By Ernest Worthman —
By 2020, an estimated 78 percent of all mobile data traffic for the two largest operators will flow over some platform other than large cell networks. Even after considering the significant role of Wi-Fi, there will be a need for more than 3.8 million small cell capacity units to handle that traffic, according to Signals Research. These cells will have to support various 3G, 4G and unlicensed technologies, as well as emerging standards such as 5G.
All of those small cells are going to need backhaul to the network. The wireless test equipment market is expected to reach $4.8 billion by 2018, and the testing and monitoring of backhaul is expected to be one of the fastest growing verticals within the industry.
The introduction of small cells adds layers of complexity and new challenges for backhaul performance monitoring. With small cell networks as part of the data pool, data is being collected for many more and different data points. This changes the metrics of efficiency and cost-effectiveness and tightens the parameters that have to be considered to keep the constraints under control. As a result, mobile backhaul test and measurement will steadily increase in size and importance as end-user demand for data bandwidth continues to grow exponentially in the next two years.
Wireless players hold the upper hand over fiber providers when it comes to backhaul for now, because wireless is faster and cheaper to deploy. However, MNOs shouldn’t feel too secure. In the longer term, operators are likely to switch to fiber-based backhaul for small cells as the technology becomes more widely available.