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What is backhaul in networking?

Backhaul in communications networks are the links, or carriage of communications data over those links connecting the core network to edge networks closer to the end-customer. The backhaul links can be optical fiber, copper or wireless (microwave, WiFi, satellite) based. An example of backhaul is mobile backhaul whereby communications data is transported over links between 4G/5G wireless network cell sites as part of the Radio Access Network at the edge of the wireless network, and mobile core networks.

In 5G mobile networks, cell site densification, the number of connected devices, network cloudification, disaggregation and requirements for supporting low latency and throughput for 5G applications has required an evolution of mobile transport networks and the backhaul of mobile data. Most of these connections are deployed over dedicated fiber optical links or microwave links.

In 5G, the need for the fronthaul network is created, increasing the number of radio units, along with disaggregation of the 5G network devices, specifically the radio units, distributed units (DUs), and control units (CUs). The fronthaul network comes into existence between the radio unit and the distributed unit. The diagram below shows the evolution from existing deployments without any fronthaul networks or disaggregated components to the fully disaggregated deployment scenario. Looking from the bottom scenario, the RU, DU, and CU are collocated, with a single backhaul connection to the mobile core network. Moving up the figure, as we separate the components, the fronthaul link is added between the radio unit and the distributed unit.

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