhaul. Imagine the complexity of aggregating traffic from the numerous small cells deployed at key intersections in a big city. Fiber cannot be everywhere and is not economical to operate in most metro locations. There is a lot of buzz around unlicensed Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) Point-to-Multipoint (PMP) radios that take advantage of fewer installations than traditional Point-to-Point (PTP) microwave. But be careful of comparisons between PMP and PTP microwave…we hear a lot of hype, promulgated by confusion and relying on fear!

Unlicensed spectrum sounds good but suffers from serious interference issues. NLOS radio capacity drops significantly when trying to transmit around a building. You have to ask: Is the resultant capacity sufficient to serve this specific small cell backhaul need? There are also concerns over latency because LTE has strict delay requirements, and Voice over LTE (VoLTE) will really struggle if latency is not within specification. What about spectrum…is it actually available? Is there only 20 MHz of spectrum available when 40 MHz of capacity is needed?

What about good ol’ reliable and proven Line of Sight (LOS) PTP microwave? With the emergence of millimeter wave PTP radios, capacities up to 1Gbps can be achieved easily over 1-2 kilometers—certainly sufficient for metro small cell distances!

If you have a chance to attend the show, please take the time to ask some of these questions…or else you may be victimized by hype, confusion or fear.

If you would like to hear straight talk on this topic, tune into Aviat’s Small Cell Backhaul webinar. Stay tuned for future blog posts to read about spectrum, capacity, latency, FCC rule changes and technology evolution as the search for viable solutions to the small cell backhaul challenge continues!

Randy Jenkins
Director Business Development
Aviat Networks

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