Market Insight

Small cell backhaul market is scaling up, and technology requirements are getting more specific

October 26, 2017

Richard Webb Richard Webb Director, Research and Analysis, Service Provider Technology

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Following is information and insight from IHS Markit about our 2017 Small Cell Backhaul Strategies Service Provider Survey

Key points

  • No single backhaul technology will be a universal solution for small cell deployment — a wide range of products and features will be needed
  • A quarter of survey respondents have already implemented software-defined networking in their backhaul networks, and another 45 percent are planning to deploy SDN by 2018
  • Huawei is the top-rated small cell backhaul vendor among those surveyed; Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia and NEC are also strongly rated

Our analysis

According to the IHS Markit Macrocell Mobile Backhaul Equipment Market Tracker, the mobile backhaul equipment market is a mature market representing $8.2 billion in 2016 and is fiercely contested by major integrated vendors and small-to-midscale specialist vendors. However, according to IHS Markit's Outdoor Small Cell Mobile Backhaul Equipment Market Tracker, the small cell backhaul segment has been comparatively small — just over $148 million in 2016.

There were more than 63,000 outdoor small cell backhaul connections/links deployed during 2016, and the number of connections/links is expected to grow to around 560,000 in 2021 — a five-year installed base of approximately 1.7 million.

In a continuation from last year, 2017 is revealing that there is a steadily increasing market for small cell backhaul equipment. Operators indicate that factors such as planning site acquisition, sourcing backhaul connections and power, availability of spectrum and higher costs remain challenges but are gradually eroding. Operators are moving forward with in-building and outdoor small cell deployments alongside other options available for network density, such as distributed antenna system (DAS), remote radio head (RRH)/centralized RAN (C-RAN) and carrier Wi-Fi, all of which could be used as complementary solutions.

The market is scaling up, with small cell deployments occurring in a range of locations. No single backhaul technology is a universal solution, so no single vendor is likely to dominate. Our survey shows mixed responses in terms of how operators are deploying small cells and what they need in terms of equipment. The varying deployment scenarios create a range of challenges that require a variety of products and features.

More survey highlights

  • Ethernet over fiber (EoFiber) will be the most-used technology for in-building small cell backhaul connection by 2019, with an increasing proportion of respondents showing a preference for dedicated fiber
  • For outdoor small cells, point-to-point (P2P) microwave is currently the leading choice for small cell backhaul, deployed by 55 percent of respondents
  • Power over Ethernet (PoE) is the highest-rated feature that respondents would like to see integrated into small cell backhaul products (rated very important by 75 percent of survey participants)
  • After Precision Time Protocol (PTP) 1588v2, Synch-E is the most popular timing and synchronization method for small cells, with 45 percent of respondent operators planning to deploy it by 2019

Small cell survey synopsis

For its 30-page small cell backhaul survey, IHS Markit interviewed purchase-decision makers at 20 service providers from Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Asia Pacific, the Caribbean and Latin America, and North America about their current and future plans for small cell backhaul. The study provides insights into specific backhaul issues related to in-building and outdoor small cells.

Research by Market
Mobile & Telecom
Mobile Networks
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