Three Elements to IP/MPLS Success in the Microwave Access

Three Elements to IP/MPLS Success in the Microwave Access

In microwave communications—as in all electronic communications mediums—operators trend toward the latest technologies (e.g., IP/MPLS). They all have conditioning to think that newer is better. And by and large that’s right.

However, when it comes to IP/MPLS—one of the most advanced packet technologies—you need to handle this concept with care. Especially in a mixed infrastructure that includes microwave, fiber and other potential backhaul transport.

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Mt. Otto: 11,000-foot Microwave Site Install in Papua New Guinea

Aviat Networks and its partners Kordia and Eltek installed an entirely off-the-grid microwave repeater and spur atop 11,000-foot Mt. Otto in Papua New Guinea.

Aviat Networks installed an entirely off-the-grid microwave repeater and spur atop 11,000-foot Mt. Otto in Papua New Guinea. Image credit: Shutterstock

In all its years, Aviat Networks has installed a great many microwave radios and in some very interesting places. On the sides of the largest dams. On top of the most famous bridges. Deep in the Aboriginal Outback. Way out to sea. In the frozen wastes of the Great White North.

Our latest triumph of man and mechanism over elements comes by way of Papua New Guinea, one of the last lands to be touched by the progress of high technology.

Deep in the heart of this primordial island nation, an imposing mountain stands: Mt. Otto, nearly 11,000 feet (3500m) of steep slopes and very little summit. Few people climb it. There are virtually no roads of which to speak. The only practical way to bring wireless telecom gear up is via helicopter.

However, Aviat Networks was equal to the challenge. Aviat’s services department is loaded with can-do problem-solvers keen to tackle projects like this. In this case, a critical issue for the Mt. Otto site revolved around power. Issue resolved with a big Eltek generator, part of an amazing energy solution that powers an Aviat WTM 6000 14+2 repeater with a 7+1 spur—all built to run at Mt. Otto’s high altitude without supervision for extended periods. If we look a bit closer at the site specs, we will see:

  • 2 x WTM 6000 15+0 Ethernet with 1+1 SDH (design capacity of 3Gbps; normal operation close to 4Gbps)
  • 1 x WTM 6000 6+0 Ethernet with 1+1 SDH (design capacity of 1.5Gbps normal operation; close to 2Gbps)
  • 12 foot antennas in a Space Diversity configuration across a 91km path
  • 8- and 10-foot antennas to other spur sites

Heady stuff.

To keep the site online, an array of 96 solar panels powers the microwave radios with 24 kW of electricity. As backup, the 80KVA Eltek generator provides up of five days of continuous current in case of extended cloudy weather. It is capable of this as it runs on fuel that’s kept warm in a modular container. Otherwise the fuel would freeze solid in the thin mountain air. A large battery installation provides an extra five days of backup power. Those same solar panels top off the charge on these 57,000 pounds (25,704 kg) of batteries. It’s a closed system completely designed for 100 percent off-the-grid operation.

To complete the site, required dozens of sorties airlifting personnel and all the material necessary to build and install the site. Overall, the Mt. Otto site is an amazing accomplishment in a super remote and hard-to-get-to place.

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85 Microwave Operators tell us their Biggest Backhaul Challenge

England-Campion-Hills-communications-mast-with-microwave-antennae-Aviat-Networks-blog-30July13

England: Campion Hills communications mast with microwave antennae. Photo credit: David Stowell [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The general mobile industry sentiment has typically been that the capacity bottleneck is the biggest challenge in backhaul. Thus, the focus has been on adding more capacity to address the surge of 3G and now 4G traffic. So you might think that this concern would rank first, particularly among microwave-centric operators, who are often looking to maximize their network throughput. We recently commissioned the experts at Heavy Reading to do a custom survey to get some quantifiable data to clarify this key question and a few others.

85 mobile operators were selected and surveyed globally, including a good cross-section from both developed and emerging markets. The respondents were screened to ensure that they all had a stake in microwave-specific backhaul: 93 percent had deployed microwave and the rest had plans to deploy it. In fact, 45 percent were categorized as heavy microwave users—those where more than 50 percent of their cell sites were served by microwave backhaul.

So we asked this select group, which consisted of mostly planners, engineers and strategy leaders, “What is the biggest challenge your company faces regarding the future development and deployment of microwave backhaul?” 

The results were interesting in that “total cost of ownership” actually eclipsed “increasing capacity” as their biggest challenge, as shown in the pie chart of survey responses below.

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All-Outdoor Microwave Radios: Site Considerations

One of the great things about the microwave radio market today is the diversity of products available to network operators. But like many situations where there is a glut of options, it tends to put more stress on making the right choice.

An operator looking at products in the microwave radio sector will notice that there are three general categories of product to choose from: all-indoor, split-mount and all-outdoor, and within each, they are myriad different flavors.

All-outdoor radios are the most recent addition to the microwave radio party, and for the sake of easy reference, I’ll refer to them as ODRs (outdoor radios). These self-contained systems incorporate the traffic interfaces, switching/multiplexing elements, radio modem and radio transceiver—all packaged in a weatherproof outdoor housing. By contrast, an outdoor unit (ODU) used in split-mount systems only contains the radio transceiver, which connects to a radio modem embedded in an indoor unit (IDU). In a split-mount radio system, the IDU also provides the traffic interfaces and switching/multiplexing elements.

The rationale for ODRs is straightforward—networks are getting denser, new sites are getting smaller and established sites more densely populated. Space for equipment such as IDUs is at a premium and costs of upgrading sites with bigger equipment shelters is often not viable or possible due to site constraints. As a result, more network devices are being repackaged for deployment outdoors on supporting structures such as towers, walls or masts. Advances in electronics have made microwave radios viable for all-outdoor treatment, so ODRs came into being.

They did so to a fanfare of claims that pointed to fantastic gains in terms of operator TCO (total cost of ownership). No doubt, an ODR can deliver cost benefits, but it is important to fully scope and quantify those benefits, because although ODRs represent simplification in terms of product architecture, most networks have remained stubbornly complex. In practical terms, this means for each type of site in the network an operator needs to closely examine the gains an ODR might generate vs. a split-mount radio, for example. Our experience is that ODRs provide the most operator benefits at sites where:

  • One gigabit Ethernet (GbE) interface is adequate
  • Only a single local device will be connected (such as an LTE basestation)
  • There are no requirements to aggregate traffic from “downstream” sites
  • Out-of-band management facilities are not required
  • Non-protected (1+0) link configuration is adequate

Once operators consider sites with requirements beyond this scope—usually the majority—then ODRs (somewhat ironically) start to generate complexity and cost. This becomes manifest in the form of multiple Ethernet cable runs, multiple power cable runs, multiple PoE injectors, multiple lightning protection devices and, in some cases, the need for a separate outdoor Ethernet switch.

Even at modestly complex sites, the overhead costs ODRs can generate mean that a split-mount radio will often be a more effective option and deliver better TCO, assuming space can be found. On that note it is worth highlighting that IDUs already deployed at such sites are often modular and can be scaled without consuming any additional rack space, and the most advanced fixed (i.e., non-modular) IDUs only consume a half-rack unit of space.

On the surface, the case for ODRs can seem compelling but before jumping in, I would encourage operators to carefully examine how marketing claims translate into meaningful (real) TCO gains.

I am convinced ODRs represent a new and potentially very useful product category for microwave radio, but they are not a panacea; our experience (at Aviat Networks) is that optimum TCO is based on a mix of split-mount and all-outdoor radios (i.e., one “size” does not fit all).

So there you have it, in the right environment, an ODR can offer a winning formula but in other situations, it may not work so well. An old saying comes to mind: Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing not to put a tomato in a fruit salad.

Next time, we will examine ODRs in more detail, how they differ and how to choose the best option for your network.

Jarlath Lally
Product Marketing Manager
Aviat Networks

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Simplifying Carrier Ethernet Networks Scalability and Operations

Aviat microwave radios help overcome scale and complexity of Carrier Ethernet technology

As symbolized at the recent EANTC interoperability testing event, Aviat microwave radios can help solve the complexity and scalability problems of Carrier Ethernet technology.

Carrier Ethernet (CE) transport networks are growing in both scale and complexity, requiring both vendors and operators to deliver solutions to sustain their growth. To help address this, Aviat Networks recently participated in the European Advanced Networking Testing Center’s (EANTC) annual multi-vendor interoperability testing event to validate several aspects of scaling CE networks, among other things.

Increasing CE network sizes increase the complexity of management—especially from a services perspective—when CE services span multiple network domains. The ability to partition management domains and effectively manage alarms that accurately identify and propagate notification of network faults, dramatically speeds up the fault isolation and resolution process across large networks. Utilizing and effectively implementing “Hierarchical Service OAM” in growing CE networks is valuable to overcoming this challenge and was a key area of the recent interoperability testing.

Another critical aspect of growth is dealing with multi-technology—not just multi-vendor—interoperability. As CE networks scale, there is an increasing mix of Ethernet switching, MPLS and, most recently, MPLS-TP internetworking emerging. One potentially complex area that was also tested was validating the operation and survivability of intersecting Ethernet and MPLS-TP rings in a multi-homed topology. The “ERPSv2 and VPLS Interworking” test validated that standards-based G.8032 Ethernet protected rings and MPLS-TP VPLS rings can interoperate, or more significantly “co-operate,” to allow complex multi-technology networks to deliver reliable end-to-end services.

To learn about these aspects of scaling and dealing with complex CE networks check out the EANTC white paper for more details.

Errol Binda
Sr. Product and Solutions Marketing Manager
Aviat Networks

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All-Indoor Microwave: LTE’s Best Backhaul Solution for North American Operators

Eclipse Packet Node IRU600 all-indoor microwave radio

Aviat Networks’ Packet Node IRU600 is an example of an all-indoor microwave radio, which is one choice wireless operators should consider for implementations in North America.

There’s a lot of buzz in the microwave industry about the trend toward all-outdoor radios, but those who haven’t been through LTE deployments may be surprised to learn that based on our experience deploying LTE backhaul for some of the world’s largest LTE networks, all-indoor is actually the best radio architecture for LTE backhaul.

We can debate today’s LTE backhaul capacity requirements, but one thing we do know is that with new advances in LTE technology, the capacity needed is going to grow. This means that microwave radios installed for backhaul will likely have to be upgraded with more capacity over time. Although people are experimenting with compression techniques and very high QAM modulations and other capacity extension solutions, the most proven way to expand capacity is to add radio channels because it represents real usable bandwidth independent of packet sizes, traffic mix and the RF propagation environment.

All-indoor radios are more expensive initially in terms of capital expenditures, but they’re cheaper to expand and (as electronics are accessible without tower climb) are more easily serviced. While an outdoor radio connects to the antenna with Ethernet or coax cable, indoor radios usually need a more expensive waveguide to carry the RF signal from the radio to the antenna. So you pay more up front with an all-indoor radio but as the radio’s capacity grows you save money. There are several reasons.

When everything related to the radio is indoors, you just have a waveguide and an antenna up on the tower. To add radio channels with an all-indoor radio you go into the cabinet and add an RF unit. With an outdoor radio, you have to climb the tower, which can cost as much as $10,000. Also, when you add a new outdoor RF unit you may have to swap out the antenna for a larger one due to extra losses incurred by having to combine radio channels on tower….(read the full story at RCR Wireless).

Gary Croke
Senior Product Marketing Manager
Aviat Networks

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Microwave Backhaul for Public Safety LTE

US Navy 031026-M-4815H-029 Fire fighters from ...

(Photo credit: Chance W. Haworth via Wikipedia)

Public safety agencies will soon experience a dramatic improvement in communications capabilities enabled by advances in technology. New broadband multimedia applications will give first responders and commanders alike far better situational awareness, thereby improving both the effectiveness and safety of all personnel charged with protecting the public.

The specific technology, now mandated by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for all new emergency communications networks, is Long Term Evolution, or LTE—a fourth-generation (4G) broadband solution. The FCC has also allocated licensed spectrum to ensure the best possible performance in these new networks. These FCC rulings support the goal of achieving an interoperable nationwide network for public safety agencies.

The FCC chose LTE based on its proven ability to support voice, video and data communications at remarkably high data rates that were previously only possible with wired links. Although there will be some differences in a nationwide public safety network involving capacity and coexistence with Land-Mobile Radio communications, lessons learned from LTE’s deployment in large-scale commercial mobile operator networks will help ensure agencies are able to achieve the FCC’s goal cost-effectively.

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4G Upgrade Path Drives Backhaul Migration in Kenya

Safaricom's Internet Broadband Dongle (with SI...

Burgeoning WiMAX and 3G data traffic from subscriber devices such as Safaricom’s Internet Broadband Dongle (with SIM Card) are driving the mobile operator to migrate from TDM to hybrid microwave backhaul. (Photo credit: whiteafrican via Flickr)

Migrating legacy mobile backhaul networks that were designed for TDM traffic to add support for high-speed Ethernet data for 3G and 4G mobile technologies is one of the biggest challenges for operators worldwide. Each case is unique and poses its own quirks and potential pitfalls. Mobile operators must juggle new technologies, cost pressures and the need to maintain existing services or risk driving customers to the competition.

For Safaricom, the leading mobile operator in Kenya and one of largest in all Africa, the case involved preserving its E1 capacity for voice calls and simultaneously adding Ethernet/IP bandwidth for burgeoning 3G and WiMAX data traffic. As many mobile operators have done in the past, Safaricom built its network over time. Many parts of the network are still legacy 2G TDM technology. However, things are changing rapidly, with 3G subscriber numbers up 85 percent in 2011 year over year.

Many of these subscribers are consuming ever-increasing amounts of data bandwidth. Safaricom’s TDM based backhaul, making use of Ethernet-to-E1 converters, is finding it hard to keep up with demand. To help resolve the situation, the operator called on Aviat Networks, one of its incumbent solution providers. Using its market leading hybrid radio solution, the modular Eclipse microwave networking platform, Aviat Networks enabled Safaricom to add IP data capacity as necessary while keeping E1 capacity for voice calls.

In addition, the stage has been set for Safaricom to make the eventual migration to all-IP backhaul. With the modular Eclipse platform, it can transition on its own schedule. For more information, read the complete Safaricom case study in the frame below or download the PDF:

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The Impact of Streaming Video on Wireless Network Services

Video call between Sweden and Singapore, on So...

Sustained video streaming, such as a video call over a mobile network, strains the stat mux paradigm of oversubscribing Ethernet microwave backhaul. However, proper management can ensure a consistent, high-quality user experience can be maintained. Image via Wikipedia (author: Kalleboo)

Mobile backhaul networks today support Ethernet microwave transport for 3G and 4G wireless technology services alongside legacy 2G and 3G TDM-based microwave equipment. However, as late as 2009 these wireless network services were solely TDM transport. One of the primary benefits of moving to Ethernet microwave transport has been the inherent statistical multiplexing (stat mux) gains. Stat mux relies on the fact that not everyone is “talking” at the same time and when they do, their IP radio packet sizes are variable, whereas networks based on TDM have to be provisioned statically for peak rates to individual wireless microwave sites.

With the advent of Ethernet, the typical practice is to oversubscribe all the wireless network services (based on individual peak rates) knowing that there is a statistical improbability of hitting the peak rate across all your wireless communication towers at the same exact moment.

Now enter video streaming where data is “streamed” between two wireless communication points over a sustained period (e.g., 30-second YouTube video clips, Skype HD Video Conferencing, Netflix movies). The sustained aspect of these video streams begins to strain the overall stat mux paradigm. Not only does video remain sustained but also it uses large-size IP radio packets that do not vary greatly. VoIP does the same thing, but the effect is much less significant as the overall bandwidth utilization is much lower.

Oversubscription becomes more challenging the more active video streaming is at any given moment. Imagine a scenario where the latest cat-playing-a-piano video gets posted online and everyone starts viewing it at virtually the same time. For a large swath of bandwidth, stat mux will reach zero for approximately four minutes. The upside is that you can add more bandwidth and/or offer differentiated wireless network services levels that guarantee certain bandwidth or application performance. Even so, video streaming does not totally negate the benefits of an Ethernet microwave transport, it just needs to be properly understood and managed to ensure a consistent user experience across all applications and services for your global wireless solutions.

Steve Loebrich
Director of Product and Solutions Marketing
Aviat Networks

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Time for an update on Timing Solutions

A network without synchronization is like an orchestra without a conductor.

Our partner, Symmetricom, recently announced the launching of a new segment of their SyncWorld ecosystem for microwave backhaul.  Our hat’s off to them; this is great news for Symmetricom and the new players that are now on board. We boarded this train awhile back.  After a couple years of collaborative testing between us, we first joined the ecosystem when it was initially launched in March at CTIA 2011.  

So, what have we learned since then you might ask?

Well for one, packet based timing is still growing in interest, evaluation, and deployment.  Customers around the world — including mobile operators, state and utility providers and others – are increasingly looking for timing solutions that operate over their Ethernet fiber and microwave network as effectively as their TDM timing solutions do.  A recent Heavy Reading analyst report projects close to 2 million cell sites will have deployed the two most dominant solutions, IEEE 1588v2 and Synchronous Ethernet (SyncE), by 2015.

Secondly, we’ve learned this is by no means the technology race it started out to be.   Remember when Blu-ray and HD–DVD were competing a few years ago?  Or perhaps that has well faded into memory.  Well, I still recall the industry buzz a couple years ago about whether Synchronous Ethernet (SyncE) was going to kill IEEE 1588v2, or vice-versa. Who was going to come out on top?  

Telecom watchers and players are always primed for a tech battle it seems.  Well lo and behold; this battle has become more of an alliance, as of late.  

The dominant discussion today is now about how BOTH these technologies can co-exist, and where best to deploy them in a network, either side by side or in parallel, with one backing up the other.  Hmmm, now that’s an interesting conclusion to a tech battle. 

Case in point, a couple of our customers are planning to deploy both technologies to take advantage of their respective strengths and are in the process of doing just this.  See this whitepaper for more information about synchronization over microwave backhaul or maybe this one for insight into deploying IEEE1588v2 synchronization.

So, with the reality today that packet timing is still growing and that options for packet timing (including TDM, 1588v2, SyncE, and GPS) will continue to co-exist for a long time, it becomes even more critical to seek experience when it comes to planning your sync migration. 

An ecosystem is probably a good place to start, especially with those players that have been at it for some time.

Errol Binda,
Sr. Manager, Solutions Marketing

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