ABI Research Forecasts Over 9 Million 5G Microwave Backhaul Links by 2026

To fully realize the intended objectives of 5G, operators must upgrade the capabilities of their wireless backhaul networks to accommodate the increased network capacities and lower latency standards that characterize this next-gen network. A new report published by global tech market advisory firm ABI Research projects that microwave backhaul links will account for at least 60% of overall macro and small cell backhaul links from 2020 through 2026 – growing at an 8% 6-year CAGR to 9 million at the end of the period.

Spectrum plays a prominent role in enabling the larger data demands of 5G. The allocation of more backhaul spectrum and the utilization of spectrally efficient methods will therefore be instrumental in facilitating the growing role of microwave backhaul in future networks. “Regulators can tap into the higher frequency bands for wireless backhaul as they have more contiguous amounts of spectrum and wider channels available,” says Kangrui Ling, Research Analyst at ABI Research. “Given that there is already high congestion in the traditional microwave bands between 6 to 42 GHz, regulators should explore allocating the, E-, and D- and W- millimeter wave and even the unlicensed V- bands for wireless backhaul as they are well-equipped to handle the imminent data consumption growth in the near future,” Kangrui explains.

Aside from requiring more spectrum, operators will also leverage on technologies such as cross polarization (XPIC), Band and Carrier Aggregation (BCA) or Integrated Access Backhaul (IAB) to further increase the capacity and efficiency of their backhaul networks. BCA, for example, involves combining frequencies in lower bands with higher frequencies (ie, E-band) to ensure sustained availability rates and higher capacity transmissions over longer distances.

Additionally, microwave backhaul is a more cost-efficient tool - relative to fixed wireline such as copper or fiber - in expanding network coverage to rural regions that are commercially unfeasible to deploy. “Establishing fiber connections will be more costly in rural areas that are geographically and logistically challenging”, adds Miguel Castaneda, Industry Analyst at ABI Research. Microwave backhaul is a viable alternative that drastically improves the business case in delivering connectivity to under-connected regions that generally have lower population densities and ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) potential. “Operators will therefore be better equipped to provide higher quality connectivity to these communities by having more backhaul spectrum in the higher frequency bands and using spectrally efficient technologies to deliver enhanced backhaul network performance,” Castaneda concludes.

Click here to access ABI Research’s Fixed Wireless in the 5G Era application analysis report.

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