Phil Kendall, Director – Wireless Operator Strategies, Strategy Analytics
Steve Giles, Head of RAN design, MBNL
Dr Tommy Svensson, Professor, Electrical Engineering, Chalmers University of Technology
RAN evolution through cRAN/vRAN on the path to 5G presents significant backhaul and fronthaul challenges for network operators. MBNL’s Steve Giles and Chalmers University’s Tommy Svennson provided great insights on technology choices and challenges in this space. Having achieved consensus in the panel and audience early on that eCPRI did not look sufficiently vendor-neutral, we focused on how backhaul and fronthaul needed to evolve to support more flexible and fluid network architectures. Discussions in the room included thoughts on the role of managed Ethernet capacity and the challenge of scaling this economically even in the medium term. Dark fiber meets many of the capacity and flexibility xHaul needs, though isn’t the industry’s magic wand in every situation. For example, fiber is often built to follow copper routes, so not necessarily a logical path for backhaul as transport through multiple exchanges will impact latency.
So even in a fiber world, mmWave will still be part of the xHaul solution. It is obviously hard to get wired backhaul in all locations, even in cities, with developments in mmWave technologies and performance allowing it to enjoy increased relevance in areas such as small cells in transportation or as a complement to fiber. The working group ultimately agreed there would always be a role for mmWave, ranging from the need for a quick-install solution before fiber can be pulled to new sites, and in link aggregation for higher capacity sites: in fact, given the flexibility (and related efficiency) that mmWave offers, fiber could be planned for the average demand and mmWave for the dynamic.