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Whilst 80GHz backhaul grabs the headlines, sub-6GHz will drive the growth

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  • Sub-6GHz backhaul to reach 35 per cent market share by 2020
  • Together with mmW, sub-6GHz will account for 57 per cent of revenues
  • Sector growth driven by densification and small cells

As Gigabit-level mobile microwave backhaul hits the headlines (see yesterday’s story on Egypt’s aggregated 6Gbit/s deployment over 3.4km with the use of E-band spectrum), sub-6GHz backhaul remains the first-choice for operators, with revenues growing at a CAGR of 48 per cent until 2020. That’s according to new data from ABI Research, which forecasts that the market will deploy more than one million sub-6 GHz licensed backhaul links by 2020.

This growth is down to the continued evolution in mobile networks, from LTE through LTE-Advanced and ultimately the arrival of 5G in 2020, accompanied by substantial network densification and massive deployments of small cells. The trend will completely transform the backhaul market and, says ABI, create new opportunities for wireless backhaul links.

It says that as the fastest growing market segment, sub-6GHz will challenge microwave and millimeter waves for the largest market share of 35 per cent in 2020. The combined wireless backhaul equipment revenues from sub-6GHz links and millimeter waves will make up nearly 57 per cent of the total backhaul revenue in 2020.

“Ultimately, operators’ network densification plans continue to grow in order to support demands for higher capacity in metro locations and extend coverage in to the rural and remote areas,” said Ahmed Ali, research analyst at ABI Research. “This accelerated growth will mandate higher capacity links, lower equipment cost, and easier network installation. The development will, in turn, drive further investments in the wireless backhaul market.”

Over the course of 2016, Ali says that outdoor small cell rollouts will gain momentum. As WiFi and distributed antenna systems (DAS) continue to advance and compete with small cells for the enterprise and in-building connectivity, their impact on the outdoor deployments is imminent.

“MNOs are also exploiting distributed network structures like Cloud-RAN (C-RAN) to cope with the explosive data traffic,” added Ali. “Such evolution in the access network technologies and structures dictates the availability of diverse, flexible and interoperable backhaul solutions.”

ABI Research suggests suppliers consider offering professional services, including high-resolution 3D mapping for backhaul link placement. They should also support multiple backhaul technologies and partner with companies such as advertising agencies, cable providers, and tower companies, to offer rights of way, and attach permits for small cell sites. Service providers should look into leveraging network sharing schemes, unlicensed spectrum, and virtualisation technologies in order to lower the cost of expanding backhaul and increase the overall return on investment.

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