What will drive this market? Is it a straightforward, easy-to-forecast evolution of an existing market segment, or will the availability of transmission solutions affect the size and nature of the market?
The carrier perspective
Taking a closer look at the recent Omdia report, based on tier-1 operators’ insights the first phase of 5G deployment will be heavily based on adding 5G radios to existing 4G sites. This will change as 5G deployments progress. By 2024, more than 25% of 5G radios are expected to be installed in new sites (compared to less than 10% in 2020) as part of network densification efforts. By that year, operators expect that almost 40% of their 5G sites will require fronthaul transmission (i.e. the RU will be located in a different site than the DU and CU).
When asked about the connectivity method of those fronthaul links, operators expect to rely heavily on passive fiber infrastructure, and also expect to introduce active optical and wireless transport equipment. By 2024, however, those operators expect to have active optical transmission equipment in less than 20% of their sites and wireless transmission equipment in less than 10% of their sites. Those operators did state, however, that these numbers, and the wireless transmission portion in particular, may grow as more advanced wireless solutions make wireless fronthaul connectivity efficient and feasible. This is due to their expectation that new 5G sites will have limited fiber connectivity.
This observation shines a new light on this market’s dynamics. The size of the fronthaul transport market clearly is dependent on the availability of wireless fronthaul transport solutions.
Operators seek higher capacity wireless fronthaul solutions in order to increase the feasibility of 5G fronthaul use cases. They may choose more sites to be “fronthaul sites” (i.e. sites in which only RUs are deployed) provided they have a cost-efficient, flexible and fast solution for connecting those sites.
Building wireless fronthaul solution to unlock 5G potential
When it comes to fiber-vs.-wireless fronthaul, the feasibility consideration is primary. Once you have sized your connectivity requirements, the key questions are:
- Do you have a fiber infrastructure to the required site?
- Is there a wireless solution that can accommodate your fronthaul requirements to this site?
If the answer to the first question is “yes” (scenario A), you go with fiber.
If the answer to the first question is “no” and the answer to the second question is “yes” (scenario B), you go with wireless.
If the answers to both questions is “no” (scenario C), you will need to consider deploying fiber, changing the site location, or choosing a different architecture (e.g. deploying a DU and an RU at the site).
Scenario C is the one everyone wishes to avoid, as it forces you to make a sub-optimal selection. Since scenario A is fixed, the way to minimize scenario C is to push scenario B for more and more sites. For that, you need a flexible and future-proof wireless hauling solution.
Such a solution:
- supports 20Gbps connectivity, over a single cable, today
- supports both 5G eCPRI and 4G CPRI connectivity, in the same box
- sets a clear roadmap towards higher capacity scenarios of 25Gbps, 50Gbps and 100Gbps
As it happens, such a solution now exists.