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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Fiber Isn’t Everything: Key Role of Microwave in Mobile Backhaul


If fiber is this much of a mess in your wiring closet, just imagine the difficulty of deploying it to your cell site. Image by DrBacchus (Rich Bowen) via Flickr

Last year in August, Aviat Networks presented its argument for why fiber optics technology isn’t everything where backhaul of wireless networks is concerned. If anything, this point has only been reinforced by analyses and anecdotal stories showing that fiber can be overkill for the mobile backhaul requirements of  LTE wireless. Plus, there is the simple truth that fiber cannot be deployed to every cell site due to financial and topological issues. That’s why microwave technology remains the world’s first choice for backhauling wireless networks. So let’s look at last year’s FierceWireless webinar slide presentation and refresh our memories.

These slides present the findings of an Ovum survey of North America’s largest backhaul players to understand their strategies regarding media types used to supply cell-site backhaul.

Ovum found that demand for wireless backhaul equipment in North America will continue to grow as mobile operators upgrade their networks to support higher-speed LTE networking technologies. The most common backhaul strategy for mobile operators in the region comprises leasing services over fiber combined with owning and operating microwave-based facilities. Microwave has a distinct advantage vis-a-vis leased services over the long-term due to the opex associated with leasing.

If you would like to see more, you may register for the on-demand replay of the full webinar. It will also present the latest trends and advancements in microwave transmission technology that support the evolution of mobile backhaul networks to all-IP.

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Hybrid Microwave for Wireless Network Backhaul Evolution

Microwave telecommunications tower, silhouette...

Image via Wikipedia

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for wireless network backhaul. What will work for some operators’ mobile backhaul will not work for others. Many operators have large installed bases of TDM infrastructure, and it is too cost prohibitive to uninstall them wholesale and jump directly to a full IP mobile backhaul. There is going to be a transition period.

The transition period will need a different breed of wireless solutions. Fourth Generation Hybrid or Dual Ethernet/TDM microwave radio systems provide comprehensive transmission of both native TDM and native Ethernet/IP traffic for smooth evolution of transmission networks. They will enable the introduction of next-generation IP-based services during this transition period.

We will explore this category of digital microwave technology for wireless backhaul, which is becoming ever more important as the 4G LTE wireless revolution gets underway with all due earnestness, even while the current 3G—and even 2G—networks continue to carry traffic for the foreseeable future.

Our current white paper builds on Aviat Networks‘ previous April 2010 white paper titled “What is Packet Microwave?” and provides market data from recent industry analyst reports that demonstrate the significant and continuing role of TDM in mobile backhaul networks and some of the prevailing concerns of operators in introducing Ethernet/IP backhaul services.

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