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Upside for High-Growth Outdoor Small Cell Backhaul

Infonetics Research released excerpts from its latest global market study and report which forecasts the fastest growing segment of the mobile network infrastructure market -- that being outdoor small cell backhaul.

The market study was devided into eight discrete categories: the 3 forms of wireline -- copper, fiber, DSL; and the 5 forms of wireless -- licensed and unlicensed millimeter wave and point-to-point, point-to-multi-point, and non-line-of-sight, or NLOS, microwave.

Their resulting report tracks and forecasts outdoor small cell backhaul equipment revenue, units, connections (aka links) and small cell sites by medium (copper, fiber, air).

"There's been wild speculation on the small cell opportunity -- some that lump together small cells with residential femtocells, WiFi hotspots, and in-building and outdoor. Our latest research focuses on just the new, faster-growing outdoor small cell backhaul equipment market," says Michael Howard, co-founder and principal analyst for carrier networks at Infonetics Research.

After fielding several small cell operator surveys and working directly with chipset manufacturers, mobile operators, small cell vendors, and backhaul equipment vendors for more than 2 years, their analysts are now able to reliably calculate the size of the market and build realistic forecasts.

Infonetics now expects a cumulative $5 billion to be spent worldwide on outdoor small cell backhaul equipment between 2012 and 2016, with the market accelerating in 2014.

This is in addition to the nearly $44 billion being spent on macrocell backhaul equipment during the same 5-year period.

"We expect to see significant shifts in the type of equipment vendors use to backhaul outdoor small cells, with millimeter wave and non-line-of-sight, or NLOS, equipment becoming the top segments of the market by 2016," said Richard Webb, directing analyst for microwave, mobile offload and mobile broadband devices at Infonetics.

Millimeter wave equipment has a high capacity (1 Gbps in a single channel) and very low latency, and nearly all of the mobile network operators that Infonetics interviewed are evaluating millimeter wave for small cell backhaul.

Highlights from the latest market study include:
  • There is no silver bullet backhaul solution for all small cell deployment scenarios, as each depends on multiple variables, including location, form factor limitations, local regulations, available power and network, and cost.
  • As a result, mobile operators and backhaul transport providers need a diverse tool kit of solutions for small cell backhaul; Infonetics expects all the outdoor small cell backhaul technologies it tracks to grow at high double- to triple-digit percentage CAGRs through at least 2016.
  • The number of outdoor small cell backhaul connections is forecast by Infonetics to grow more than 100-fold from 2012 to 2016.
  • Wireless microwave equipment, including various types of microwave and millimeter wave, accounts for 89 percent of all outdoor small cell backhaul equipment revenue in 2012, while copper, fiber, and DSL wireline products account for 11 percent.
  • Infonetics reported in its related Macrocell Mobile Backhaul Equipment and Services report that macrocell mobile backhaul spending will grow to $9.7 billion in 2016.

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