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Wireless networks get a healthy dose of fiber as small cells proliferate (content provided by CommScope and RCR)

Fiber is making its way into more parts of the wireless network as mobile operators deploy small cells and distributed antenna systems for densification. Like the fiber-fed remote radio heads atop cell towers, small cells can leverage fiber to connect to remote base stations, often located several kilometers away. This network architecture is called C-RAN, or a centralized radio access network. The fiber that connects the small cell to the base station is called fronthaul.

CommScope has a unique perspective on fiber and other connectivity solutions because it provides end-to-end fiber and copper solutions throughout the network. Erik Gronvall, the company’s VP of Architecture and Service Provider Strategy, said mobile network operators have three options for fronthaul and backhaul.

“As you look at the industry and the amount of data that’s being driven through these links, your options really at this point are limited down to three: a coax link to bring data up on the fronthaul side of macro sites and things like that, fiber links on the fronthaul or the backhaul side of things, and then microwave links,” Gronvall said. He added that microwave is only an option in some scenarios, and that coaxial cable is usually more applicable for fronthaul than for backhaul, because backhaul connections have to handle so much data.

Fiber can transmit signals much further without degradation than copper can, and it can support more bandwidth. CommScope LightScope ZWP singlemode optical fiber cable transmits 30% more usable spectrum than standard singlemode cables.

CommScope said the benefits of fiber-to-the-antenna (FTTA) have been well demonstrated at the macro site level. When operators deploy fiber they drive cost out of the network because they can locate their radios near the antennas and use fiber to connect the radios back to the base station. Co-locating the radios and antennas reduces both equipment needs and energy costs. CommScope’s fiber portfolio includes its configurable HELIAX FiberFeed, which combines both power and connectivity in one cable. The solution includes hybrid trunk cable, junction boxes, assemblies, connectors, enclosures, shelves, and accessories.

Now CommScope sees the benefits of FTTA making their way to small cells through C-RAN. Gronvall said he sees fiber as the solution of choice for C-RAN architectures.

“The fiber is the one that’s going to be able to supply the needs from a data standpoint and provide the growth that’s needed there in a cost effective manner,” Gronvall said.

“As we think about fronthaul within a C-RAN application … it sure feels like the industry is going towards utilizing fiber.”

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