Making the case for wireless backhaul for small cells
As operators deploy small cell underlays, they’ll need to build these heterogeneous networks without the benefit of fiber, claims BridgeWave CEO
The problem with these scenarios is no operator has yet fully embraced them. Many operators have started making use of distributed antenna systems (DAS) to spread the capacity of the cell over specific buildings or high-traffic locations, but those deployments are a far cry from heterogeneous networks. The operator to make most extensive use of DAS is MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS), which has deployed whole metro networks using remote antennas, but even Metro is using DAS as a replacement for a traditional macro-cellular deployment, rather than as a capacity underlay.
Operators instead have chosen to add capacity through upgrades to their macro networks, moving to higher-capacity technologies like high-speed packet access plus (HSPA+) or long-term evolution (LTE) or by adding more carriers to their existing sites. Some like AT&T (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile (NYSE:DT) have started making extensive use of Wi-Fi to offload traffic from their mobile broadband networks (CP: Can Wi-Fi come to 3G’s rescue?), but they’ve stopped short of using small cells to accomplish the same purpose. While small cells will eventually make their way into the network as capacity demands skyrocket, operators appear ready to hold out as long as they can before implementing them.
The wireless backhaul vendors face yet another obstacle in the small cells space: U.S. operators traditionally haven’t wanted to touch them. U.S. operators have always favored wireline backhaul solutions, adopting wireless only in rural areas where no wireline solution was available. Many in the backhaul industry expected mobile broadband to be the turning point, since T1 lines can’t support the sheer capacity of HSPA+ and LTE, while provisioning fiber was considered to costly. But T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ, NYSE:VOD) have built their new ‘4G’ networks primarily using fiber. The one big exception is Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR), which built its WiMax network on the back of BridgeWave, DragonWave and E-band millimeter and microwave radios.
But BridgeWave’s Makleff—rather optimistically—said small cells could be that new turning point. The biggest change has been in operators approach to BridgeWave’s products. Rather than only look at point-to-point radios as a last resort for rural access, operators are asking about how the radios will perform in the densest urban environments, Makleff said. BridgeWave expects to begin trials with a second U.S. Tier 1 4G operator soon, Makleff said, exploring similar urban deployments.
“Carriers that are going to 4G are really coming to grips with the fact that this is critical,” Makleff said. “You can’t really do it without small cells.” And according to Makleff, you can’t really do small cells without alternate forms of backhaul.
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© 2013 Penton Media Inc.
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