Growing Importance of Small Cells and the Backhaul Challenge


Small deployment is increasing paving the way to address the data challenge for operators, however they need the right backhaul strategy to make the most of their network investments.

As there is a phenomenal rise in mobile data consumption, operators look for better ways to get maximum return out of their network investments. In this scenario, cell densification can play a central role in meeting this data demand and at the same time allow the spectrum to be reused more to increase overall network capacity. This is where deployment of small cells comes into play.

Helping operators achieve better value for their network data, small cells are typically deployed below-roof-top level on street furniture and building walls, both indoor and outdoor scenarios.
However, one of the biggest challenges for operators is to provide extensive backhaul connectivity to the small cells both economically and with sufficient resiliency in performance. And in order to achieve this there is an array of different solutions that have been proposed to enable efficient backhaul.

As confirmed by a number of telecoms experts, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to backhaul and it all depends on the nature of an operator’s network and the final choice of backhaul solution depends on the original motivation to deploy small cells for the operator’s network.

Operators can utilize fibre and copper to drive backhaul strategy where there is availability of fibre, high capacity micro and millimetre waves where there is a line-of-sight is available while satellite can address the remote rural or mobile scenarios, where other backhaul solutions are not possible.

Market research firm Infonetics Research has released excerpts from its 2014 Small Cell Backhaul Strategies: Global Service Provider Survey, which provides insights into operator plans for small cell backhaul.

“Operators participating in our small cell backhaul survey have yet to scale their small cell deployments, but they are looking to place over 20% of their traffic from the macro network onto small cells by 2018,” notes Richard Webb, directing analyst for mobile backhaul and small cells at Infonetics Research. “But they also tell us that backhaul-specific challenges like planning site acquisition, power and connection sourcing, and cost models have impacted deployment timelines.”


Ethernet over fiber is survey respondents’ preferred backhaul technology for outdoor small cells, followed by point-to-point microwave and millimeter wave. Ethernet over fiber is the most-used technology for in-building deployments and with small cell deployments occurring in a range of locations and with an array of topologies, survey also predicts that no single backhaul technology will be a universal solution.

Likewise, no single vendor is likely to dominate the small cell backhaul landscape; it is still early days, but so far survey participants strongly favor a group of vendors with wired and wireless backhaul solutions.

Respondent operators also rated price-to-performance ratio, product reliability, and pricing as the top 3 criteria for choosing a small cell backhaul vendor.

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