Mobile industry backs wireless tech for small cell backhaul, for now

LONDON--Wireless players will hold the upper hand in small cell backhaul in the near term, until fibre is more widely deployed, delegates at the Transport Networks for Mobile Operators trade conference said here Wednesday.

In a roundtable debate on small cell deployment challenges that involved all attendees, delegates indicated that wireless players hold the upper hand over fibre providers for backhaul, because wireless is faster and cheaper to deploy. However, in the longer term, operators are likely to switch to fibre-based backhaul for small cells as the technology becomes more widely available.

Multi-operator small cells were also discussed. Delegates noted that operators are already sharing networks today as a means of cutting deployment costs and risks, and said similar agreements are likely in small cell rollouts--particularly as a result of consolidation among mobile operators. Sharing small cells requires alignment between operator's RAN and transport networks, delegates agreed.

Operators are more likely to share small cells in large buildings than rural areas, where it is arguably easier to source the necessary real estate to deploy equipment.

Real estate was another key aspect of the roundtable discussion. One group noted that the industry must get landlords on board to facilitate the siting of small cell equipment. Delegates said property owners must be shown the benefits of granting permission for equipment to be sited on their buildings. However, operators noted they would welcome an end-to-end approach from infrastructure vendors that includes management of the cell sites, and landlord relations.

Another key message from the debate is that there are already variations in the siting of small cells, with different markets adopting different models for where equipment is located. Some countries are against installing equipment on street furniture, for example, making flexibility in the design of small cell equipment necessary.

The final element of the discussion was whether multiple vendors can be involved in delivering heterogeneous network (hetnet) equipment. Operators and vendors agreed there is a need for evolved standards covering multi-vendor deployments, and that macro and small cell networks must be tightly integrated to deliver the full benefits of the small cell rollout.

Delegates agreed that hetnets open the door for new infrastructure providers to enter the market, but noted that allowing only a handful of new entrants is the right number to keep the network simple.

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