Five key challenges to improving LTE network backhaul speed - and how to solve them

February 10, 2014 // By Mark Barrett, Blu Wireless
The move to LTE brings great improvements in connection speeds (30 Mbps typical) but it also brings a costly problem with it; the need to greatly uprate mobile network backhaul speeds. Today’s average backhaul capacity is 35 Mbps per cell and this needs to increase to approximately 1 Gbps per cell in just five years to support the predicted mobile data growth.

Small cells (also known as femtocells) mounted on lampposts and connected via mesh networks are crucial in enabling operators to roll out the network in line with subscriber numbers, indeed they have been written into the LTE standard, but there are considerable challenges to overcome.

The first problem – how to cost-effectively send data between these small cells – is now effectively solved with the FCC backing the 60 GHz band and allowing an increased permissible power for outdoor 60 GHz operations between fixed points (from +40 dBmi up to a maximum of +82 dBmi with +51 dBi gain antennas) provided a narrow antenna beam (under 0.4 o ) is used.

The following text therefore looks at the remaining four problems for network operators and outlines how backhaul small-cell equipment vendors can use the new FCC ruling and deliver backhaul more cost effectively.

2) Using the whole band

60 GHz backhaul equipment already exists, however, these offerings generally use FDD (frequency division duplex). This requires the use of guard frequency bands to separate transmit and receive frequencies, taking up 1-2 GHz (or 29%) of the usable frequency band for a single link.

Switching to TDD (time division duplex) architectures, like those used in WiFi and WiGig, allows the complete band to be used for both send and receive.

This has two additional advantages. Firstly, traffic allocated to up / downlinks can be dynamically adjusted to match the current traffic profile. Secondly, it eliminates the need for

diplexers, which increase the cost (and small cell footprint): they also add significant loss in both the transmit and receive paths, with 2 to 4 dB loss being typical.

3) Optimising the baseband architecture for data rate and operational distance

Whilst WiGig may be used ‘out of the box’ for 2 Gbps links, backhaul applications require the flexibility of trading data rate and operational distance.

The typical backhaul needs of an LTE small-cell base