|source: SNL Kagan|
Among other things, 5G networks should dramatically expand what we have traditionally viewed as the “fiber to tower” backhaul market. There are about 300,000 macro cell sites in the United States and perhaps 200,000 towers.
It remains unclear how many 5G or 4G small cells ultimately will be built. But it is reasonable to assume almost all the growth will come from putting small cells on existing structures, not installing towers.
Looking only at service provider cell sites (not enterprise or consumer), millions of new sites will be added globally by about 2020.
If in some urban areas the density is roughly “fiber to every other light pole,”
If, as expected, millimeter wave small cells have a transmission radius of about 50 meters (165 feet) to 200 meters (perhaps a tenth of a mile), it is easy to predict that an unusually-dense backhaul network will have to be built (by mobile network standards).
In the past, mobile operators have only required backhaul to macrocells to towers spaced many miles apart. All that changes with new small cell networks built using millimeter wave spectrum (either for 5G mobile or fixed use, or for ISP fixed access).
Keep in mind that street lights are spaced at distances from 100 feet (30.5 meters) to 400 feet (122 meters) on local roads.
As a rough approximation, think of a small cell, in a dense deployment area, spaced at roughly every other street light, up to small cells spaced at about every fourth light pole.
That is a lot of new cells, with a low-cost backhaul requirement. That is why dense fiber networks now are seen as a business asset by Verizon and Comcast, for example. Very few other providers will be able to connect “every other light pole” to high-capacity backhaul, affordably.