Super Bowl of Wireless: Phones at Microwave

Super Bowl of Wireless: Phones at Microwave

Super-Bowl-2-of-Wireless-Phones-vs-Aviat-Microwave-Radios-February-5-2016Here at Aviat Networks we have the privilege of extremely close proximity to the site of Super Bowl 50, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. We are about a half mile away and from our building parking lot we can clearly see the venue where the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will clash for the championship of American professional football.

And while hundreds of millions of Americans and hundreds of millions more people around the world will watch the game raptly on television, 75,000-plus fans at the ballpark will see it in person. Not only will they watch it with their own eyes but also use their iPhones, iPads and Android smart devices to tweet, post YouTube and Vine videos or otherwise cheer or jeer the real-time action of the game on Facebook.

What many don’t know concerns the game within the game: how all this wireless data will get out of the stadium to the mobile service provider networks and finally onto the Internet and social media. As it turns out, Aviat Networks will also have an up-close virtual seat to this tilt of the cellular subscribers vs. their wireless carriers.

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The Gavel Comes Down: Auctions are Bad for Wireless Backhaul

Blue-payphone-unless-you-want-to-go-back-to-this-cellular-phones-need-cooperatively-licensed-microwave-backhaul-to-function-properly

Unless you want to return to payphones, cellular technology requires cooperatively licensed microwave backhaul to function properly. Photo credit: UggBoy / Foter.com / CC BY

Competitive licensing of fixed microwave backhaul bandwidth is a bad idea. And it should not go any further. The reasons why are laid bare in a new article in IEEE Spectrum by former electrical engineer and current telecom law firm partner Mitchell Lazarus. In general, he argues against federal spectrum auctions for microwave frequencies, and in particular for fixed microwave links. Undoubtedly, readers are familiar with the large cash bounties governments around the world have netted from competitive bidding on cellular bandwidth—first 3G and now 4G. An inference can be drawn from Lazarus’ article that some governments (i.e., the United States, the United Kingdom) had in mind a similar, if perhaps smaller, revenue enhancement through competitive auctions of microwave channels.

The problem lies in the fallacious thinking that operating fixed point-to-point wireless backhaul bandwidth is comparable to that of mobile spectrum. Whereas mobile spectrum license holders can expect to mostly—if not fully—use the frequencies for which they have paid top dollar, the same has not historically been true of license holders of microwave backhaul bandwidth. In most cases, mobile license holders have a virtual monopoly for their frequencies on a national, or at least regional, basis. Their base stations send and receive cellular phone signals omnidirectionally. They expect throughput from any and all places. So they have paid a premium to make sure no competitors are on their wavelengths causing interference.

On the other hand, U.S. holders of microwave backhaul licenses have specific destinations in mind for the operation of their point-to-point wireless networks. They only need to communicate between proverbial Points A and B. And, historically, they have only sought licenses to operate in their particular bandwidth on a particular route. They had no need to occupy all of their licensed frequency everywhere. That would be a waste. They just have to make sure they have a clear signal for the transmission paths they plan to use. To do that, before licensing, they would collaborate with other microwave users in the vicinity and a frequency-coordination firm to establish an interference-free path plan. Any conceivable network issues would usually be resolved at this stage prior to seeking a license from the Federal Communications Commission. Essentially, the FCC is just a glorified scorekeeper for fixed microwave services, passively maintaining its transmitter location license database.

But starting in 1998, with dollar signs in their eyes, governmental spectrum auctioneers started to sell off microwave frequencies in block licenses. The need for fixed microwave wireless services then was growing and has only grown fiercer with each additional iPhone and iPad that has been activated. However, access device throughput demand on one side of a base station does not necessarily fully translate all the way to the backhaul. Lazarus points out the example of now defunct FiberTower and its failure to make block microwave licenses work economically. After buying national block microwave backhaul licenses at 24 and 39 GHz, Lazarus notes, the firm resold the frequencies to Sprint and a county 911 emergency network operator. But those were the only customers. Lacking a robust enough utilization of its licensed backhaul frequencies, FiberTower had several hundred of its licenses revoked by the FCC and was forced into bankruptcy November 2012.

Subsequent auctions have attracted far fewer bidders and generated much less income for the Treasury Department. Much bandwidth has lain fallow as a result. And infrastructure buildout has stagnated.

Regulators should return the microwave backhaul licensing process to that of letting wireless transmission engineers cooperate informally among themselves, with the help of frequency-coordination firms, to arrive at fixed point-to-point wireless plans in the public interest. These are then submitted only for maintenance by the FCC or other regulators for traditionally nominal license fees—currently $470 per transmitter site for 10 years in the U.S., per Lazarus.

Forget the quixotic quest for chimerical hard currency. The commonweal demands it. You should demand it of the regulators—you can still give input regarding this scheme in some jurisdictions where it is under consideration. Clearly, the most efficient use of spectrum is to make it openly available to all because it means that every scrap of commercially useful spectrum is picked clean. We welcome your comments pro or con.

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On LTE Around the World

Back in October, mobile research firm Yankee Group held a very interesting webinar on the state of LTE around the world. The webinar, still available in replay, notes that, with the exceptions of Japan and Korea, North America is very far ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to implementing LTE. The LTE vanguard is based on North America, Japan and Korea having the greatest CDMA legacy.

Yankee Group analysts note the commonly known LTE driver in the form of worldwide proliferation of the iPhone and other smartphones has led to greater demand for high-speed connectivity. Overall, the webinar explores the LTE landscape from Asia to Europe to North America.

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Is the Backhaul Really the Bottleneck for LTE?

Is Backhaul the LTE Bottleneck?The popularity of smartphones and tablets, motivated by the launch of the iPhone (2007) and the iPad (2010) have created a dramatic increase in mobile data consumption. The need to provide higher throughputs at the base station level to serve this demand has concerned operators, equipment vendors and industry watchers about a possible bottleneck in the backhaul network.

The basis for this concern is that microwave technology will not be able to provide enough capacity, and that only fiber is able to meet the capacity needs of 4G/LTE networks. This apprehension is being capitalized on by some optical network providers who argue that fiber connections are needed to provide gigabit levels at each base station. Although a gigabit connection in each base station is desirable, extremely high costs, slow deployment and inflexibility of fiber optic networks prevent this from being a viable option for operators who are CAPEX and OPEX constrained.

Aviat Networks’ studies, based upon our early involvement in some of the largest LTE network deployments, show that an average of 100 to 200 Mbps of backhaul capacity per LTE cell site is more than adequate and easily achievable with current microwave technologies. Read the white paper below or see our case study on a national U.S. LTE operator.

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‘The Cloud’ and What it Means for Wireless Technology

Cloud

Image via Wikipedia

The cloud is an all-encompassing thing that’s actually been around for a while (e.g. distributed computing, Network Attached Storage). Most of it exists today in the enterprise but is being pushed to the Internet and rebranded “The Cloud.” This affects three wireless networking segments: consumers (e.g., you, me, mom, dad), Internet providers (e.g., mobile operators, ILECs, CLECs) and wireless solutions vendors (e.g., Symmetricom, Aviat Networks).

For consumers, it represents the ability to store information—pictures, music, movies—virtually and access them wherever we go from devices of our choice. No longer do we have to worry about backing up smartphones, tablets or laptops. The downside is that this magic is going on in the background all while your data caps are being reached. So, watch out….

On the mobile operator side, this will represent a substantial increase in bandwidth used. In addition, bandwidth usage starts to become more symmetrical as more uplink bandwidth is utilized while uploading to the cloud. This also means more frequency consumption on the RAN-side as subscribers stay “on” more often. Operators need to figure how to get users off the air interface as quickly as possible. This calls for greater throughput and potentially much lower latency. Trickling data to end users compounds the air interface problem. For the most part, subscribers won’t realize what’s happening and data caps are more likely to be reached. This translates into either more revenue and/or dissatisfied customers. Clearly, operators must monetize transport more effectively and at the same time provide more bandwidth.

Lastly, for wireless solutions vendors this translates into increased sales of wireless equipment to ease the sharp increase in bandwidth consumption. This also translates into more intelligent and robust network designs (e.g., physical and logical meshes, fine-grained QoS controls) as subscribers rely more on network access for day-to-day activities. As for the cloud in general and the overall effect:

  • Traffic starts to become more and more symmetrical (i.e., photos and videos automatically upload and then downloaded to all individual peer devices (e.g., your iPhone video uploads to the cloud and then syncs to your laptop and iPad)
  • Lots more bandwidth will be used. Today, content drives bandwidth demand (e.g., you open a browser and connect to a website, you launch your Facebook mobile app and upload photos). Tomorrow, those activities will happen automatically and continuously
  • Over the Air (OTA) updates to the phone are now downloaded over Wi-Fi or 3G/4G networks. Seemingly, updates are the only things that have changed, but it still amounts to about 150 MB per phone per update—another bandwidth driver
  • More prevalent use of video conferencing—low latency, sustained bandwidth demand

Therefore, the amount of bandwidth consumption will rise dramatically this September when Apple releases iOS 5 and iCloud. Android has already driven much bandwidth demand, but it’s not nearly as “sexy” as what Apple is releasing for its 220 million users—or alternately total iOS devices: iPod touch, iPad, iPhone). It’s more than just bandwidth—it’s quality, reliable bandwidth where QoS and Adaptive Modulation will play significant roles—of this, I’m certain.

At a recent TNMO event they were talking about LTE-Advanced and leveraging the cloud for virtual hard drives. Imagine, no physical hard drive in your computer. Laptops are connected via 4G wireless/5G LTE wireless to a cloud-based hard drive, equating to lots and lots of bandwidth plus stringent latency requirements….

Steve Loebrich
Director of Product and Solutions Marketing, Aviat Networks

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Mobile Security Requires More Than Secure Wireless Devices

Person with PDA handheld device.

Image via Wikipedia

When people think of mobile security, they usually think of encryption for their smartphones, tablet computers such as the BlackBerry PlayBook or other wireless devices. Or they think of a remote “wipe” capability that can render any lost device blank of any data if some unauthorized party did in fact try to enter the device illegally. These wireless solutions are all state-of-the-art thinking in the mobile security community. And many wireless equipment OEMs and third-party mobile security providers offer them.

But they only protect the data on the devices. They only protect so-called “data at rest” once it’s been downloaded onto the iPhone or iPad. They don’t speak to the need to cover “data in motion” as it is transmitted over the air. Some parts of the over the air journey are protected by infrastructure in the form of Wi-Fi and GSM. One is notoriously subject to human failing to enable security and the other has been broken for sometime. And then there is wireless security for backhaul. In this area, there has not even been an industry standard or de facto standard established. And most microwave solutions providers don’t even offer options for wireless security on the backhaul.

Fortunately, this is not the case across the board. Strong Security on the Eclipse Packet Node microwave radio platform offers three-way protection for mobile backhaul security: secure management, payload encryption and integrated RADIUS capability. Read the embedded overview document in full-screen mode for more details:

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