What is Wireless Backhaul?

Monday, November 27, 2023

Wireless backhaul is the process of moving content between the Internet and parts of a larger network without physical cabling. Instead of wires, the “backhauling of wireless traffic” takes place in an exchange between fiber optic networks and microwave towers to transmit signals between access points. 

The need for wireless backhaul can most easily be understood in remote or rural areas where end-to-end physical cabling is either not possible or cost-prohibitive. 

Backhauling to Meet Rural America’s High Bandwidth Needs 

In the world of network infrastructure, wireless backhaul has become a trending topic due in large part to the growing needs of America’s remote communities. Driving demand for high-bandwidth connectivity are applications like streaming content, which until recently has only been accessible through more expensive yet unreliable satellite connections. For most others, the idea of reliable, low-cost, high-speed Internet access has mostly been a wish but now that’s beginning to change.

Connecting rural communities to the Internet involves a challenging arrangement of different technologies and providers that must work together often over uncompromising terrain to complete a chain between major data centers and rural users. 

The significant investments required to connect rural America to its metro centers aren’t being done solely to provide entertainment to residents in their homes. Today’s connected rural communities now have access to other important resources like public sector information, social connections, telehealth, online banking, distance learning and much more. High-speed Internet also offers pathways to transform rural industries through the Internet of Things (IoT). Applications like smart agriculture, greenhouse automation, and cattle monitoring and maintenance are just a few of the many uses being deployed because of advancements in connectivity.

From personal uses and ways to automate industry, connected rural communities are benefiting from the investments made to backhaul traffic where they are.

Completing the Chain With Fiber, the Middle Mile and Wireless Backhaul

The challenge with delivering the Internet to rural environments has literally been the lack of physical connectivity. While some of the pieces are easier to have in place other critical elements aren’t as easily deployed. 

In many of these communities, residential houses, businesses, and government buildings are accessible to Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISP), which, in turn, are connected to repeater microwave stations but that’s often where the operational infrastructure ends. If rural users can’t reach the Internet it’s because they literally don’t have a physical connection to it. 

The missing ingredient is a fiber optic-based middle-mile provider, like FiberLight, which backhauls the original wireless signaling – from those houses, businesses, government buildings, and the towers connected to them to a fiber optic hub or POP. Once done, wireless traffic has successfully moved onto a fiber optic network, which is then backhauled to a data center in a nearby metro area. 

What begins as a wireless connection becomes terrestrial after intersecting with the fiber network. With the addition of a fiber-optic provider to backhaul the wireless traffic, the chain connecting rural houses to the Internet is complete. 

Backhauling Explained

Often, the small Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) that serve rural communities are challenged by the large geographic footprint they oversee. Even when that property comes in contact with a fiber optic network it could still be quite a distance from properties they serve. In cases where it’s 50-70 kilometers away, spans of either microwave or aggregate transmission towers are needed in order to get closer to the fiber network. When the wireless and fiber-optic networks meet, the data traffic rides across the middle-mile network to the nearest metro area where the connection intersects with an IP gateway data center for Internet connectivity.

With all connections made, it’s showtime for backhaul and the end-user. With a few taps of their smartphone, a few clicks of their mouse, or buttons pressed on their remote control rural users are connecting with the content provider whose delivery network can be a hundred miles away. For content to play, it travels the middle mile, over a fiber optic network before being taken up by microwave towers to complete a wireless connection to the home, business, or building. Unbeknownst to the user FiberLight is “backhauling” content across their network to make the connection with the data center.
FiberLight has more than 17,000 fiber route miles in some of the most remote regions of the United States. To learn more about FiberLight’s wireless backhaul expertise visit our solutions page or read related topics such as Building the Texas of Tomorrow: Q&A with Ron Kormos.