To fully realize the intended objectives of 5G, operators must upgrade the capabilities of their wireless backhaul networks to accommodate the increased network capacities and lower latency standards that characterize this next-gen network.
This is the recommendation from ABI Research in a new report that projects microwave backhaul links to account for at least 60% of overall macro and small cell backhaul links from 2020 through 2026 – growing at an 8% 6-year CAGR to 9 million at the end of the period.
Solving the congestion problem
Spectrum plays a prominent role in enabling the larger data demands of 5G. The allocation of more backhaul spectrum and the utilization of spectrally efficient methods will therefore be instrumental in facilitating the growing role of microwave backhaul in future networks.
“Regulators can tap into the higher frequency bands for wireless backhaul as they have more contiguous amounts of spectrum and wider channels available,” said Kangrui Ling, research analyst at ABI Research.
He further explained that given the already high congestion in the traditional microwave bands between 6 to 42 GHz, regulators should explore allocating the, E-, and D- and W- millimetre wave and even the unlicensed V- bands for wireless backhaul as they are well-equipped to handle the imminent data consumption growth in the near future.
Aside from requiring more spectrum, operators will also leverage on technologies such as cross polarization (XPIC), Band and Carrier Aggregation (BCA) or Integrated Access Backhaul (IAB) to further increase the capacity and efficiency of their backhaul networks.
BCA, for example, involves combining frequencies in lower bands with higher frequencies (i.e. E-band) to ensure sustained availability rates and higher capacity transmissions over longer distances.
Additionally, microwave backhaul is a more cost-efficient tool - relative to fixed wireline such as copper or fibre - in expanding network coverage to rural regions that are commercially unfeasible to deploy.
“Establishing fibre connections will be more costly in rural areas that are geographically and logistically challenging,” added Miguel Castaneda, industry analyst at ABI Research.
Microwave backhaul is a viable alternative that drastically improves the business case in delivering connectivity to under-connected regions that generally have lower population densities and ARPU potential.
“Operators will therefore be better equipped to provide higher quality connectivity to these communities by having more backhaul spectrum in the higher frequency bands and using spectrally efficient technologies to deliver enhanced backhaul network performance,” concluded Castaneda.