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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Converged Microwave Traffic Emerges in Africa

Aviat-Networks-Technical-Marketing-Manager-Siphiwe-Nelwamondo-discusses-Microwave-and-IP-Convergence-with-Engineering-News-January-23-2015

Convergence: Photo credit: rkimpeljr / Foter / CC BY-SA

In South Africa, as in many emerging markets, wireless backhaul has long been a proverbial bottleneck to network growth. Due to cost and logistics, fiber optic technology remains out of reach as a practical solution for most aggregation scenarios, save for urban applications where population density and shorter routes can justify the exorbitance.

Now with the advent of higher speed, higher throughput mobile phones and tablet PCs, higher-order networking technologies are being pressed into service. Standard microwave radio, while cost efficient and effective for crossing far-flung forests, monumental mountains and desiccated deserts with traditional payload such as voice calls and moderate data rate applications, was not designed for the connectivity and capacity requirements of Layer 3 services. Thus, the bottleneck has grown still narrower. Even to the point where standard microwave radio might be hitting its upper threshold for serving mobile broadband.

Technical marketing manager, Siphiwe Nelwamondo, recently sat down with Engineering News, to discuss these issues and the present and future of microwave radio backhaul in South Africa and across the continent. In addition, he delved into how microwave networking is bridging the radio-IP gap for Layer 3 services by running IP/MPLS protocols on converged microwave routers.

As more and more mobile services get pushed out to the edge of the access network, the imperative for Layer 3 will only grow. Even as 3.5G and 4G mobile users who depend on full-IP increase in number, a majority of second- and third-generation subscribers will continue to rely on circuit-based technology. Not to worry, Nelwamondo covers how TDM telephony will be supported in a converged microwave and IP environment.

The full article goes on to discuss how mobile operators will strategize providing enterprise services from the cellular base station with microwave networking, virtual routers and more.

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