Data transfer in the mobile backhaul networks (from radio base stations to the core network) can be done in two ways – wireless using Point-to-Point radio communication or wired through optical fiber cables and copper wires.
Copper wires are quickly being phased-out as they are costly and do not support the necessary data rates. Optical fiber offers the heighest data throughput capacity but requires a physical link, which is costly as it requires permits (both by landlords and municipalities) and involves heavy construction work – hence take a long time to build out. Wireless connections on the other hand offers lower installations costs, more rapid deployment and still enables high data throughput.
Wireless Point-to-Point radios have been used for a long time to connect base stations (access points for mobile users) to the core mobile network. Today, approximately 50% of all cellular base stations are connected using wireless links. The downside has previously been limitations in capacity, but with the development of more cost-efficient millimeter wave radio solutions this has changed. Millimeter wave bands (primarily V-band and E-band) enable Gigabit data rates as they offer access to vastly more spectrum bandwidth compared to traditional microwave bands. Limited hop-lengths for millimeter wave communication (1 – 5km for E-band) is becoming less of a restriction as mobile base stations are installed closer and closer to each other.
With the build-out of 5G, millions of new base stations will be installed closer to the end user. Deploying these quickly and cost-efficiently will be a challenge. Where fiber is already available it will be the natural choice, but where it is not, wireless connections are expected to grow rapidly.