An interesting feature of the new 3GPP Release 16 standards for 5G is support for Integrated Access Backhaul (IAB), which can use high capacity spectrum bands, mainly in millimeter wave, for both access and transport. Ericsson and Verizon are now working on a proof-of-concept trial.
Although Verizon said it prefers fiber as the ideal backhaul solution for most 5G base stations, in areas where fiber is absent or expensive, it can rely on IAB. That could be a temporary solution, with the data transferred to fiber when that link is deployed. That would avoid long delays in offering service, in areas where local regulations make it hard to run fiber quickly.
Flexibility is important to Verizon, which has a fairly limited FTTx footprint, and often has to rely on third party fiber connections, sometimes from rivals like AT&T. However, it has been investing heavily in its own fiber through acquisition, build-out and partnerships.
“Fiber is the ideal connection between our network facilities. It carries a ton of data, is reliable, and has a long roadmap ahead as far as technological advancements. It is essential. However, this new IAB technology allows us to deploy 5G service more quickly and then fill in the essential fiber at a later time,” said Bill Stone, VP of planning for Verizon.
Verizon is in the strongest position, among the US operators, in ownership of mmWave spectrum, which will be the best type of airwaves to support IAB because of its plentiful capacity.
AT&T, which has also built up extensive holdings in mmWave, mainly in 39 GHz rather than Verizon’s 28 GHz, will also be testing IAB this year and aims to use it from 2021.
Verizon said the IAB PoC would also focus on quick connection of new or temporary cells, perhaps for emergency response applications. The telco is trying to defend its strong position in the US public safety market, despite AT&T winning the contract to build and run the dedicated FirstNet safety network. Verizon said IAB would be a good alternative to fiber or satellite, coupled with portable generators, for instant cell sites.
Stone said: “IAB technology gives us many more options to ensure communications resources are where our first responders need them anytime they call on us.”