Sprint Opts for Microwave Radio over Fiber for Backhaul

Sprint-opts-for-microwave-over-fiber-in-backhaul-Aviat-Networks-March-10-2016In late January and into February 2016, a big tumult ensued when Sprint announced that it would begin to move its mobile backhaul strategy from one based on leased fiber to another based on owned microwave radio. The story first ran in technology news site Re/code and quickly got reposted with additional commentary by FierceWireless, Wireless Week and others, and which was reiterated this week in RCR Wireless.

While the breathtaking headlines about reducing costs by $1 billion caught most people’s attention—primarily through reducing tower leasing costs and not using competitors’ networks—lower down in the copy came a potent reminder from Sprint about the economic benefits of microwave radio. It also highlighted the fact that backhaul has entered a transitional period (see article end for more on that).

Most of that $1 billion that Sprint seeks to save comes by way of moving away from AT&T and Verizon fiber backhaul networks. You might think that Sprint would build its own fiber network instead. But that would take too long and still have an exorbitant price tag associated with it. It’s a function of both out-of-pocket capital costs and embedded lost opportunity costs. Bottom line: laying fiber connections is expensive and slow. Putting up a network of high-speed, broadband microwave relay towers is quicker and easier.

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Fishing for the Small Cell Red Herring

Fishing-for-Small-Cell-Red-Herring-Aviat-Networks-microwave-backhaul-blog-February-22-2014

Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA

As the telecom community searches for reasons why Small Cell architectures have not yet launched en masse, “experts” are quick to suggest that lack of backhaul technology as the key perpetrator.

As I wrote in a 2013 article, starting with wireless microwave communications (6-42GHz frequency range), solutions for backhaul both large and small are available and effective today for mobile operators.

This is the second in a series that highlights technology available to enable immediate deployment of small cell backhaul. This segment focuses on the convenience of using wireless E-band as a complement to microwave for small cell backhaul, while bringing to light some of the true obstacles to small cell adoption.

E-band is a part of the electromagnetic frequency spectrum in the millimeter range between 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz. In recent years, there has been more interest in this frequency band, because traditional microwave (6-40 GHz) bands are now very congested in parts of the world, and that with the densification of mobile networks due to the introduction of 3G/HSPA and 4G/LTE, link distances between cell sites are shrinking in urban areas.

The surge in interest in a new network of outdoor small cells is driving a new approach toward cost-effective wireless solutions for backhaul. E-band offers a large swath of available spectrum with more than 10 GHz at stake—it represents more bandwidth than all the combined open frequency bands below 40 GHz.

What is needed is an all-outdoor, packet millimeterwave radio, offering a rich set of features, expressly built to support mobile (macro and small) backhaul by:

  • Conforming to planning and local authority “community-friendly” aesthetics and design approval guidelines
  • Eliminating external parabolic antennas, thus enabling significant savings on shipping, storage and handling costs
  • Weighing dramatically less than competing solutions, resulting in easier handling and installation within 30 minutes
  • Consuming less power, allowing flexibility in electrical source options such as via fixed supplies or Power over Ethernet (PoE), with built-in surge protection

As the world becomes increasingly urbanized—for the first time ever, more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in dense urban areas—it is also the place where we communicate the most and networks are most stressed to keep up. Small cell designs offer a convenient method to densify networks.

However, my prediction is that in the near to medium term, deployments will be surgical—to plug gaps where coverage is poor and to fill hot-spots where incremental capacity is needed. It is important to note that outdoor, public access small cells will coexist and in some ways compete with other densification solutions, including DAS, wi-fi, and additional macro cell builds. Small cells may indeed need to be backhauled from light poles and building sides, but ultimately they need to go where they need to go, while serving the primary goal of not-spot and hot-spot filler.

The more pressing obstacles for outdoor small cells include the method operators use to assess the business case and solve the construction and site acquisition challenges borne by the paradigm shift. The expectation is that the ecosystem will produce a solution that makes small cells easier and cheaper to deploy than macro cells. The problem with that thinking is the economics of it all. The business case will continue to struggle to prove out vs. macro cell, as scalability and network dimensioning quickly come at odds with requirements for unbridled capacity, high reliability and network intelligence.

Operators think they may be vying for a diminutive device supporting multi-generational, multi-band, multi-media and multi-OSI-layers, but that utopian requirement breeds complex challenges in permitting, site acquisition, interference, costs, and so on—all items recently in the pick-list of a flash poll by Light Reading. I maintain that we are not just over-thinking, but over-expecting the benefits of a pure-play small cell rollout. We might all be better off following the “K-I-S-S” principle for the foreseeable future, which might produce this guidance:

  1. Use small cells only where it makes sense
  2. Deploy it with tried and true technology (i.e., wireless microwave)
  3. Consider E-band for expansion in dense urban outdoor environments
  4. Be mindful about keeping your budget in the black, but don’t stress about challenges that need not manifest in your business

So here’s to Keeping it Small and Simple!

Louis Scialabba
Senior Manager of Marketing
Aviat Networks

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More on E-band Backhaul: a Tale of Two Operators

Tight city spaces will need small E-band radios for microcell backhaul. Photo credit: La Citta Vita / Foter / CC BY-SA

Tight city spaces will need small E-band radios for microcell backhaul. Photo credit: La Citta Vita / Foter / CC BY-SA

The last time we were together, we discussed the prospects for urban backhaul in 2014. True, it will be a very exciting time in the 70 GHz and 80 GHz E-band frequencies. The promise of small cells is finally coming to fruition after the hype cycle had all but chewed and spit them out. Remember when you first heard of DSL and cable modem? By the time you could get one, the media had stopped talking about them for at least two years. But we’re digressing.

The point is that with cellular network subscribers actually able to connect to these microcell base stations, the need for a viable backhaul solution has come to a head. E-band to the rescue! And the need is not just with the established players to extend their mobile networks into the city cores backed by radio backhaul. By opening up the 70 and 80GHz frequencies to commercial backhaul applications, regulators have created an opportunity for new market entrants to move under the radar and grab share from the legacy carriers, who had previously discounted this spectrum.

With very aggressive pricing and novel tariffs that offer a bare minimum of 50 MB for data downloads and two hours of airtime for the equivalent of less than 3 dollars/month, as an example from Aviat research, a provider of mobile services such as these would need to be very creative capitalizing its backhaul requirements. As it turns out, on a per-link basis, an 80GHz nationwide backhaul license can be had for less than if the operator bought individual licenses everywhere it provides coverage—in one nation, in any event. At least, it would be true once a provider’s backhaul sites pass into four-figures territory.

Nonetheless, it’s a remarkable development made possible by the world shrinking figuratively and people living in closer quarters as never before. Brought to you by (the letter) E-band backhaul!

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Urban Backhaul with 70-80GHz E-band Radios

E-band-millimeterwave-backhaul-radios-in-the-70GHz-and-80GHz-spectrum-will-be-able-of-mounting-on-various-urban-infrastructure-Aviat-Networks-blog-17-January-2014

Urban infrastructure for E-band radio. Photo credit: christine592 / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

For years and years, microwave and millimeterwave radio technologies have coexisted without very much overlap in either their markets or applications. Microwave radio served telephone company needs (e.g., long distance backhaul, mobile access aggregation) for the bulk of its implementations with some vertical deployments for oil and gas, public safety and utilities organizations. Typically, licensed bands in service ranged from 6GHz to 42GHz—with 11GHz and under popular for long haul; 18-38GHz trendy for short urban hops. Generally, millimeterwave radio is considered to be between the 60GHz and 80GHz bands and found its applications confined to those for intra-campus communication from building to building for universities, civic centers, other government conglomerations and large, spread-out (i.e., 1 to 5 miles) corporate facilities.

More recently, E-band has seen its profile rise, as mobile operators have had to “densify” their networks to service the more tightly packed populations moving into larger and larger cities around the world. This is due to at least two factors: the shorter distances between wireless sites in urban locations and the lack of available spectrum in the traditional microwave bands. E-band radios are now starting to be deployed to aggregate traffic from macro cell base stations in the Gotham-esque landscapes of the 21st century and the new small cell transceivers that venture where no full-size mobile base station can tread.

So into this brave new world of urban backhaul, next-wave E-band radios have been thrust. But small form-factors and spectrum availability are not going to be enough to ensure the success of this new generation of millimeterwave equipment. Additional features will be necessary. They will need capabilities such as:

  • Integrated antennas to enable quick installation, minimize visual impact on city dwellers and overall promote “community friendly” backhaul
  • Light weight for lessened load factors on light poles, street signs and other non-traditional metro wireless infrastructure
  • Wide channels up to 250MHz in size
  • Scalable capacity starting at 350 Mbps to 1 Gbps with room to grow

It is an exciting time in the E-band space in early 2014. We will share more as the year progresses. Check back regularly to stay apprised of developments.

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E-Band Global Regulation Roundup

Because of need for higher capacities, the trend toward shorter link distances for mobile backhaul and declining product costs, 70/80GHz (i.e., E-band) solutions are gathering significant interest for mobile backhaul and enterprise access applications. However, because these frequencies are new to most people, there is little understanding of costs and other issues related to licensing the 70-80GHz spectrum.

As a service to network operators, Aviat Networks recently finished its update on the status of costs and regulation for E-band frequencies for a large number of countries around the world. This document (registration required) examines the regulatory requirements that apply around the globe for operation in these bands.

Details of comparative license costs are also available in another document (registration also required). We believe that we have covered all the countries of interest to most network operators and some in addition to those. If there are any specific countries missing, please let us know with a comment.

Ian Marshall
Regulatory Manager
Aviat Networks

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Mobile World Congress 2012 Day 2

Aviat Networks meets customers at Mobile World Congress 2012

Aviat Networks personnel were busy on Day 2 of Mobile World Congress 2012 meeting customers, analysts and journalists.

So we are halfway done, and the crowds surged today. The GSMA should be pretty pleased with the attendance, with most halls being packed full. We had another busy day in our pavilion, meeting with customers, press, media and analysts, bringing them up to speed with our success in providing proven backhaul solutions for LTE networks around the world.

There has been lots of discussion at the show about small cells and possible backhaul solutions but not much in the way of visible solutions. On the backhaul side 60 GHz point-to-point seems to be the flavor of the month, with NEC launching its new solution, among others. Not long ago E-Band (70-90 GHz) was the favorite, but concerns about OPEX appear to be driving vendors to the lower frequency band, which is license-free, as opposed to the “lightly licensed” E-Band. Whether this actually will make any meaningful difference in the overall cost of providing backhaul for small cells may depend on a lot of factors. What is certain is that it is too early to tell, as many agree that deployment of small cells will still be one to two years away yet, so the best backhaul solutions may still be on the drawing board. All we know is that no single technology will be a clear winner, and that all solutions will need to satisfy the requirements of very low cost, sufficient capacity, size and ease of deployment.

On a similar and related front, Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent among others were promoting their new integrated/Carrier Wi-Fi solutions, fresh off the recent news of Ericsson’s acquisition of BelAir Networks. Carrier Wi-Fi promises to converge mobile and Wi-Fi technologies to provide a seamless broadband experience for customers and improve network coverage and capacity as an alternative to deploying new cell sites.

Finally, for those willing to stay late and tolerate the queue into the conference auditorium, Google’s Eric Schmidt gave another thought-provoking and potentially controversial keynote about Google’s vision for the mobile Internet. You should be able to catch a replay on the GSMA’s Mobile World Live website sometime soon.

See you on Day 3!

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