The Rise of Tower Sharing in Africa

Cell-Tower-Ghana-Increasingly-mobile-network-operators-all-over-Africa-are-looking-at-sharing-wireless-towers-to-save-on-microwave-radio-and-other-infrastructure-costs-06-Dec-2012-Aviat-blog

Cell tower, Ghana. Photo credit: aripeskoe2 / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

A growing telecommunications trend in South Africa and other emerging markets across the African continent is the move to cell tower sharing. There are many reasons for this, but the need to reduce capital expenditure (capex) on towers and other infrastructure and retarget spending toward network development, customer acquisition and retention and need to accommodate growing mobile data traffic levels have forced the issue.

The trend toward independent ownership of telecommunications infrastructure such as tower sites, with leasing arrangements for multiple operators on each tower, closely mirrors moves in mature telecommunications markets around the globe, including the U.S. and Europe, as well as other big emerging markets such as India and the Middle East.

Tower sharing prevalent
While there is some reluctance by industry incumbents to offload tower infrastructure because they fear losing market share and network coverage, the tower-sharing model is still becoming more prevalent. This is particularly evident in markets where there are new players trying to penetrate the market, as well as in countries where coverage in rural, sparsely populated areas is needed to drive growth. Other important factors, such as the rising cost of power in South Africa, or unreliable power delivery in other parts of the continent have also helped to drive this trend.

Thus, the adoption of this model has gained significant momentum in Africa since 2008, with major mobile operators in Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda striking deals to offload existing infrastructure to independent companies. These independent “tower operators” handle the operation and management of these towers, leasing space back on the towers to multiple network operators. This helps to reduce operating costs, improve efficiency and potentially boost an operator’s network coverage significantly and rapidly.

Smaller equipment requirements
To accommodate multiple network operators on a tower and cell site, smaller antennas are preferred, with additional requirements for smaller indoor equipment that draw less power. This configuration helps to decrease power consumption and cooling requirements resulting in more efficient use of diesel generators during times of power failure. However, having smaller antennas affects transmission power, capacity and efficiency. As such, mobile operators are turning to on-site solutions that offer all these benefits, but do not compromise on quality of service, capacity or data transmission speeds.

This also extends to the backhaul network, which often poses the most significant challenge for mobile network operators, especially as mobile networks continue to evolve from 2G and 3G to LTE. For example, as mobile networks continue to evolve, backhaul network architectures will need to change from simple point-to-point to more complex ring-based architectures. Operators that choose to share infrastructure will need on-site equipment that is capable of accommodating these changes, while still offering optimal transmit speeds and reduced operational costs.

Traditionally, most network operators also used optical fiber for their high-capacity fixed line core/trunking networks. However, as tower sharing becomes more prominent fewer operators are willing to spend the capital required to enable fixed-line backhaul from shared sites due to the associated costs. Therefore, more operators are turning to wireless backhaul as a suitable solution to transport data between the cell site and the core transport telephone network.

More capacity needed
As users demand more capacity on the access portion of the network, the core/trunking network also needs to sufficient capacity to be able to transport the aggregated traffic from all these sites. Many operators have turned to high-capacity trunking microwave systems to provide the required high capacity. These high-capacity trunking microwave systems have traditionally been installed indoors, usually in a standalone rack. They were also installed in a way that radio signal strength diminished significantly before reaching the antenna at the top of the tower, ,necessitating a bigger antenna to compensate. These all-indoor configurations also required big shelters and costly air conditioning.

Developing new technologies
In an effort to improve the efficiencies of mobile backhaul to meet modern demands, tower operators and their solution providers are reconfiguring these shared sites, and new technologies are being developed to solve these challenges.

For example, split-mount trunking solutions allow for up to four radio channels on a single microwave antenna, and lower costs associated with deploying and operating ultra-high capacity microwave links for increased capacity. Smaller and lighter antenna solutions can also be lifted and installed higher on towers more easily, which helps to decrease tower space and loading requirements, making these solutions less prone to wind damage. Moving radios from the shelter to the tower, next to the antenna, further reduces deployment and operational costs and simplifies antenna connections (e.g. eliminates inefficient, long waveguides; costly unreliable pressurization/dehydration systems). In these cases, smaller shelters or cabinets can be used, which decrease air-conditioning requirements even further.

However, regardless of how tower operators are able to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, the trend of this form of infrastructure sharing is set to continue, which will help to drive increased competitiveness in mobile markets across Africa. This will have a positive impact on the prices end-users pay for mobile data and voice services, and will help to accelerate the availability of connectivity across the continent.

Siphiwe Nelwamondo
Technical Marketing Manager, South Africa
Aviat Networks

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Building Ultra-Long IP Microwave Links

Ultra-Long-Microwave-Link-towers-in-Mojave-Desert-2007

Ultra-long microwave links between backhaul towers enable long-distance telecommunications in the Mojave Desert. Photo credit: °Florian / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Designing and engineering microwave radio networks has always been challenging and a bit of an art—especially when they are ultra-long point-to-point wireless networks. In an article published February 25, 2013, Aviat’s solutions architect Charles Dionne outlines some of the key considerations that need to be made when designing and building these ultra-long microwave backhaul links for point-to-point wireless networks.

The article on RCR Wireless provides an overview and detailed checklist of the relevant items for designing ultra-long point-to-point wireless microwave links including:

  • Site selection
  • Frequency selection
  • Antenna size
  • Atmospheric conditions

Readers will take away more than just a laundry list of potential pitfalls; they will gain an enhanced appreciation of the very specialized skills and thorough understanding of microwave technology that is necessary for successfully implementing point-to-point wireless microwave backhaul.

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Fiber Isn’t Everything: Key Role of Microwave in Mobile Backhaul

Fiber

If fiber is this much of a mess in your wiring closet, just imagine the difficulty of deploying it to your cell site. Image by DrBacchus (Rich Bowen) via Flickr

Last year in August, Aviat Networks presented its argument for why fiber optics technology isn’t everything where backhaul of wireless networks is concerned. If anything, this point has only been reinforced by analyses and anecdotal stories showing that fiber can be overkill for the mobile backhaul requirements of  LTE wireless. Plus, there is the simple truth that fiber cannot be deployed to every cell site due to financial and topological issues. That’s why microwave technology remains the world’s first choice for backhauling wireless networks. So let’s look at last year’s FierceWireless webinar slide presentation and refresh our memories.

These slides present the findings of an Ovum survey of North America’s largest backhaul players to understand their strategies regarding media types used to supply cell-site backhaul.

Ovum found that demand for wireless backhaul equipment in North America will continue to grow as mobile operators upgrade their networks to support higher-speed LTE networking technologies. The most common backhaul strategy for mobile operators in the region comprises leasing services over fiber combined with owning and operating microwave-based facilities. Microwave has a distinct advantage vis-a-vis leased services over the long-term due to the opex associated with leasing.

If you would like to see more, you may register for the on-demand replay of the full webinar. It will also present the latest trends and advancements in microwave transmission technology that support the evolution of mobile backhaul networks to all-IP.

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Feds Update Spectrum Release to Relieve Wireless Congestion

Photo of HTC Mogul smartphone

Smartphones such as the HTC Mogul are driving the demand for more wireless spectrum to be released.

To help relieve wireless network congestion, the Obama Administration made a commitment to release up to 500 MHz of spectrum for reuse in commercial wireless solutions. In April 2011, the NTIA updated the progress toward this commitment in its first interim report. This 500 MHz of spectrumcomprising 280 MHz of underused commercial spectrum and 220 MHz of federally owned radio spectrum now administered by the NTIAwould help ease the growing shortage of spectrum as demands on the wireless network rise. This demand is primarily fueled by the explosive adoption rate of smartphones and other mobile broadband devices and the corresponding infrastructure—both access and mobile backhaul—required to support their use.

The timescales and conditions for the availability of this spectrum is in the hands of the FCC and is expected to take about five years as the first part of its 10 year plan. However, the first four blocks of spectrum have recently been identified for release by the NTIA at 1675-1710 MHz, 1755-1780 MHz, 3500-3650 MHz, 4200-4220 MHz and 4380-4400 MHz.

It is estimated that an auction of 500 MHz of spectrum could raise more than $20 billion for the U.S Treasury.

Many wireless technology industry commentators expect the lower bands to be taken up for wireless access. But the higher three bands could be allocated for mobile backhaul use to begin the process of easing congestion in the current 6GHz bands.

The microwave backhaul industry welcomes this first step. We look forward to follow through on further spectrum releasesespecially in the 4 to 8GHz range—which is suitable for high-capacity trunking backhaul.

Ian Marshall
Regulatory Manager, Aviat Networks

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Backhaul for the Mobile Broadband or Wireless Broadband Network

iPad con dock y teclado inalámbrico

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As 2G and 3G networks enter the upgrade path to 4G wireless, it will require that more than the base stations receive new wireless solutions. The path to LTE wireless—odds-on favorite to be the dominant 4G technology—is paved with increasing data demand from smartphones, iPads, other tablet PCs, electronic readers and probably some other intelligent mobile computing devices yet to be imagined.

All these devices will place throughput demands on the base stations, which in turn will place greater demands on the mobile backhaul network. Even as 4G devices place demands on mobile backhaul, the 2G and 3G technologies will be in place for sometime, coexisting in the same networks with 4G. In these situations, IP/Ethernet will be the next-generation networks‘ transport technology of choice.

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Small Cell Mobile Backhaul: The LTE Capacity Shortfall

With immense mass-market demand for mobile broadband services, and emergence of new high-capacity mobile devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets) and applications, many of the world’s most advanced mobile networks are struggling to deliver a high-quality consumer experience. Explosion of per-user data consumption, combined with subscriber growth and mobility needs, is putting today’s networks are under tremendous pressure. In addition, as operators continuously evolve networks with the latest technology (e.g., 2G, 3G, 4G) to meet these capacity and coverage demands, network costs are exploding and operators are struggling to keep up profitable businesses.

LTE, representing a 4x capacity improvement over current 3G networks, on its own will be insufficient to address all future capacity demands, as mobile data traffic will double every year equating to a 32x growth by 2014 (Figure 1).

32x backhaul capacity demand jump

Figure 1: The forecast 32x jump in data demand cannot be met alone by LTE, which can only offer a 4x increase over current wireless technologies.

Increasing spectral efficiency with new versions of LTE will help manage the shortfall, but these solutions are not yet available and again will not provide the volume of capacity necessary. Acquiring more spectrum would help but additional spectrum is costly and in most cases not available. Traffic management approaches such as caching and mobile data offloading are emerging to help manage the load but because of limited cache hit rates, these solutions will be insufficient to address the capacity shortfall. Offload techniques, such as in-home femto cells and mobile offload gateways, are emerging to reduce load on mobile infrastructure, but again they will be insufficient. A new approach is required.

Emergence of Small Cells

To meet these capacity challenges, and address ever-prevalent coverage issues, new small cell network architectures are emerging based on a new generation of low power, small cell (i.e., micro, pico, femto) mobile base stations. ABI Research estimates 4 million pico base stations will be shipped per year by 2015. Being deployed into an existing network on lampposts, utility poles and building walls, these base stations offer a way for operators to meet challenges of urban, suburban and in-building locations. Combined with existing base station infrastructure, these small cells are transforming the flat macro mobile network into a multi-level, hierarchical radio access network (Figure 2).

Macro, Pico & Femto base stations

Figure 2: Combined with existing macro base station infrastructure, small cells are transforming the flat mobile network into a multi-level, hierarchical radio access network.

Small Cell Backhaul: Wired or Wireless

When considering IP mobile backhaul options, operators must first ponder the choice between wireline or wireless solutions. There is generally no “one-size-fits-all” solution, and in reality we’re likely to see a mix of mobile backhaul technologies deployed to meet the small cell backhaul challenge. However, because of challenging utility pole and lamppost deployments, operators cannot count on fixed line options (e.g., fiber, cable, copper/DSL) being ubiquitously available. Moreover, more than 40 percent of the world’s macrocell base stations are backhauled wirelessly and because of these challenging locations, we’re likely to see a much higher percentage of wireless-based backhaul in small cell applications.

Wireless Backhaul for Small Cells: Challenges

Small cell deployments present a number of challenges—not the least of which is impact on mobile backhaul. Operators—and equipment vendors—must consider the key factors below when selecting (and designing) wireless backhaul solutions for small cells:

Lower cost solutions needed—Smaller cells mean more cells and thus more mobile backhaul. To meet overall cost objectives, lower cost backhaul solutions will be required to make sure small cells can be deployed cost effectively. Typical macrocell backhaul CapEx is about 50 percent of the total base station CapEx, and similar ratios will be required to ensure a cost-effective solution.

Space-optimized solutions required—To improve street-level coverage and capacity, small cells are being deployed on lampposts and utility poles. These challenging deployment locations place demands on the physical attributes of backhaul solutions. Unlike traditional cellsites, typical dish antennas will not be feasible for such deployments. In addition, because of space constraints and operations costs, backhaul and base station hardware integrated into common enclosures would be ideal.

Line-of-Sight (LOS) not possible—Street level, metro area deployments mean line of sight to backhaul hub locations are not always—in fact—rarely possible. Requiring large antennas, combined with lack of LOS characteristics, makes traditional point-to-point wireless backhaul ineffective for most small cell backhaul applications.

Interference must be carefully managed—When it comes to wireless backhaul solutions, close proximity of cellsites creates possible interference issues for the backhaul system. These interference issues are relatively new for backhaul systems and need to be considered.

High-capacity solutions required—Driven by increasing demand for mobile data, backhaul requirements for small cells are expected to approach macro cell capacity requirements (50-100Mbps per cellsite) in the next three years.

Which challenges matter most will depend heavily on how small cells eventually are deployed. Stay tuned for a followup blog post where I discuss small cell backhaul deployment options and available solutions to address these needs. In the meantime, feel free to leave me your thoughts, or comments.

Gary Croke
Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Aviat Networks

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Aviat Networks in the News: Highlights & What’s Ahead in Wireless

France Télécom phone booth in Wellington, New ...

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This month we have a few technology updates from our travels abroad to London and Amsterdam where we presented our perspectives on backhaul at two LTE conferences.

In May, Stuart Little, our director of global corporate marketing, presented at an LTE backhaul conference organized by Telecom IQ in London. Stuart hosted a workshop that focused on the current challenges faced by mobile service providers while preparing their backhaul networks to meet the demand of next generation LTE broadband services. Comprising an intimate crowd of mostly operators, the conference focused on a series of operator presentations, panel discussions and roundtable conversations. Representatives from operators such as BT, Telenor, France Telecom, Telecom Italia, Vodafone, Mobitel and Saudi Telecom were in attendance. Some key issues discussed focused on the backhaul needs of LTE, which are difficult to predict. With a few exceptions, most LTE deployments to-date are limited or in the trial phase. Operators are also grappling with a mix of technologies in their networks, making migration to all-IP a huge and complicated task.

While in London, Stuart also spoke at the 13th annual Transport Networks for Mobile Operators (TNMO) Conference on May 10. TNMO is one of the largest conferences in Europe focused purely on backhaul transport networks. This year, Aviat Networks participated by presenting on the topic of “Realistic Capacity Requirements for LTE,” or why fiber is not the only answer, and took part in a panel discussion on Carrier Ethernet for mobile backhaul. The conference was fairly well attended, with a packed agenda that covered the full range of transport challenges from the access to the core. Numerous solutions to the problem of delivering more capacity to meet expected demand were discussed, including network sharing, microcells, network offload and intelligent backhaul optimization techniques. It seems that there is no single winner in the race to find a solution. Operators are going to have to choose from an array of options to get the right fit for their particular needs.

Over in Amsterdam, Peter Croy, our senior IP network architect, presented on the topic of Carrier Ethernet for LTE mobile backhaul requirements at the LTE World Summit. Not sure if you have read previous blogs or joined in our webinars on this subject, but Peter is a well versed expert on backhaul. See his overview from the conference.

With summer fast approaching and vacations looming, June will be a bit slower. Good thing as planning will begin for some major events and shows coming in the fall and early 2012.

An event you won’t want to miss is the 1588v2 Synchronization for Mobile Backhaul Networks Webinar on June 6. Hosted by Patrick Donegan, senior analyst at Heavy Reading. This webinar will bring together leading vendors and operators to develop best practice guidelines for operators as they deploy the 1588v2 standard. Drawing on real implementation case studies, industry leaders will demonstrate where some implementations have gone wrong in the past and what leading operators and vendors are now doing right to deploy this key standard. Please join us for this highly interactive webinar. The webinar is co-hosted by Errol Binda, our very own solutions marketing manager.

Another interesting event is the National Urban Areas Security Initiative Conference (UASI) conference held in San Francisco, June 20-23. This conference is in cooperation with Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Grants Programs Directorate. The conference will provide an opportunity for stakeholders from all areas of homeland security and emergency preparedness to gather and exchange important information to make the United States safer.

We will have a booth, No. 85 in the Continental Ballroom, at the conference where we will display our public safety solutions along with showcasing all-indoor configurations of Eclipse Packet Node. Ali Hirsa from Aviat Networks will be at the booth to answer any questions you may have.

That’s it for now. I will be back in touch next month to update you on the latest happenings at Aviat Networks. Until then, follow the dialogue and news on our social sites.

www.aviatnetworks.com

www.facebook.com/AviatNet

www.twitter.com/aviatnetworks

www.blog.aviatnetworks.com

www.youtube.com/aviatnetworks

Cyndy Johnson
Director of Corporate Communications, Aviat Networks

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Pictures From LTE World Summit (for 4G Wireless)

random pics of amsterdam

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As we outlined last month, Aviat Networks was sending a representative to the LTE World Summit in May—me. With all apologies to Mussorgsky, we would like to present a few mental pictures from the event in Amsterdam. Presenters came from some of the leading Tier 1 mobile operators in the Americas, Asia and Europe. So without further adieu, on with the show.

Americas

An American carrier with operations in EMEA and APAC presented LTE as a major driver in its U.S. wireless strategy. They have the audacious goal of rolling out LTE into even more metro areas, covering nearly 200 million people in the U.S. by the end of 2011. Continuing to launch new handsets has the possibility of making this carrier more attractive for customers.

Asia

One Asian operator has launched LTE in the 2100MHz band exclusively through “remote radio heads” that connect back via fiber to base band radio units hosting multiple antennas and radio carriers. They are on course to switch off 2G—not GSM compatible—in early 2012 and focus exclusively on rolling out LTE while halting investment even in 3G UMTS and HSPA.

Europe

One European operator proposed to launch LTE for fixed-wireless broadband coverage in German “not spots”—as opposed to hot spots—that lack both copper and fiber infrastructure. Their main concern for LTE is obtaining enough spectrum and the upcoming auction of 800MHz spectrum for wider coverage areas. They believe LTE will deliver Internet access services well and predictably.

Another European operator has launched LTE in six Nordic and Baltic markets, with Lithuania becoming the last addition this March. In Stockholm, a recent drive survey found that there was no spot with less than 20Mbps peak rate in the surveyed area of the operator. The main concern for this operator is the agreement on spectrum bands for LTE. They have proposed a tri-band approach: 800MHz for countrywide blanket coverage, 1800MHz for suburban/urban capacity/coverage and 2600MHz for small cells and indoor capacity. They are not planning to build a Voice over LTE (VoLTE) IMS core network system to support SIP based voice. They will instead rely solely on CS-fallback—i.e., put voice on their 3G/HSPA network.

And for one European operator, its backhaul network hosting for several U.K. mobile networks will get more challenging as those networks upgrade to LTE. Backhaul capacity concerns remain an issue for wholesalers that plan to provide services to multiple carriers.

Peter Croy
Senior IP Network Architect, Aviat Networks

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