New solutions address the fronthaul and backhaul complexity 5G will bring to networks
5G is sometimes referred to as a network of networks, combining fixed, mobile, optical, microwave and IP transport technologies in an effort to deliver ultra-dense, high-capacity, low-latency connectivity. The integration of macro and small cell sites with software-defined, cloud-native architectures promises a new level of network flexibility enabling operators to deliver on demand capacity in support of use cases with highly variable network and spectral requirements.
As 5G continues to take shape, let’s take stock of how traditional backhaul and fronthaul paradigms are evolving to keep pace. Based on the product portfolios being brought to market from industry-leading companies, the big picture is a shift to programmable transport mechanisms with names like Nokia’s Anyhaul, InterDigital’s Crosshaul and Huawei’s Xhaul. As the names imply, network convergence also applies to the connections between remote radios and base stations (fronthaul) and base stations and the core network (backhaul).
The 5G-Crosshaul consortium, funded by the European Union and including partners InterDigital, Ericsson, Nokia, UC3M, NEC and CND, conducted a trial of integrated transport in November last year in Madrid. The trial tapped InterDigital’s EdgeLink millimeter wave solution, which uses the 60 GHz band, and the FastForward product, which operates in the 70 GHz band. InterDigital described the trial: The two aforementioned products “served as the [millimeter wave] wireless crosshaul transport solution for the 5G fronthaul upper layer and lower layer split options, as well as for backhaul for a small cell. InterDigital’s FastForward solution proved that it can meet the stringent latency requirements of under 250 [microseconds] for the MAC-PHY lower layer split. In addition, backhaul and PDCP/RLC upper lay fronthaul were successfully transported simultaneously over a single high-capacity [millimeter wave] EdgeLink connection.”
With the acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent’s optical portfolio, Nokia has a comprehensive product set that makes up its Anyhaul family; microwave, IP/MPLS, Ethernet and passive optical are all covered. Around Mobile World Congress last year, Nokia Chief Marketing Officer Barry French called mobile transport “the unsung hero in making the mobile experience a reality…The demand for wireless capacity is increasing. The diversity of today’s evolving mobile infrastructure requires an extensive range of transport solutions. Nokia is in an enviable position to pull together elements from wireless, microwave, IP, optical and fixed access, along with the local experts worldwide, to ensure our customers have the most comprehensive transport network portfolio to take them into the 5G era.”
Huawei’s Xhaul uses IP, microwave and OTN to unify fronthaul and backhaul, including an adaptive router that supports 50GE and 100GE, as well as a microwave solution
Jeffrey Gao, president of Huawei Router and Carrier Ethernet Product Line, said, “The 5G era is approaching, and the shape that service modes will take is not yet certain. The Huawei Xhaul solution fully supports 4G/5G bearing, so as to effectively support operators’ new service development and expand the business blueprint.”