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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Layer 3 intelligence: cell sites need more than dumb pipes

Artificial Intelligence. Photo credit: miuenski / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Artificial Intelligence. Photo credit: miuenski / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Once upon a time, cell sites served as little more than passive pass-throughs for phone calls and text messages. Because voice calls and SMS posts did not require much wireless capacity cell sites did not require very robust provisioning. Now that the Internet has gone fully mobile with streaming videos and real-time applications such as VoLTE and IPTV regularly crushing network capacity design parameters, the time to get smart about backhaul and access traffic has arrived. The time for Layer 3 intelligence is now.

In fact, for some time mobile cell sites have transitioned from simple Layer 2 connected sites for 1990s-style mobile phone and data access to multipurpose centers for delivering new, smart device services. However, they can only provide new, smart services if they are built upon Layer 3 technology that offers intelligent handling of wireless traffic. Only IP routing technology is capable of such functionality.

But here comes the catch regarding IP routers providing Layer 3 intelligence at the cell site. With more than 50 percent of the wireless traffic in the world going to and coming from mobile sites through backhaul radio, Layer 3 intelligence must have awareness of microwave networking. And regular routers just do not offer microwave awareness. A new class of device must fill the void left by regular routers that frankly do not have enough “smarts” to deliver Layer 3 intelligence for cell sites that depend on microwave backhaul. A device that combines the best attributes of microwave radios and IP routers.

To provide a closer examination of this issue, Aviat Networks has authored a new white paper—no registration required—that makes the case for Layer 3 intelligence at the cell site. And how to implement a new class of “smart” devices that enable microwave radio awareness with IP routing.

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Your Network Deserves Better than a Regular Router

Aviat-Networks-says-Regular-Routers-bad-for-Microwave-Networks-but-there-is-good-news-in-microwave-routers-January-29-2015

Regular routers are bad news for microwave networks. But there is also good news in the form of microwave routers. Photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com / Foter / CC BY

Mobile network operators (MNOs) continue to reap the windfall of the widespread adoption of smartphones. Mobile data volumes spiked initially and still rise quarter over quarter. Along with the demand for more data throughput from their subscribers, MNOs have to accommodate the greater need for responsiveness closer to the network edge.

While regular routers are good at serving Layer 3 services to mobile users on fiber-heavy backhaul networks, they do not do a very efficient job of servicing mobile backhaul networks that primarily use microwave radio. As it turns out, the worldwide majority of mobile backhaul networks are still based on microwave technology, as regularly updated industry research shows.

What can an MNO with microwave backhaul do to bring Layer 3 functionality to its customers that will handle bandwidth constraints, unique aspects of translating router protocols across the microwave interface and failure detection and recovery, among others?

Aviat Networks has published an article in Mobile World magazine that looks at these challenges of regular routers when used in a microwave backhaul network and proposes possible solutions.

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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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Positively Sold on MPLS at the Cell Site

MPLS at the cell site via microwave routers will positively supercharge service revenues for mobile operators. Photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomgehrke/9656826700/">Thomas Gehrke</a> / <a href="http://foter.com">Foter</a> / <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)</a>

MPLS at the cell site via microwave routers will positively supercharge service revenues for mobile operators. Photo credit: Thomas Gehrke / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Mobile industry enthusiasts have been warned at length about the proliferation of LTE devices forcing backhaul to become markedly different than it is today, especially in terms of capacity delivery. Other challenges for the service provider include rising cost of capital, increasing network complexity and the ability to gracefully accommodate future technology shifts such as SDN, NFV and SON—Software-Defined Networking, Network Function Virtualization, Self-Optimizing Networks. A Layer 3 IP/MPLS topology has addressed many of these goals so far in the aggregation and at the service provider edge of the network. MPLS, Multiprotocol Label Switching, in particular, has offered converged service delivery, fast failure recovery and advanced Quality of Service.

So what’s next? The fundamental transformation needed next is at the cell site, which is evolving from its basic role of housing a base station to the new reality of enhanced service delivery hub. Why is this important? It’s simple: MPLS allows operators to offer enhanced revenue-generating services while simultaneously enriching the consumer experience and feeding an entire mobile ecosystem.

Battling rising costs by monetizing new services
The day of reckoning for operators is predicted to come with the confluence of rising costs and shrinking ARPUs, leading to unsustainable losses. Additional revenue sources are the key to profitability, provided they could be enabled swiftly and seamlessly. Fortunately, MPLS is available as a steppingstone to new services. As high capacity and scale infiltrate the end-to-end network, the traditional macro site can be considered the new point-of-presence for revenue generation. MPLS-enabled services include Layer 3 VPNs (L3VPN), Layer 2 VPNs (L2VPN) and Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS). L3 VPNs are attractive to customers (e.g. enterprises, government) who want to leverage the service provider’s technical expertise to ensure efficient site-to-site routing. L2 VPNs are attractive to customers who want complete control of their own routing. Finally, VPLS makes the service provider’s network look like a single Ethernet switch from the customer’s viewpoint, effectively making their WAN look just like their local campus.

For the mobile provider, the backhaul topology changes have already started to take shape, with Small Cell as one example of how cell sites will evolve, essentially becoming aggregation nodes as small cells (i.e., cloud RAN, IP, wifi) are added to network. This leads to a tangled web of complexity in a modern, heterogeneous network.

Technology flexibility to alleviate network complexity
To date, MPLS-enabled routers are the only proven solution to cost effectively converge multi-service interfaces onto a single low cost IP transport platform. The multitude of devices at the cell site includes legacy interfaces such as TDM, ATM and even Frame Relay. With its ability to decouple protocols from their physical transport medium, MPLS provides a single converged transport solution for all access technologies. As MPLS is generally deployed in core networks, adding it in the access is just an extension of the existing network transport architecture.

Beyond multiprotocol capability, the current hype of SDN, NFV and SON ushers in new challenges that are intended to optimize, virtualize and control the network—albeit with a significant operational learning curve. The capabilities of MPLS align with each of these goals, when they come. MPLS enables vendors to offer solutions that simplify management and protocols, provides fast adaptation for new services and eases the burden on personnel for general network turnup and maintenance—including tasks such as new base station provisioning, debugging, troubleshooting and performance monitoring

Benefits of IP/MPLS at the cell site
The benefits of IP/MPLS at the cell site are numerous, especially for LTE and LTE-A deployments. When compared to flat Carrier Ethernet networks, routers can scale to vast numbers of nodes. MPLS enables a scalable X2 network design. (X2 is the LTE interface used for Handover, Load Management, Mobility Optimization, Network Optimization and LTE-Advanced CoMP eNodeB coordination.) With eNodeBs on different subnets, routing is required between Layer 2 domains for a complete X2 solution.

MPLS-Traffic Engineering (MPLS-TE) provides operators with capability to steer traffic across backhaul networks, thereby increasing overall capacity and lowering latency for latency sensitive traffic flows—this is an important requirement for LTE-Advanced. MPLS-TE can increase backhaul capacity by 50 percent when compared to L2 networks.

How to Add IP/MPLS to the cell site
Introduction of IP/MPLS into the access network can be easily accomplished with networking platforms such as the Aviat CTR microwave router. The CTR 8540 is the industry’s first purpose-built microwave router—a unique concept that merges the functionality of an indoor microwave radio and a cell site router into an integrated solution, simplifying IP/MPLS deployments and creating a better performing network. The Aviat CTR helps operators avoid the investment of expensive standalone routers, translating to overall fewer boxes to buy, deploy and maintain. See more information on Aviat’s IP/MPLS solutions.

Louis Scialabba
Senior Manager of Marketing
Aviat Networks

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Transforming to the ‘Layer 3’ Connected Mobile Cell Site

Cell-sites-will-begin-transitioning-to-Layer-3-IP-services-and-will-need-an-integrated-solution-to-supply-it-Aviat-Networks-blog-March-16-2014

Cell sites will need to begin to transition to Layer 3 IP services. Photo credit: zdenadel / Foter / CC BY-ND

The entire wireless industry is on the cusp of a transitive time where Layer 3 IP services will be needed in the access portion of the network. And the backhaul will be needed to provide them.

Under the pain of restating the obvious, we have all seen the explosive growth of smartphones, tablet computers and other radio-frequency-loving gadgets like e-readers. All these new-fangled high-tech contraptions need Layer 3 IP/MPLS services in the access and backhaul in order to deliver a satisfying, seamless user experience—especially for enterprise services. The question is how will the mobile network operators (MNOs) be able to deliver these services from their thousands or tens of thousands of cell sites?

Typically, the answer would involve deploying a regular router for IP services at each and every cell site. But have you seen the prices of routers lately? Cisco didn’t get to where it is today without having some heavy pricetags attached to all the heavy iron it’s shipped over the last 20-odd years. Suffice to say, it would be a pretty penny if MNOs equipped all their cell sites with their own dedicated routers. So what else can be done, you query?

It just so happens that Aviat Networks’ director of corporate marketing, Gary Croke, has posted an article at RCR Wireless going over what to do in these types of situations. But we’ll give you a hint: the IP router function should be folded into a single multi-service, multi-layer cell site device. Read the rest and let us know what you think.

Related articles
Come Fly with Me: Aviat Microwave Over-the-Air at U.S. Landmarks (aviatnetworks.com)
The Rise of Tower Sharing in Africa (aviatnetworks.com)
How 2 Microwave Networks Survived Superstorm Sandy (aviatnetworks.com)
What Does it Take to Get the Most out of Your Wireless Backhaul? (aviatnetworks.com)

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VPN Services for Mobile Networks and Beyond

MPLS-VPNs-enable-multiple-applications-sites-and-customers-mobile-networks-Aviat-Networks-IP-expert-Said-Jilani-says-09Jan14

Photo credit: rfc1036 / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

VPNs are crucial for next-generation mobile networks as they enable 3G and 4G wireless to share a common IP infrastructure as well as support new services, according to Said Jilani, network solutions architect for Aviat Networks. And because Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) can serve multiple sites, multiple applications and multiple customers simultaneously, Jilani believes that they will form the cornerstone for the great expansion of mobile services we are only now beginning to realize.

Serving as one of Aviat Networks’ resident IP experts, Jilani functions as an internal consultant for wireless network deployment and is able to leverage the experience working with different customers in different telecom verticals. And he has seen the impact that VPNs can have in all these markets—not just among mobile operators.

Multi Protocol Label Switching
The great revolution in VPN services for mobile networks is powered by Multi Protocol Label Switching, commonly referred to as MPLS, which offers mechanisms to provide scalable VPN networks, Jilani says. MPLS VPNs come in two main types: L3 and L2 “flavors,” as Jilani terms it.

L3 or IP VPNs, based on Internet Protocol, support very important functionality such as connecting customer sites by emulating a “backbone.” The service provider VPN connects sites in part by exchanging information with customer routers. Offering a robust solution, L3 VPNs easily handle traffic handoff from site to site such as is involved with LTE (Long Term Evolution).

More on L2 VPNs
In the video below, Jilani goes on to elaborate regarding L2 VPN emulation of edge routers and point-to-point Ethernet connections and how L2 and L3 VPNs can function together. Watch it for all the detailed information.

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