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Can Wireless Backhaul Replace Fiber?

Wireless backhaul is the connection between an internet’s provider base station and the cell tower on its mobile switching facility. In the last one decade or so, there has been an increase of multimedia, data and mobile video, thus necessitating an increase in bandwidth. This has pushed operators to seek for high bandwidth backhaul solutions, involving fiber and wireless technologies. There have been attempts to use WiMax as backhaul for WiFi spots with omnidirectional antennas, but WiMax implementation was not as widespread as expected, the problems still persisted.

The biggest question for internet providers still remains, can wireless backhaul replace fiber? The decision doesn’t solely lie on the availability of fiber technology but also involves the operator’s preferences. In Europe for instance, the use of fiber has proven to be cost effective but operators are comfortable with wireless backhaul as well. The scenario replicates itself in Asia where despite fiber being widely and extensively used, overall wireless backhaul accounts for sixty percent of total mobile backhaul. In North America, the use of wireless backhaul is not as extensive as it is in Europe and Asia and major operators use it only when they have no alternative. It accounts for only fifteen percent of total links. However new players in the market are warming up to the idea of using wireless backhaul when compared to other well established operators.

In the long term, almost all operators are willing to shift to fiber where this option is cost effective. Fiber has comprehensible advantages in terms of performance since it’s not affected by weather, line of sight, the availability of spectrum not to mention it can support any traffic load.  Advances silicon lubricant waterproofing make fiber more viable. It is for these reasons that wireless backhaul is not expected to replace fiber. However it’s worth mentioning that fiber is more expensive when compared to wireless backhaul.

So, can wireless backhaul replace fiber? Instead of looking at a scenario where there is a mass up take wireless backhaul by operators to replace fiber, or making a choice between wireless backhaul and fiber, mobile operators can mull over using both in consecutive stages. Wireless backhaul can be deployed where fiber is not available thus serving as a provisional solution for situations where fiber is not available or too expensive. For most internet providers, wireless backhaul overall cost of ownership is lower than that of fiber.

Fiber costs are even higher in emerging economies and for that reason the benefits that come with the use of wireless backhaul are larger. Even though wireless backhaul is not a potential replacement for fiber, it’s an imperative part of wireless solution. That it’s cost effective and cheaper than fiber, wireless backhaul is an alternative technology that can come in handy when fiber costs are too high or unavailable.