With a recent report from ABI Research predicting a 43% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the outdoor small cell market from now until 2020, it’s clear that demand is increasing.
Although the pace of adoption for outdoor small cells has been slower than initially anticipated, ABI Research is now reporting that Verizon, Vodafone, Telefonica, Softbank, SK Telecom and Sprint are forecasting meaningful outdoor small cell deployments for 2015. As this highlights, operators are now at the point where small cells are needed to avoid a capacity crunch.
Challenges with small cell backhaul
Introducing outdoor small cells into a network can increase capacity, improve quality of service (QoS) and fill coverage not-spots. However, small cell backhaul can have greater constraints on cost, aesthetics and site-specific issues than traditional macro backhaul.
These challenges bring into sharp focus the need for operators to create a compelling business case and a highly effective deployment strategy for small cell investment. They also mean that for operators to fully unlock the potential of outdoor small cells, it is important that they take an intelligent approach to backhaul.
Operators are therefore turning to established carrier-grade wireless technologies for small cell backhaul, to deliver the high capacity services that are in such high demand by customers across their networks.
Key to a strong business case is a fast time to market and the ability to integrate small cell backhaul with existing macro networks, providing an incrementally low-cost means of adding small cells to the network.
By removing the perceived need to deploy a wholly new and untried backhaul solution for small cells, existing macro infrastructure can be leveraged, eliminating operators’ number one barrier to small cell deployment.
Seamlessly integrating small cell backhaul into existing macro networks
Point-to multipoint (PMP) microwave is one such backhaul solution that provides operators with seamless macro integration, in addition to offering a quick time to market and highly cost-effective business case.
One of the strongest use cases for PMP microwave has been in highly dense networks that are under-served by fixed infrastructure. In these environments, the advantages of PMP versus other wireless backhaul technologies, in terms of speed and ease of deployment and cost, are most marked. Small cells, and in particular heterogeneous networks (hetnets), are a logical step on from that environment.
PMP microwave saves valuable spectrum and equipment by aggregating backhaul traffic from multiple nodes to a single hub location. By reducing hardware installs, operators are provided with a very quick time to market and total cost of ownership savings of up to 54% compared to fibre or point-to-point. The underlying maturity of microwave backhaul has the added benefit of providing operators with a field-proven technology, which is tried and tested the world over.
It’s also important, however, that in the drive to reduce costs, we remember ‘backhaul is backhaul’. This means small cell backhaul must not only hit the cost point operators demand, but the capacity and QoS is every bit as effective as that being delivered on the macro layer. By utilising licensed spectrum, the latest PMP microwave technology can provide guaranteed QoS, up to 600Mb/s per link and up to 14.4Gb/s per hub site.
Increased adoption by operators
While the outdoor small cell market matures, we are likely to see more operators deploy small cell strategies with this macro integration. For example, AT&T detailed how they improved capacity in Manhattan with just 18 small cells at Mobile World Congress. This strategy not only improved network performance in those 18 areas, but freed up capacity on the macro layer.
If outdoor small cell deployments continue in very limited numbers such as this, we are likely to see tried and tested backhaul become highly attractive in comparison to completely new solutions. Wireless technologies, such as PMP microwave, have evolved to provide operators with a field-proven business case and the ability to transform capacity of their network.
By combining these benefits with an exceptionally fast time to market, operators can unlock the potential of their networks, deliver exceptionally high service to their customers and secure future revenues for their business.
Dr John Naylon is speaking at Small Cells Backhaul World, 9-11 June 2015, London, UK
CBNL is a specialist provider of point-to-multipoint microwave wireless network infrastructure, serving customers in over 40 countries, including seven of the world’s largest top ten mobile operators. www.cbnl.com