In spite of the time-to-market benefits and cost benefits of wireless backhaul, operators that deploy small cells are using fiber. The reason is that operators are currently creating a backbone for 5G, not just filling a 4G hole.
"Leading operators take this position because top mobile operators like Verizon, AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, China Mobile, SKT, and so on, have several LTE bands with overlapping plans to upgrade small cells. They have a long-term view, like a roadmap, and they're not calculating ROI based on a single upgrade. Fiber options continue to evolve toward 40 Gbps and even 100 Gbps options as we near 5G and Massive MIMO, and wireless options are evolving as well to support 1-2 Gbps even in NLOS cases, and higher throughput from mm-wave options," commented Mobile Experts founder Joe Madden.
The report provides some guidance for suppliers to know when to jump back in, or even dip a toe, into the small cell backhaul market. In particular, this report provides a forecast of the expected throughput requirements for small cells in the 2020-2022 timeframe, showing the forecast for throughput levels ranging from 100 Mbps to 5 Gbps. Multiple small cell types are considered, including integrated small cells, eCPRI RRH units, CPRI-based RRH, and Distributed Radio Systems (DRS).
"By 2022," Principal Analyst Joe Madden remarked, "16 percent of all small cells shipped will use wireless transport—an increase from a lower percentage in 2016 and 2017, and with the millions of small cells in our forecast this is finally becoming a market for suppliers to look at again. There is potential growth in wireless transport, as operators are starting to discover the limits of the utopian 'all fiber' deployment."