An Economic Comparison of Fronthaul Architectures for 5G Networks
Global service providers worldwide are in a race to deploy 5G technology and services. To achieve greater speeds and capacity with 5G, operators will need to densify their networks, which will mean an increase in the number of macro cells and small cells. To optimize the total cost of ownership of the Radio Access Network, many SPs are planning to leverage C-RAN architectures that centralize baseband processing functionalities. This allows for a much more efficient utilization of baseband unit resources and improves operational efficiency at cell sites. However, by moving process-intensive functions to an aggregation site, bandwidth and latency transport requirements will increase. To address these higher transport demands it is now possible to extend IP into the RAN network and implement Ethernet-based packet routing solutions for the fronthaul, which is the portion of the transport network connecting the remote radio head at the cell tower with the BBU located at an aggregation site.
Today, 4G fronthaul networks are typically implemented by dark fiber or WDM optical transport networks. Although these techniques meet transport requirements, they can be very expensive. With innovations in Ethernet silicon, it is now possible to implement fronthaul transport with end-to-end IP-MPLS routers.
ACG Research compares the IP routing fronthaul network with several optical alternatives and shows a TCO advantage of 65% over a ROADM network and 46% over an active point-to-point optical network. The IP router fronthaul network provides significantly more functionality at lower cost than the optical fronthaul networks that are predominately deployed today.
Click to download the ACG Research Fronthaul Whitepaper.