- What is fronthaul?
- What is midhaul?
- How can they become cost-effective?
- Is there more than fiber?
One of the significant barriers to rolling out wireless sites has been backhaul. You would think that fiber is everywhere, but when it comes to deploying fiber to a pole or remote location, it’s not cheap. If there is not existing fiber, it cost a lot of money. If the fiber at a
location is maxed out, then it costs a lot of money. See the pattern?
Also, if you need a lot of bandwidth, fiber costs a lot of money each month.
Don’t get me wrong; fiber is incredible! We all love the fact it can handle so much bandwidth in a pair of fiber strands. Amazing! It put a dent in the wireless backhaul market because it is rolling out everywhere and quite flexible. We all love fiber. However, it’s not cheap to install or to pay the monthly reoccurring.
We loved wireless back in the day because we could pay $10K to get it running and it would be there for years. It took up tower space, but it was reliable and a “pay-once” type of deal. Well, it was hard to add bandwidth, if you could at all. Modern networks demanded more than the long-range wireless could supply. It’s too much for them to handle. So, now we get fiber, and we may use wireless as a backup, but the traditional 6GHz and 11GHz links just can provide the Gbps links we need today. The broadband requirements are growing, so the idea of putting in wireless links seems to limit growth.
What can we do? Well, the release of the fixed wireless spectrum may solve this problem. If this is something that can grow along with the needs of the end-user, then it is going to be the midhaul solution. This would be the link between a fixed radio head and the controller or core. See the illustration. We need to look at the fixed wireless as the midhaul and the fronthaul. We also need to look at fiber as more than the backhaul solution. It could be the link for the edge to get to the internet or the midhaul or the fronthaul.
All these connections need to be made. As we add hops, we also add latency. Think of how the small cell or remote radio head could connect to the core and to the internet simultaneously. There may be more than one link at a site.
If the small cell or remote radio head needs a direct connection to the internet, it may not need to be a fiber link. It could be just something to offer low latency so any type of internet connection may be just as good. The idea of that connection is to lower latency so bandwidth may not be the issue. So, order accordingly, remember that we need to be cost conscious when planning.
Backhaul is the connection to the internet or the core. The core is the hub where all the mobile equipment lies.
Midhaul could be the link between the controller or the radio head that feeds the next link.
Fronthaul is generally the link between the controller and the radio head or small cell. It could be the link from the radio head to the UE device. Fronthaul should be the final link, but not the last 200 meters.
All the same, we look at the backhaul using all means necessary to make the connection to the final radio. It could be a combination of several links that act as a chain to get the data from the end-user to the core and eventually it’s final destination. Each network will be responsible for moving data from point A to point B using any means necessary. It all works together to ensure that the end-user gets what they ask for.
Cost-effective solutions are what we want. It is not always fiber. It would be any combination of wireless and fiber. As long as it is reliable and allows for growth. Growth is critical in today’s world of expansion.
Being cost-effective means that we need a balance between the payback, (number of subscribers) and the spend, (installation and monthly costs). That is only part of it. We need to know, what is available? If the fiber is not available, you may need wireless to get the site on the air. If wireless is not available, you may need to move the site to another location where something is available. Most times moving across the street can make all the difference. Availability is vital because if you need to run fiber across a street, it may involve trenching and permitting, a hefty cost for installation.
Reliability is a crucial factor here. In the past, wireless would show errors during a rainstorm. This was a problem because the link would have hi bit errors. The rain was a problem. Fiber could get knocked down if it’s overhead, another issue that has caused problems in the past. Make sure your solution is reliable.
So, let’s look at backhaul, midhaul, and fronthaul as one. After all, it’s all the means to an end. They are all needed to get the data where it has to go, both ways. No matter what the link, it is part of the solution. It takes planning. All I am asking is that you need to be open-minded. We often look at fiber as the only solution, but there are more than one means to this end. We have options, and they are growing every day. Let’s take advantage of what we have and think outside the box. Fiber or wireless, it really doesn’t matter if it fills the needs we ask for. As long as it meets the criteria to connect the end-user to the core.
Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!
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