ProLabs and the ‘New 5G Backhaul Economy’

Marcel Fouché, Networking and Storage General Manager at Networks Unlimited Africa

As we navigate our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, we are finding that economic and social survival is tied to the ability to work and play at a distance. If ever there was a time for a revolutionary new internet technology to take hold, now would seem to be that time.

So says Raymond Hagen, Americas Product Manager at ProLabs, a global leader in optical networking infrastructure. He notes in a recent blog entry that: “Visionaries may state that 5G will offer access to new applications like artificial intelligence and smart city infrastructure that could define the next industrial revolution. Companies and countries failing to act now will find themselves left behind global and regional powers that are indeed investing in 5G.”

Hagen says, “The ‘New Backhaul Economy’ is poised to disrupt the traditional wireless backhaul ecosystem built for previous wireless generations.”

To this, Marcel Fouché, networking and storage general manager at value-added distributor, Networks Unlimited Africa, which distributes ProLabs in sub-Saharan Africa, offers a clarification.


Says Fouché, “5G is a revolutionary next-generation mobile network that is not just a technology implementation but shifts the entire network architecture paradigm. Wireless backhaul is the wireless communication and network infrastructure responsible for transporting communication data from end users or nodes to the central network or infrastructure and vice versa.” 

As Hagen notes, wholesale backhaul services in the 4G and earlier environments were simple and straightforward, and a backhaul provider could be assured of the fibre capacity for current and future data needs. Today, however, as we look ahead to the widespread rollout of 5G enhanced mobile broadband, we can see that it is able to achieve significantly improved data rates, but it also requires the ‘pipes’ feeding the network to be super-sized. 

“Therefore,” continues Fouche, “significant changes in infrastructure are required to effect the functionality of the fifth-generation technology standard for cellular networks. This includes the transition from backhaul into x-Haul (including fronthaul, midhaul and backhaul), with implications for mobile operators, network wholesalers and transport providers from both the technological and business aspects.”

He clarifies, “Fronthaul is a similar concept to backhaul, which, simply put, links the mobile network back to the wired network. Fronthaul is the connection between a new network architecture of centralised baseband controllers and remote standalone radio heads at cell sites. Similarly, ‘midhaul’ could be the link between the controller or the radio head that feeds the next link.”

Hagen says, “Internet of Things, smart energy, smart agriculture, and critical performance applications such as driverless cars are a few of the many applications for 5G technology. The supporting 5G x-Haul architecture will require not only significant bandwidth upgrades in backhaul transport links but in the distribution (midhaul) and access (fronthaul) network segments.

“…5G’s x-Haul architecture will aggregate data from multiple radios to distribution unit (DU) and central unit (CU) elements at significantly higher data rates than earlier generations. The fibre infrastructure required to aggregate 5G’s massive data requirements is central to the ‘new backhaul economy’.”

Alkesh Patel, SVP EMEA & India from ProLabs, says, “Success in this new economy will be driven by participants that adapt rapidly to solve the challenges of offering 5G x-Haul services. ProLabs offers high-quality optical transceivers  that not only cater to new 5G implementations but also support the move from legacy systems to 5G transport in a cost-effective manner.”

Staff writer