Protection and Diversity: 100 Percent Uptime the Goal

English: BT Thornhill microwave radio tower

The BT Thornhill microwave radio tower above demonstrates a Space Diversity protection scheme with its parabolic antennas placed apart from one another (Photo credit: Peter Facey via Wikipedia)

Traffic disconnect is unacceptable for most microwave systems, especially for homeland security and utilities. But Aviat Networks Principal Engineer Dick Laine says that it is economically unviable to have a microwave radio system that provides absolutely 100 percent uptime to accommodate every possible traffic downtime scenario. He adds that towers, waveguides and all other hardware and infrastructure would have to be completely bulletproof. This is true of every telecommunication system.

However, with protection schemes and diversity arrangements in today’s wireless communication solutions, microwave transmission can get very close to mitigating against long-term traffic outages (i.e., > 10 CSES, consecutive severely errored seconds) and short-term traffic outages (i.e., < 10 CSES).

In pursuit of the 100 percent uptime goal, Dick goes over many of the strategies available in the newest video in the Radio Head Technology Series, for which there is complimentary registration. For example, there are many approaches to protection, including Hot Standby and Space Diversity. In particular, Dick points out Frequency Diversity has advantages over many protection schemes, but few outside the federal government are able to obtain the necessary waivers in order to use it. Hybrid Diversity uses both Space Diversity and Frequency Diversity to create a very strong protection solution. A case study outlining Hybrid Diversity is available.

Other concepts Dick covers in this fifth edition of Radio Heads includes error performance objectives, bit error rate, data throughput, errorless switching, equipment degradation, antenna misalignment, self-healing ring architecture and something called the “Chicken Little” alarm.

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Record 180 km Hybrid Diversity IP Microwave Link

Survey view from Belize toward Honduras, at 1000 m AMSL

Survey view from Belize toward Honduras, at 1000 m AMSL

Link between Honduras and Belize Crosses Water and Land

Last year I wrote about the world’s longest all-IP microwave link, stretching 193 km over the Atlantic Ocean in Honduras. Aviat Networks and Telecomunicaciones y Sistemas S.A. (TELSSA) designed and implemented this link together. This year, Aviat Networks and TELSSA again worked together to build another link and achieve another record—an Eclipse microwave link between Honduras and Belize that crosses 75 km of the Atlantic Ocean and 105 km of rugged terrain for a total path length of 180 km. This is a new world record for a hybrid diversity microwave link!

After the success of implementing the 193km link over water, Aviat Networks and TELSSA were eager to meet the challenge to connect Honduras and the neighboring nation of Belize using a single microwave link. Aviat Networks network engineers and TELSSA engineers were able to use their extensive knowledge of local propagation conditions, thorough understanding of long path design principles and precise installation practices to successfully implement this 180km microwave link.

Long Path Design Considerations

As outlined in the article last year for the longest all-IP hop, a deep understanding of path design considerations and experience in microwave transmission path design are necessary to successfully complete a long path design. Key considerations involved:

  • The effect of antenna diameter on highly refractive paths
  • Precise alignment of the antennas to mitigate the effect of refractivity
  • Optimum RF and space diversity spacing to counter elevated divergent dielectric layers
  • Deterministic prediction of the variations of atmospheric conditions
  • Multi-path propagation delay

To read more about this world-record Hybrid Diversity IP microwave link, download the full article.

Ivan Zambrano
Senior Network Engineer
Aviat Networks

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Why Bigger is not Always Better for Mobile Backhaul!

Terrestrial microwave radio system with two an...

Terrestrial microwave radio system with two antennas employing space diversity. (Image via Wikipedia: Photo credit David Jordan)

Antenna gain is directly related to the size (diameter) of the antenna, and wireless transmission engineers looking for more system gain to improve link performance on long or tough paths in frequency bands below 10 GHz may resort to using very large antennas with diameters of 12 feet (3.7 m) or more. However, bigger is not always better. In fact, large antennas should only be used under the most unusual of circumstances.

Use of large, oversized antennas was commonplace during the 1960s and 1970s, for analog FM-FDM heterodyne microwave communication high-capacity links operating in the L6 GHz band. This was for good reason. Communications paths consisting of multiple radio links required very high receive signal levels, and fade margins of up to 50 dB, on each link to meet end-to-end noise objectives. The large antennas helped cut baseband thermal noise by more than 3 dB, which is half that of smaller antennas. Many of these paths were relatively short and many of these analog wireless links employed frequency diversity, so higher fade margins were needed to reduce outage—especially in N+1 hops. This reliance on large antennas is often still prevalent in the minds of many wireless transmission engineers.

Today’s Digital Microwave Systems

In contrast to old analog systems, digital microwave operates essentially error-free (i.e., with a bit error rate of 1 in 1,013 transmitted bits), even with much smaller fade margins. Adequate path clearance, optimal selection of diversity arrangements using smaller antennas and the precise alignment of antennas are far more effective to ensure that error performance objectives for microwave communications are met.

Big Antennas = High TCO

So because big antennas are not really needed to ensure high path availability, they do directly impact the total cost of deploying and operating a microwave link, namely:

  • Wind Loading—There is more wind loading because of the larger surface area. A 12-ft antenna has 45 percent more loading (e.g., 1,400 lbs wind load in a 70mph wind) compared to a 10-ft antenna (e.g., 980 lbs wind load). This means the microwave tower needs to be stronger to be less susceptible to the sway that results in antenna misalignment. Stronger towers mean more costly new towers, or expensive upgrades to existing towers
  • Beamwidth—Beamwidth of a 12-ft dish is 25 percent narrower compared to a 10-ft antenna, which further increases the tower’s rigidity requirements and thus cost
  • Non-Diversity vs. Diversity—Large 12-ft antennas are sometimes justified by assuming that the single large dish is more cost-effective and/or has performance characteristics as good as two smaller diversity dishes. A single 12-ft dish with its 1,400-lb single-point wind load—and narrower beamwidth—puts far more stress on a structure than dual 8-ft diversity dishes with a distributed wind load of 1,260 lbs (2x630lbs) and much wider beamwidths. Smaller diversity dish arrangements also increase the wireless link’s performance by reducing multipath outage by more than 80 percent compared to a single 12-ft dish deployed in a non-diversity hop
  • Antenna Decoupling and Alignment—The smaller beamwidth of larger antennas also increases the difficultly to align accurately, and the risk of antenna decoupling due to angle-of-arrival variations during nocturnal atmospheric (k-factor) changes. Antenna decoupling, directly proportional to path length, is increased on those longer paths in difficult geoclimatic areas that attract the use of 12-ft dishes. It can be a death spiral—the longer, more difficult paths that attract the use of larger, narrower beamwidth antennas are those that are even more sensitive to the resulting geoclimatic conditions!
  • Aesthetics—Bigger isn’t better when deploying dishes on towers, buildings and—especially—mountaintop sites, due to aesthetic concerns, building/tower owners’ concerns and local planning limitations. These can often be mitigated by using smaller antennas
  • Deployment Costs—The overall deployment cost differential between a single 10-ft and 12-ft antenna can exceed $10,000 when transport, installation and ancillary hardware are taken into consideration, and this does not include the potential cost of added tower strengthening and increased monthly tower lease charges

So before you consider using large 12-ft+ antennas, think again and consider the bigger picture. You may well end up spending a lot more money for a path that may perform more poorly than it would have if smaller antennas had been used.

For more tips, we’ve also included some wireless transmission engineering guidelines for antennas and other wireless equipment.

Stuart Little
Director of Corporate Marketing, Aviat Networks

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