Fishing for the Small Cell Red Herring

Fishing-for-Small-Cell-Red-Herring-Aviat-Networks-microwave-backhaul-blog-February-22-2014

Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA

As the telecom community searches for reasons why Small Cell architectures have not yet launched en masse, “experts” are quick to suggest that lack of backhaul technology as the key perpetrator.

As I wrote in a 2013 article, starting with wireless microwave communications (6-42GHz frequency range), solutions for backhaul both large and small are available and effective today for mobile operators.

This is the second in a series that highlights technology available to enable immediate deployment of small cell backhaul. This segment focuses on the convenience of using wireless E-band as a complement to microwave for small cell backhaul, while bringing to light some of the true obstacles to small cell adoption.

E-band is a part of the electromagnetic frequency spectrum in the millimeter range between 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz. In recent years, there has been more interest in this frequency band, because traditional microwave (6-40 GHz) bands are now very congested in parts of the world, and that with the densification of mobile networks due to the introduction of 3G/HSPA and 4G/LTE, link distances between cell sites are shrinking in urban areas.

The surge in interest in a new network of outdoor small cells is driving a new approach toward cost-effective wireless solutions for backhaul. E-band offers a large swath of available spectrum with more than 10 GHz at stake—it represents more bandwidth than all the combined open frequency bands below 40 GHz.

What is needed is an all-outdoor, packet millimeterwave radio, offering a rich set of features, expressly built to support mobile (macro and small) backhaul by:

  • Conforming to planning and local authority “community-friendly” aesthetics and design approval guidelines
  • Eliminating external parabolic antennas, thus enabling significant savings on shipping, storage and handling costs
  • Weighing dramatically less than competing solutions, resulting in easier handling and installation within 30 minutes
  • Consuming less power, allowing flexibility in electrical source options such as via fixed supplies or Power over Ethernet (PoE), with built-in surge protection

As the world becomes increasingly urbanized—for the first time ever, more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in dense urban areas—it is also the place where we communicate the most and networks are most stressed to keep up. Small cell designs offer a convenient method to densify networks.

However, my prediction is that in the near to medium term, deployments will be surgical—to plug gaps where coverage is poor and to fill hot-spots where incremental capacity is needed. It is important to note that outdoor, public access small cells will coexist and in some ways compete with other densification solutions, including DAS, wi-fi, and additional macro cell builds. Small cells may indeed need to be backhauled from light poles and building sides, but ultimately they need to go where they need to go, while serving the primary goal of not-spot and hot-spot filler.

The more pressing obstacles for outdoor small cells include the method operators use to assess the business case and solve the construction and site acquisition challenges borne by the paradigm shift. The expectation is that the ecosystem will produce a solution that makes small cells easier and cheaper to deploy than macro cells. The problem with that thinking is the economics of it all. The business case will continue to struggle to prove out vs. macro cell, as scalability and network dimensioning quickly come at odds with requirements for unbridled capacity, high reliability and network intelligence.

Operators think they may be vying for a diminutive device supporting multi-generational, multi-band, multi-media and multi-OSI-layers, but that utopian requirement breeds complex challenges in permitting, site acquisition, interference, costs, and so on—all items recently in the pick-list of a flash poll by Light Reading. I maintain that we are not just over-thinking, but over-expecting the benefits of a pure-play small cell rollout. We might all be better off following the “K-I-S-S” principle for the foreseeable future, which might produce this guidance:

  1. Use small cells only where it makes sense
  2. Deploy it with tried and true technology (i.e., wireless microwave)
  3. Consider E-band for expansion in dense urban outdoor environments
  4. Be mindful about keeping your budget in the black, but don’t stress about challenges that need not manifest in your business

So here’s to Keeping it Small and Simple!

Louis Scialabba
Senior Manager of Marketing
Aviat Networks

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‘My Experience’ with Microwave Radio Systems

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Quasar GB 1428, 12.4 billion light years from Earth, a celestial source of enormous X-ray and microwave energy. Photo: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Collectively, we as consumers of high-tech communications systems tend to think very analytically, very logically, about the solutions that form the core of our working lives. In all the fields that we pursue from mobile telecom to public safety to utilities to oil and gas to financial, microwave radio has touched, shaped and framed our worldview. But like a star in a distant galaxy, every user’s experience with microwave radio is unique. No exception to that totality of reality is Ron Beck, president emeritus and past chairman of the Utilities Telecom Council, a trade group dedicated to advocating telecommunications issues for energy companies and associated concerns.

In a recent video, Beck talks about his life with microwave radio for almost 30 years. Starting with analog TDM microwave radio, he has traveled the technology evolutionary path to arrive at the present day systems of digital IP/Ethernet microwave communications. However, before ever touching on any technical considerations, he talks about the people responsible for his and his company’s success with microwave. For utilities applications, Beck feels it is critical that the people he deals with at a microwave solutions provider understand his business. “The (Aviat) sales force understands utility applications; they understand what we need in a radio system,” he says.

Beck goes on to elaborate how Aviat design and engineering groups collaborate closely with his team to deliver exactly the solution that is needed. Service and standards-based technology are very important to him and make microwave radio very user-friendly because “frankly, you don’t have to touch it very much.” See and hear all Beck has to offer below:

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A (Personal) Milestone in Microwave Networking

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Figure 1: Aviat Networks’ senior network engineer Ivan Zambrano shares his first microwave radio path plan on the occasion of his 28th anniversary with the company.

Recently, Aviat Networks was privileged to mark a milestone for one of its longest tenured and most distinguished employees, Ivan Zambrano. For 28 years, Ivan has dedicated his professional life to providing education and expert analysis to the microwave backhaul community, on the behalf of Aviat Networks and its corporate predecessors. As a senior engineer, Ivan teaches network transmission courses and other topics around the world on a regular basis.

However, Ivan got his start in the field. In fact, he still has the very first microwave radio path plan he ever created for a television station in Louisiana (Figure 1).

Together with the legendary Dick Laine (Figure 2), the two veteran microwave communications professionals have a combined 97 years of experience in the field. Unbelievably, Ivan actually has seniority over Dick (in the company at least). Dick has only been with us for a mere 26 years!

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Figure 2: Dick Laine (left) and Ivan Zambrano have a combined 97 years of microwave experience.

To help celebrate the occasion, Aviat Networks CEO, president and board member Michael Pangia took some time to personally congratulate Ivan (Figure 3). So here’s to you Ivan! We’re all looking forward to at least another 28 years!

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Figure 3: Aviat CEO Michael Pangia and Ivan.

If you’d be interested in having Ivan or Dick lend a hand (or bend an ear) on your microwave project, let us know by dropping a note below. Give us an idea about the type of training or consultation you need and any other pertinent details about the project.

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