We Put the Spotlight on Voice Over LTE (VoLTE)

As one of the most anticipated network technologies, Voice over LTE (VoLTE) has been discussed by operators for years. The expectation was that deployments would start in 2013, but roll-outs in North America were delayed.

VoLTE Logo

Logo courtesy of YTD2525 Blog

Operators have faced a series of issues that include poor voice quality and long call establishment times. Once these problems are solved, it is expected that VoLTE will allow operators to provide  voice and data services using an integrated packet network. As the problems described show, the implementation of VoLTE presents challenges for the entire LTE ecosystem including microwave backhaul.

We have produced a white paper to describe some of the VoLTE requirements that must be met in order to overcome these technical challenges, which must encompass a flexible microwave backhaul as a key factor for a successful transition to all-packet voice and video VoLTE  networks. A brief introduction to VoLTE is presented and then different VoLTE backhaul requirements are described with possible solutions.

Click here to download a white paper on this subject titled “VoLTE and the IP/MPLS Cell Site Evolution”.

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The Rise of Tower Sharing in Africa

Cell-Tower-Ghana-Increasingly-mobile-network-operators-all-over-Africa-are-looking-at-sharing-wireless-towers-to-save-on-microwave-radio-and-other-infrastructure-costs-06-Dec-2012-Aviat-blog

Cell tower, Ghana. Photo credit: aripeskoe2 / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

A growing telecommunications trend in South Africa and other emerging markets across the African continent is the move to cell tower sharing. There are many reasons for this, but the need to reduce capital expenditure (capex) on towers and other infrastructure and retarget spending toward network development, customer acquisition and retention and need to accommodate growing mobile data traffic levels have forced the issue.

The trend toward independent ownership of telecommunications infrastructure such as tower sites, with leasing arrangements for multiple operators on each tower, closely mirrors moves in mature telecommunications markets around the globe, including the U.S. and Europe, as well as other big emerging markets such as India and the Middle East.

Tower sharing prevalent
While there is some reluctance by industry incumbents to offload tower infrastructure because they fear losing market share and network coverage, the tower-sharing model is still becoming more prevalent. This is particularly evident in markets where there are new players trying to penetrate the market, as well as in countries where coverage in rural, sparsely populated areas is needed to drive growth. Other important factors, such as the rising cost of power in South Africa, or unreliable power delivery in other parts of the continent have also helped to drive this trend.

Thus, the adoption of this model has gained significant momentum in Africa since 2008, with major mobile operators in Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda striking deals to offload existing infrastructure to independent companies. These independent “tower operators” handle the operation and management of these towers, leasing space back on the towers to multiple network operators. This helps to reduce operating costs, improve efficiency and potentially boost an operator’s network coverage significantly and rapidly.

Smaller equipment requirements
To accommodate multiple network operators on a tower and cell site, smaller antennas are preferred, with additional requirements for smaller indoor equipment that draw less power. This configuration helps to decrease power consumption and cooling requirements resulting in more efficient use of diesel generators during times of power failure. However, having smaller antennas affects transmission power, capacity and efficiency. As such, mobile operators are turning to on-site solutions that offer all these benefits, but do not compromise on quality of service, capacity or data transmission speeds.

This also extends to the backhaul network, which often poses the most significant challenge for mobile network operators, especially as mobile networks continue to evolve from 2G and 3G to LTE. For example, as mobile networks continue to evolve, backhaul network architectures will need to change from simple point-to-point to more complex ring-based architectures. Operators that choose to share infrastructure will need on-site equipment that is capable of accommodating these changes, while still offering optimal transmit speeds and reduced operational costs.

Traditionally, most network operators also used optical fiber for their high-capacity fixed line core/trunking networks. However, as tower sharing becomes more prominent fewer operators are willing to spend the capital required to enable fixed-line backhaul from shared sites due to the associated costs. Therefore, more operators are turning to wireless backhaul as a suitable solution to transport data between the cell site and the core transport telephone network.

More capacity needed
As users demand more capacity on the access portion of the network, the core/trunking network also needs to sufficient capacity to be able to transport the aggregated traffic from all these sites. Many operators have turned to high-capacity trunking microwave systems to provide the required high capacity. These high-capacity trunking microwave systems have traditionally been installed indoors, usually in a standalone rack. They were also installed in a way that radio signal strength diminished significantly before reaching the antenna at the top of the tower, ,necessitating a bigger antenna to compensate. These all-indoor configurations also required big shelters and costly air conditioning.

Developing new technologies
In an effort to improve the efficiencies of mobile backhaul to meet modern demands, tower operators and their solution providers are reconfiguring these shared sites, and new technologies are being developed to solve these challenges.

For example, split-mount trunking solutions allow for up to four radio channels on a single microwave antenna, and lower costs associated with deploying and operating ultra-high capacity microwave links for increased capacity. Smaller and lighter antenna solutions can also be lifted and installed higher on towers more easily, which helps to decrease tower space and loading requirements, making these solutions less prone to wind damage. Moving radios from the shelter to the tower, next to the antenna, further reduces deployment and operational costs and simplifies antenna connections (e.g. eliminates inefficient, long waveguides; costly unreliable pressurization/dehydration systems). In these cases, smaller shelters or cabinets can be used, which decrease air-conditioning requirements even further.

However, regardless of how tower operators are able to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, the trend of this form of infrastructure sharing is set to continue, which will help to drive increased competitiveness in mobile markets across Africa. This will have a positive impact on the prices end-users pay for mobile data and voice services, and will help to accelerate the availability of connectivity across the continent.

Siphiwe Nelwamondo
Technical Marketing Manager, South Africa
Aviat Networks

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85 Microwave Operators tell us their Biggest Backhaul Challenge

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England: Campion Hills communications mast with microwave antennae. Photo credit: David Stowell [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The general mobile industry sentiment has typically been that the capacity bottleneck is the biggest challenge in backhaul. Thus, the focus has been on adding more capacity to address the surge of 3G and now 4G traffic. So you might think that this concern would rank first, particularly among microwave-centric operators, who are often looking to maximize their network throughput. We recently commissioned the experts at Heavy Reading to do a custom survey to get some quantifiable data to clarify this key question and a few others.

85 mobile operators were selected and surveyed globally, including a good cross-section from both developed and emerging markets. The respondents were screened to ensure that they all had a stake in microwave-specific backhaul: 93 percent had deployed microwave and the rest had plans to deploy it. In fact, 45 percent were categorized as heavy microwave users—those where more than 50 percent of their cell sites were served by microwave backhaul.

So we asked this select group, which consisted of mostly planners, engineers and strategy leaders, “What is the biggest challenge your company faces regarding the future development and deployment of microwave backhaul?” 

The results were interesting in that “total cost of ownership” actually eclipsed “increasing capacity” as their biggest challenge, as shown in the pie chart of survey responses below.

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What Does it Take to Get the Most out of Your Wireless Backhaul?

Wireless tower in Ghana. Photo credit: Rachel Strohm / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Many wireless operators, such as MTN in Ghana, need to optimize management of their networks and Aviat can help with products, services and software capabilities. Photo credit: Rachel Strohm / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Wireless backhaul operators, both mobile phone networks and others carrying dedicated traffic, face the constant issue of maximizing the functionality of their systems.

In the emerging markets around the world, the pressure can be most intense. Wireless network reliability, availability and capacity all need to be increased. Customer expectations are on the rise, and operators must take the appropriate steps to meet and exceed them.

In working with MTN Ghana, Aviat Networks recently completed an implementation to increase network visibility (i.e., intelligence) by close to one-third. Aviat’s professional services experts designed the mobile operator’s backhaul links for high capacity and resiliency. Using ProVision, Aviat’s leading network management software, MTN Ghana can now administer its wireless backhaul efficiently and effectively with a reduced level of manpower.

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E-Band Global Regulation Roundup

Because of need for higher capacities, the trend toward shorter link distances for mobile backhaul and declining product costs, 70/80GHz (i.e., E-band) solutions are gathering significant interest for mobile backhaul and enterprise access applications. However, because these frequencies are new to most people, there is little understanding of costs and other issues related to licensing the 70-80GHz spectrum.

As a service to network operators, Aviat Networks recently finished its update on the status of costs and regulation for E-band frequencies for a large number of countries around the world. This document (registration required) examines the regulatory requirements that apply around the globe for operation in these bands.

Details of comparative license costs are also available in another document (registration also required). We believe that we have covered all the countries of interest to most network operators and some in addition to those. If there are any specific countries missing, please let us know with a comment.

Ian Marshall
Regulatory Manager
Aviat Networks

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4G World Poses Five Questions about Small Cell Backhaul

The Portage Lake Michigan shore looking across...

In Chicago, the waves on Lake Michigan were nearly as big as the controversy surrounding the topic of small cell backhaul at the 4G World show it hosted. (Photo credit: Pedco via Wikipedia)

4G World struggled a bit due to Hurricane Sandy, but went on as planned. Unfortunately, some speakers and attendees were not able to get to Chicago due to travel cancellations. I have to admit that watching surfers ride the big waves on Lake Michigan was an added bonus for the week!

Back at the show, small cell was the focus and backhaul was its No. 1 topic. Everyone has heard the concerns over technologies, costs, etc. The soapbox was available for anyone to jump on and espouse the potential benefits of their products. I believe that companies are selling their product capabilities, not addressing mobile operators’ real needs. Why? The biggest issue is that mobile operators, in most cases, really do not know what they need. The complexities of implementation are so diverse in small cell, that it is taking operators a long time to draw conclusions about their best path forward. Enter the fog of vendor technology pitches!

I believe that the real issues to be resolved center around implementation and OPEX control not technology. A few technologies could help, but they are not ready to provide the Carrier Class performance that the operators need. They will only have marginal effect on the final solution, in any event. What we need are answers to questions such as:

  • Who can climb which poles in the city and to what heights?
  • What are the power restrictions and cost of power on these poles?
  • What size enclosure is allowed to be on the poles and on the ground?
  • What are the aesthetic requirements for such an enclosure?
  • What attachment height is needed to architect the best network for both access and backhaul?

Most people think fiber is a slamdunk—that is not the case. You need to read the fine print and ask:

  • How plentiful are existing fiber onramps in the metro core area?
  • What’s the cost of putting a new onramp in place and stringing fiber from below street level up poles to small cells?
  • What piece of the action are municipalities going to demand for all this new telecom construction?

My recommendation: keep an eye on the technology evolution but focus on the real issues at hand. Partnerships with companies that have proven skills will be critical as these problems are best handled by a team of diverse thinkers. Look for ones that have a history in the business and have demonstrated innovation in all its facets. They are the partners who will get you through these very difficult problems.

Randy Jenkins
Director Business Development
Aviat Networks

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4G Upgrade Path Drives Backhaul Migration in Kenya

Safaricom's Internet Broadband Dongle (with SI...

Burgeoning WiMAX and 3G data traffic from subscriber devices such as Safaricom’s Internet Broadband Dongle (with SIM Card) are driving the mobile operator to migrate from TDM to hybrid microwave backhaul. (Photo credit: whiteafrican via Flickr)

Migrating legacy mobile backhaul networks that were designed for TDM traffic to add support for high-speed Ethernet data for 3G and 4G mobile technologies is one of the biggest challenges for operators worldwide. Each case is unique and poses its own quirks and potential pitfalls. Mobile operators must juggle new technologies, cost pressures and the need to maintain existing services or risk driving customers to the competition.

For Safaricom, the leading mobile operator in Kenya and one of largest in all Africa, the case involved preserving its E1 capacity for voice calls and simultaneously adding Ethernet/IP bandwidth for burgeoning 3G and WiMAX data traffic. As many mobile operators have done in the past, Safaricom built its network over time. Many parts of the network are still legacy 2G TDM technology. However, things are changing rapidly, with 3G subscriber numbers up 85 percent in 2011 year over year.

Many of these subscribers are consuming ever-increasing amounts of data bandwidth. Safaricom’s TDM based backhaul, making use of Ethernet-to-E1 converters, is finding it hard to keep up with demand. To help resolve the situation, the operator called on Aviat Networks, one of its incumbent solution providers. Using its market leading hybrid radio solution, the modular Eclipse microwave networking platform, Aviat Networks enabled Safaricom to add IP data capacity as necessary while keeping E1 capacity for voice calls.

In addition, the stage has been set for Safaricom to make the eventual migration to all-IP backhaul. With the modular Eclipse platform, it can transition on its own schedule. For more information, read the complete Safaricom case study in the frame below or download the PDF:

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Mobile Network Modernization in Africa

Africa Mobile Penetration Rates

Total African Mobile Connections and Penetration Rate (million, percentage penetration). Source GSMA Africa Mobile Observatory 2011

Throughout Africa a wind of change is blowing as mobile network operators ponder, and in many cases implement, a wave of network modernization. The trigger for this is multi-faceted. Booming subscriber growth, introduction of new data services and arrival of new undersea fiber optic cable links are combining to strain existing network infrastructure to the breaking point.

Booming Mobile Subscriber Growth
According to the GSMA , as of September 2011 Africa has overtaken Latin America with 620m mobile connections, making it the second largest mobile market in the world after Asia-Pacific. The number of connections has more than doubled over the past four years, with growth expected to continue at the fastest rate of all global regions over the next four years.

First Voice, Now Increasingly Data
Most networks across Africa were built many years ago to serve the initial rollout of 2G/GSM mobile networks that were designed to provide basic voice services. Many operators have since introduced data services using EDGE, 3G WCDMA, and, more recently 3G HSPA, putting an incredible strain on these networks. These data services can be vital for the operator, as they are often supporting premium, prepaid subscribers or new fixed line data services being offered for small and medium-size businesses.

One example of network modernization in action is in East Africa, where a mobile network operator saw subscriber numbers increase 9 percent in 2011, with 3G customers increasing more than 85 percent. This operator was also offering fixed data services to private and corporate customers through the deployment of WiMAX base stations collocated with the existing mobile sites. All this new data traffic was growing exponentially and fast outstripping the legacy backhaul network capacity. The operator also had to ensure that existing voice traffic was protected.

Priorities Driving Network Upgrades
Today, several priorities are driving network operators to upgrade their networks including the need for:

  • Increased capacity
  • More efficient use of backhaul spectrum resources
  • Support for increasing volume of Ethernet/IP-based traffic
  • Network Simplification
  • Reduction in Capital and Operational Expenses

These five priorities are closely interrelated. For more details, download the complete article.

Stuart D. Little
Director Corporate Marketing
Aviat Networks

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Construction, Not Capacity, is the Real LTE Challenge in U.S.

STEEL RODS, MADE FROM SHREDDED AUTOS, ARE BEIN...

Like building out the Interstate Highway System, the real challenge for LTE deployment in the U.S. lies in the actual construction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like the Interstate Highway system in the 1950s, building out a national LTE infrastructure in the U.S. is a major undertaking. The largest challenges in building out an LTE network consist of planning, staging and deploying the technology at maximum speed and with minimal costs. Mobile operators are in a tight race to build out LTE networks in the U.S. as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, and backhaul is a key component of the job.

There are more than 300,000 2G/3G cell sites in the United States; LTE penetration is at approximately 50,000 sites today. Mobile operators want to have 95% of their footprints covered with LTE within the next year or two, so a massive construction project lies ahead with a tight timeframe for completing it…see the entire article at Telecom Engine.

Gary Croke
Senior Product Marketing Manager
Aviat Networks

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Mobile World Congress Day 3: Connected Life Becomes Reality

Another update here from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. This time we’d like to discuss a little about the trend toward using the next generation of mobile technology—LTE or Long Term Evolution—to support a growing number of connected devices across multiple different industries—not just the traditional mobile operator sector.

Across from our pavilion was the Connected Life booth that showcased how in the future, everyone and everything will benefit from a wireless connection. With more than 6 billion connections globally—and this is expected to grow to 24 billion in 2020—mobile is redefining and transforming the way we communicate and access information—cars, buildings, medical monitors, TVs, game consoles, consumer electronics and household appliances—even exercise equipment. It is all about seamless and intelligent connectivity between people, processes and products to be delivered when and wherever they are required.

24 billion mobile connections from devices like exercise equipment by 2020

By 2020, estimates place total worldwide wireless connections at around 24 billion counting devices such as exercise equipment.

The huge market opportunity offered by the connected life creates benefits for the mobile industry by enabling mobile operators to form partnerships with companies from other sectors to deliver compelling new services to consumers and businesses. The executive chairman of Ford Motor Company noted this in his Mobile World Congress keynote address. Not only does this create more opportunity for the entire industry supporting telecoms, but it will open up opportunities to increase efficiency and introduce smarter ways of working.

The GSMA estimates that the market for connected devices will be worth $4.5 trillion by 2020. By its estimates, the top 10 connected devices will account for 60 percent of the connected devices market by 2020.

Top Ten Connected Applications in 2020:

  • Connected Car – $600 billion
  • Clinical Remote Monitoring – $350 billion
  • Assisted Living – $270 billion
  • Home and Building Security – $250 billion
  • Pay as you Drive Car Insurance – $245 billion
  • New Business Models for Car Usage – $225 billion
  • Smart Meters – $105 billion
  • Traffic Management – $100 billion
  • Electric Vehicle Charging – $75 billion
  • Building Automation – $40 billion

Stay tuned to developments in this space as it certainly represents an interesting and incremental market opportunity for mobile operators and those vendors supporting them.

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