December 5, 2016

2G to 5G: Evolution of Microwave Backhaul


5G mobile phone photo credit: cszar via / CC BY-NC-ND

Without becoming reality, 5G mobile communications have already captured the imagination of operators and technology providers. So can the general public catch up with the hype soon? We’ll see. Meantime, behind-the-scenes mechanics of prepping for 5G continue, building on prior technologies. At each step of the evolution of backhaul infrastructure, different challenges cropped up.


Even before cellular phone technologies got tagged with number-letter combinations like 3G and 3.5G, backhaul capacity needed addressing. First of all, just to accommodate the requisite number of DS1 voice circuit equivalents. Then to carry data. So by partially transitioning to a hybrid TDM/IP network utilizing Ethernet and packet microwave, backhaul began to provide data capacity for early mobile applications.

New Services

More recently, operators have moved beyond offering simple data capacity for mobile applications. And in some markets, they have begun to take place of wired networks for real-time rich media like two-way video conferencing and 4K HDTV. In others, wireless carriers have no fixed line competitors and carry these data-intensive applications to subscribers and enterprise customers in a greenfield market. As a result, Layer 3 capabilities supported by IP/MPLS and microwave networking live alongside other technologies at the edge.

Automation and the Software Defined Network

The Aviat Networks white paper outlines the complete evolution of microwave backhaul—from 2G to 5G and TDM to SDN.

Most noteworthy, the Aviat white paper outlines evolution of microwave backhaul—from 2G to 5G and TDM to SDN.

Most of all, coming of 5G networks portends major shifts in backhaul technology. With the advent of small cells, Internet of Things (IoT) and other factors, the backhaul will need to have flexibility and perhaps artificial intelligence (AI) to create automatic deployments—at least to a certain degree. And it needs to be free of hardware constraints. Therefore, the software-defined network (SDN) has a role in bringing this paradigm shift.

Also, it will need to have compatibility with its predecessor technologies, which will probably continue to live in the aggregate network for some time to come. Therefore, Aviat Networks has taken a look at the 5G landscape and prepared what amounts to a primer on what you need to know to get your backhaul ready for 5G.

In this short white paper, we discuss microwave evolution in the recent past. Also, we outline what to expect from the microwave transport domain as we move toward 5G. Specifically, we’ll discuss three main phases of evolution:

  • Past: More capacity demand giving rise to Ethernet and packet microwave radio
  • Present: New services requiring rollouts of Layer 3 (IP/MPLS) microwave networking
  • Future: Need for automation that will drive toward IP-SDN microwave communications

Subscribe to our newsletter