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Understanding Wireless Backhaul: Definition, Benefits, and Applications

When it comes to wireless internet access, you hear the term backhaul a lot.  Supposedly a backhaul improves the speed of your data communications access. In reality, without backhaul you would not have an internet connection at all.  A backhaul is the connection from the wireless cell tower to the internet.

Initial backhaul speeds

Until recently, in the majority of the cases, backhauls consist of one or two T1 line(s) (a synchronous 1.544 Mbps data pipe) or even a T3 data circuit (the equivalent of 28 T1 lines with a speed of 44.736 Mbps) as the connection to the internet.  T3 circuits are also known as DS3 circuits.  Data compression equipment enables much higher speeds for throughput.

TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) circuits allow multiple connections to share this pipe.  As you can see, this size of a backhaul is not an optimal connection for high data speeds.

With the introduction of higher speed 3G HSPA+ technologies (marketed as 4G by many wireless ISPs (internet service providers), the existing T1/T3 backhaul is not adequate.

Needless to say, consumer complaints were high when the first HSPA+/4G was rolled out.

Ethernet speed backhaul

Carriers scrambled to increase their backhaul circuits to 100 Mbps.  Remember, the backhaul is an expensive part of wireless cells and has to be affordable to provide competitive data plans.

Fiber-optic high-speed backhaul

When 4G LTE was developed, backhaul speeds of 1 Gbps and greater were needed for useful data connection performance.  The carriers recognized that their backhaul systems would have to be replaced.  Fiber-optic cable backhaul provides the necessary speed.

The difficult part of pulling in a new fiber backhaul is the physical installation of the fiber, which is buried, strung on utility poles or any other means to connect the cell site to the internet with a huge data pipe.

Other backhaul connections

In remote rural areas the backhaul may consist of line-of-sight microwave links or other radio and satellite connections.  Needless to say, these connections support lower speeds, but if that connection is all you have available, it is better than no connection at all.

Faster satellite and radio technologies are being developed all the time, so before long remote rural areas should be able to be supported with 4G LTE full-speed connections.

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