Cellular technology and communication have come a long way in recent years. Each technology gets more and more sophisticated, beginning with the original wireless voice systems to the new smart systems.
3G was the beginning, offering wireless data and access to the internet from anywhere, which was available to everyone. Despite being outdated by today’s standards, 3G was once a breakthrough in technology. Without it, we wouldn’t have the current technology we rely on, such as mobile entertainment, smart devices, and remote and hybrid work.
As this technology gets more advanced, the demand for seamless experiences is increasing. Consumers and businesses want anywhere access from any device, especially when it comes to maximizing the potential of related technologies like IoT.
5G is seeing increased adoption, offering numerous benefits for virtually every aspect of the telecommunications industry and other industries.
First, there was 3G, which was groundbreaking at the time. Then came 4G, which used high-speed upload and download packets to give consumers access to broadband-style speeds from virtually any device.
Next in the line is 5G, which can expand on the capabilities of 4G to give use better access to information and entertainment. Smart devices can be connected wirelessly to the internet, and IoT devices can be supported to reach their full potential with smart cities, robotic automation, and self-driving cars.
The Importance of Backhaul Networks
Mobile backhaul networks connect radio access networks (RAN) at cell sites to a single core network, offering connectivity for the user. The network traffic from the core network to the transmission network relies on high capacity as it is, and as more of this technology is adopted, it will become more advanced.
Currently, the biggest challenge with 5G is the network reliability. The capacity requirements of the core network and transmission network will increase, creating obstacles in costs. 5G needs to offer the desired network reliability at the lowest possible cost.
Backhaul was always a challenge, even before 5G. Balancing cost, availability, capacity, and long-distance reach is paramount, and 5G will make this more difficult.
If 5G is used for IoT devices, including IoT and machine-to-machine devices, it will need to transfer high volumes of data between the devices and the network’s storage core. This requires ultra-low latency for improved connectivity, low congestion, and long-distance reach. On top of that, as IoT devices are widely adopted, both the challenges and demands will increase with more data, more devices, and more traffic.
Costs are also a limitation. Wireless backhaul is an excellent solution, but there are numerous options to choose from.
5G Wireless Backhaul Solutions
Finding a backhaul solution comes down to choosing the right balance of pros and cons between latency requirements, expenses, load intensity, and quality of service.
Wireless backhaul can be categorized based on the following:
- Reach of several hundred feet to over 150 miles
- Traffic type, such as TDM, hybrid TDM-IP, all-IP
- Frequency bands from 4 GHz to 200 GHz
- Node configuration, such as split-mount, indoor, all-outdoor, disaggregated
- Backhaul architecture with point-to-point (PtP) or point-to-multipoint (PtMP)
- RAN architecture, such as backhaul, midhaul, or front haul
Fiber Backhaul Solution
For years, fiber backhaul has been the ideal solution for its combination of low bit error rate, high reach, and high capacity. It’s not easy to come by in every location, however, so it’s limited. Where it is available, it’s typically a preferred solution for backhaul.
There are numerous disadvantages with fiber backhaul, however. This solution can’t travel through natural obstacles or buildings without a designated pathway. Implementing fiber backhaul also takes a significant period of time, sometimes months, compared to other options.
Wireless Backhaul Solutions
When backhaul traffic is done wirelessly from a radio switch to a cell site, we have wireless backhaul. Wireless backhaul is not only one of the most reliable methods, but it’s one of the most cost-effective. Operators have end-to-end control and transparency of networks as well.
Despite this, wireless backhaul may experience performance issues from outside forces, such as energy efficiency, cell site location, the environment, the traffic, and the availability.
Wireless backhaul has a few configurations:
Roughly half of mobile traffic uses wireless backhaul technology. Microwave radiofrequency is responsible for the majority of all wireless backhaul. This comes with a high upfront investment and deployment, but that is a trade-off with a faster, more reliable, and more cost-effective option in the long run.
Unfortunately, microwave radiofrequency is susceptible to shifts in climate and weather conditions. Operators have more control to adjust the transmission rate to suit current availability, like opting for a high frequency band for improved data rates.
When this option is chosen, however, it means an overall performance tradeoff. The lower frequency band can increase reach, but with that comes an increase in congestion. The higher frequency band has a lower reach, but improved overall performance.
Millimeter wave is good for its high frequency range, which comes in around 30 GHz to 300 GHz. Small-cell backhaul solutions benefit from the spectrum and ability to transmit high data rates, though there is a shorter reach. These beams are also narrower than microwave beams, which can adversely impact line of sight.
Free Space Optics
Free space optics is a similar option to fiber, but it works without a cable. This solution deploys invisible light beams from light-emitting diodes (LEDs) or similar to facilitate data transmission with the NXP iMX8. Free space options come with the advantage of a 300-GHz to one-THz range and a rate of up to 10 Gbps. The consumption is also low, compared to other backhaul solutions.
Combining the best of wireless and fiber is the power of free space options, but it has disadvantages. Line-of-sight communications may be impacted by weather conditions and external ambient light sources. It’s still an excellent solution for its performance, scalability, and agility.
Addressing the Demands with Wireless Backhaul Solutions
The telecommunications industry is changing and growing, leading to greater adoption of 5G. As more people and businesses adopt 5G, wireless backhaul solutions are necessary to keep the performance and costs as desired.
Author Bio: Jason Khoo
Jason is the Head of SEM at SolidRun which is a global leading developer of embedded systems and network solutions, focused on a wide range of energy-efficient, powerful and flexible products which help OEMs around the world simplify application development while overcoming deployment challenges