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Backhaul: mixing wireless and wired

James Hayes explores whether wireless or traditional wired backhaul is the best option for mobile network operators to meet growing data demands

Backhaul is bearing the brunt of the massive surge in mobile traffic. But while mounting pressure on backhaul may seem good news for mobile network operators (MNOs), it also poses challenges for intermediate connectivity within their infrastructures.

Understanding backhaul, and the part it plays in mobile networking hierarchies, is easier when picturing how the mobile ‘skeleton’ joins together. With core networks representing the spine, backhaul has been characterised as the ‘arms and legs’ of that skeleton; those limbs have had to rapidly acquire extra reach to enable them to cope with the escalating demands placed on them.

These backhaul limbs empower UK network operators to carry more and move faster. Building out backhaul capability to meet escalating demand – let alone plan for longer- term requirements – is an ongoing balancing act between trend-driven market dynamics and MNOs’ ambitions and resources.

The shift in how smartphone users now consume various content, from streamed movies to corporate videoconferencing – has had repercussions for mobile backhaul in general, and is expected to drive wireless backhaul ‘densification’ in particular. The trend is obvious to video-hungry subscribers in the UK, but as voice calls and texts become a marginalised part of the traffic make-up MNOs are having to rethink their backhaul provisioning strategies.

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