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The market for small cell microwave backhaul equipment is expected to grow to over US $6.4 billion in 2017, up from a forecast $1.5 billion for 2012, which represents a 35% compound annual growth rate.



According to ABI Research, millimeter wave line-of-sight (MMW LoS) will accumulate 44% of revenue, or over $2.8 billion, with 23% of microwave links in 2017. Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing Non Line-of-Sight (OFDM NLoS) will capture 31% of small cell microwave backhaul equipment revenue, or $1.9 billion, with 48% of links in 2017, and Wi-Fi will capture almost 19% of revenue or $784 million, with 12% of small cell backhaul links.

“Thanks to its NLoS properties and Point-to-Multipoint (PMP) hub-and-spoke architecture OFDM NLoS becomes the most popular backhaul technology for small cells in 2017,” says Nick Marshall, principal analyst at ABI Research. The millimeter wave bands from 60 GHz to 80 GHz (MMW LoS) will also prove compelling for small cell backhaul in many situations. Traditional Microwave LoS (6-38 GHz) equipment for small cell applications is overtaken by these technologies and will represent only 13% of revenue and 10% of links in 2017.


The analyst firm also expects fiber backhaul solutions to experience a healthy growth between 2012 and 2017 with small cell backhaul over fiber reaching almost 24% in 2017, up from 7% in 2012, with regions like China and North America favoring fiber as a backhaul solution in many circumstances. “We believe 4G/LTE small cell solutions will again drive most of the microwave and fiber backhaul growth in metropolitan, urban, and suburban areas,” continues Marshall.

With LTE networks to maintain satisfactory performance levels, it is critical to reduce the amount of airtime for wireless traffic and small cell backhaul strategies will become increasing important as LTE adoption continues in this regard. Point to multipoint distribution is a much more flexible arrangement for deploying additional sites and requires less planning and infrastructure than traditional point to point microwave arrangements which also require LOS.

----ABI Research

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