Backhaul strategies for next-gen networks

Sue Marek

With today's network capacity challenges, backhaul can no longer be an afterthought for wireless operators. In fact, backhaul is currently one of the biggest investments for carriers. In a recent study commissioned by Tellabs and conducted by Strategy Analytics, the firm predicted that by 2017 wireless network traffic will require more than $35 billion in annual backhaul investment worldwide, which is $9 billion more than what is currently planned.

Interestingly, North America has the smallest funding gap, but it's still significant at $650 million. The top four wireline operators--AT&T (NYSE:T), Verizon (NYSE:VZ), CenturyLink and Windstream are natural providers of fiber to the tower (FTTT) services for backhaul and all are working on their backhaul strategies in order to get a piece of this lucrative pie. For more on their strategies, check out this feature from our sister publication, FierceTelecom.

Of course, one of the trickiest areas of the backhaul puzzle is providing backhaul for small cells, which are expected to be deployed at a tremendous rate in the coming years. Some operators are looking at microwave technology to backhaul traffic from small cells, creating something of a renaissance for this age-old technology.

The problems are compounded for rural operators because, in rural areas, there's not much copper or fiber to link to and difficult terrain and low population density make deployments costly. Some, such as Union Wireless, have even resorted to using a hosted satellite provider for backhaul in some of its more remote locations.

For backhaul vendors, studies such as the one conducted by Strategy Analytics are good news. The market is particularly inviting for backhaul technology startups, which are hoping to solve some of the backhaul dilemmas, particularly for small cell deployments.

Investors appear bullish on this market; funding has been flowing to firms with a solid business model and a strong technology proposition.

In this ebook from FierceWireless, we look at the current projections for the backhaul market as well as look at what the various options are for small cell backhaul and more. --Sue

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