Mobile operators remain focused on ethernet on fibre as the most common solution to backhaul problems but are starting to explore virtualisation, new research has claimed.
A report from Infonetics has found that ethernet on fiber will be the most-used technology for macrocell backhaul connections by 2016, followed by Ethernet-only microwave.
A minority of operators is planning to virtualise their backhaul network "at some point", with 29 percent planning to introduce software defined networking. More than six in 10 percent said they are continuing to evaluate its potential currently.
The report stated that downstream bandwidth was seen as operator's most important service-level agreement metric (92 percent), followed by jitter, latency, and upstream bandwidth.
Increasingly, operators are looking for vendors that can support their strategies for holistic, flexible future-proofed networks, according to Infonetics.
Meanwhile, operators have yet to deploy small cells at scale but it is anticipated that around 20 percent of traffic will be switched from the macro network onto them by 2018.
Richard Webb, Directing Analyst for Mobile Backhaul and Small Cells at Infonetics Research, commented: "The mobile network is evolving to incorporate small cells, distributed antenna systems, remote radio heads, and Wi-Fi, and though the macrocell layer still does the heavy lifting when it comes to traffic handling, the backhaul network behind all this is becoming increasingly complex.
"Our macrocell backhaul study reveals the extent to which operators are looking at software-defined networking and network functions virtualisation (NFV) solutions to provide greater backhaul flexibility and cost-savings."
The report follows research earlier this month from ABI Research, which said that small cells as a service was starting to lead to more deployments. It said operators' concerns about sourcing sites, as well as solving power and backhaul issues were being increasingly solved.