Consumer electronics mobile devices and applications are pushing the envelope when it comes to global bandwidth usage. In order to meet those needs, new research by NPD In-Stat projected that the number of fiber-enabled backhaul macro base stations will approach 1.8 million by 2014.

Driven by mobile applications, including data, voice and video, global wireless bandwidth usage has increased 10-fold since 2008, and there's no sign of a slowdown. Backhaul is an emerging opportunity for cable operators and other service providers because they can provide the connections between the content sources and devices.

"For mobile operators, the challenge is to match the best backhaul solutions with the needs of their networks. In tailoring the proper backhaul solution, operators have to balance considerations like cost and time of deployment," said NDP In-Stat senior analyst Chris Kissel. "At the same time, operators must leverage their existing investments while being able to scale their networks. If the target bandwidth for a current backhaul solution is 100 Mbps, five years from now, the same operator may need 1 Gbps at that site. Therefore, operators seek cost-effective backhaul solutions that can be scaled in the future at a reasonable cost. There is a mosaic of solutions that help mobile operators to meet these goals."

Recent NPD In-Stat research found the following:

  • China Mobile estimates that 96 percent of its base stations have fiber-optic access.
  • In the United States, a point-to-point microwave license costs $1,800 and expires in 10 years. Licensees are entitled to 50 MHz in the frequency band for which they apply.
  • As it is with macrocells, fiber is the preferred backhaul medium for small cells.

Cable operators such as Comcast and Cox Communications are already generating backhaul revenues with their HFC cable infrastructures. With the advent of LTE networks, cable operators will have additional opportunities to generate more revenue off of the new networks.