Backhaul Bottlenecks: The 4G dilemma

Backhaul could be a problem that stifles 4G, however it means more opportunity for an old technology--microwave--and a potential opportunity for new ones such as fiber and even cable. "Microwave will potentially grow its market share in terms of the number of base stations that it serves and add to either fiber or copper, particularly in the U.S., because the use of microwave is so low," said Little. "With the increase in data capacity to the base stations, we see all the major operators in the U.S. taking a much more detailed look at microwave."

Elsewhere in the world microwave is more widely accepted and used. One potential fear about microwave is that it's an old technology. Can you, then, teach an old technology new tricks? Stuart Little, director of corporate marketing for Harris Stratex, thinks so. "Ever since microwave moved into the digital domain in the 1980s, microwave systems have come on tremendously. It's a very up-to-date technology now; very reliable, carrier grade. It is so reliable, so cost-effective to deploy and easy to use and now it gives you a very easy and smooth migration path from TDM to IP," he said.

However, some people think there are numerous backhaul solutions available. "There is no one solution for backhaul...because every cell site is different. You are going to have cell sites you put directly on fiber. Where you can't get fiber there's carrier Ethernet. You can use microwave. There are options out there," he said. Providing backhaul could even be an opportunity for the cable industry, "If it could get its act together," Peter Jarich, research director of Current Analysis said. "Cable guys have plans; they have solutions in this area and they have the transport nodes out there to make it work. They just have to make sure they can put together a plan and go for that business and I'm not sure that's something they're focused on." Cable's guys have fiber and fiber use in the backhaul has increased from 6 percent to 20 percent three years ago, according to Jim Orr, principal network architect at Fujitsu.

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