Microwaves Could Solve Need for Long-Haul, Low-Latency Networks

Microwaves Could Solve Need for Long-Haul, Low-Latency Networks (via slashdot)

While high-speed optical fiber might be the way to go for large national research networks, point-to-point microwave connections have emerged as key links between financial exchanges.  The reason? Ultra-low latency. With widespread interest in sending the timeliest data possible, two separate microwave…


All-Outdoor Radios Part II: Three Ways to Choose the Right ODR

Photo credit: mrbill / Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: mrbill / Foter.com / CC BY

A quick Google-glance around the Internet will reveal a panoply of all-outdoor radios (ODRs) in both microwave and millimeter-wave bands. ODRs do not conform to a universal norm in terms of networking features, power consumption, bandwidth scalability (i.e., capacity) or outright radio horsepower (i.e., system gain).

So if you find yourself asking the questions, “Which ODR is the best fit for my network?” or “How do I narrow the ODR field?” it is good to start with the basics.

The right product choice can be quickly resolved—or at least the candidates can be short-listed—by focusing on three ODR product attributes that most heavily influence the value-for-the-money (i.e., total cost of ownership or TCO) equation:

  • Packet throughput capacity, which dictates the usable life of the ODR
  • Power consumption, which affects the energy bill
  • RF performance, which impacts antenna size—more system gain equates to smaller antennas

For many microwave backhaul networks, the growth in underlying traffic is such that products which cannot scale to 500 Mbps/1 Gbps per channel will run out of momentum too early and precipitate the dreaded “forklift upgrade” (also known as the “CFO’s nightmare”).

These same CFOs are also suffering sleepless nights due to rising energy costs—which in some countries can double year-over-year. Therefore, it behooves the operator to seek and prioritize the use of über energy-efficient products, such as the Aviat WTM 3200, which—and this is important—do not compromise on RF performance.

That brings me to my last point: System gain (RF performance) remains a core TCO factor insofar as it can drive smaller antenna usage with the concomitant capex savings. Still, there might be little to differentiate ODRs in terms of RF performance—in which case the spotlight will fall on these other attributes to sway the decision.

Having worked on the operator side and wrestled with TCO analysis on many occasions, my experience tells me that you can narrow your ODR choice quickly by reflecting on these three attributes and the TCO gains they can deliver.

Jarlath Lally
Product Marketing Manager
Aviat Networks

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3 Important Questions for Ultra-Low Latency Microwave Networks

Aviat Networks Ultra Low Latency Best Practices Webinar and 3 QuestionsAre you considering building an ultra-low latency microwave network? Then you are not alone. Microwave is quickly becoming the default transport choice for low latency networks. However, building an ultra-low latency microwave network is not simple; there are many considerations. Latency through the “box” is important, but it is not the only factor, and too much focus on this metric may be a distraction. What is most important is end-to-end latency of the link. Aviat Networks recently addressed this topic in a webinar (registration required) and free presentation download and answered three very important questions regarding ultra-low latency microwave technology.

Also in this webinar, Travis Mitchell, Aviat Networks director of low latency business development, and Sergio Licardie, Aviat Networks senior director of systems engineering, consider the best practices for ultra-low latency microwave networks as they explore the techniques, technologies and design approaches necessary to ensure lowest end-to-end latency. They also discuss some innovations to look for in microwave networking to ensure continuous improvement in end-to-end latency performance. Other topics covered include:

  • Main contributors to end-to-end latency of microwave networks
  • Best options to reduce overall latency
  • Strategies to avoid compromising overall availability

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All-Outdoor Microwave Radios: Site Considerations

One of the great things about the microwave radio market today is the diversity of products available to network operators. But like many situations where there is a glut of options, it tends to put more stress on making the right choice.

An operator looking at products in the microwave radio sector will notice that there are three general categories of product to choose from: all-indoor, split-mount and all-outdoor, and within each, they are myriad different flavors.

All-outdoor radios are the most recent addition to the microwave radio party, and for the sake of easy reference, I’ll refer to them as ODRs (outdoor radios). These self-contained systems incorporate the traffic interfaces, switching/multiplexing elements, radio modem and radio transceiver—all packaged in a weatherproof outdoor housing. By contrast, an outdoor unit (ODU) used in split-mount systems only contains the radio transceiver, which connects to a radio modem embedded in an indoor unit (IDU). In a split-mount radio system, the IDU also provides the traffic interfaces and switching/multiplexing elements.

The rationale for ODRs is straightforward—networks are getting denser, new sites are getting smaller and established sites more densely populated. Space for equipment such as IDUs is at a premium and costs of upgrading sites with bigger equipment shelters is often not viable or possible due to site constraints. As a result, more network devices are being repackaged for deployment outdoors on supporting structures such as towers, walls or masts. Advances in electronics have made microwave radios viable for all-outdoor treatment, so ODRs came into being.

They did so to a fanfare of claims that pointed to fantastic gains in terms of operator TCO (total cost of ownership). No doubt, an ODR can deliver cost benefits, but it is important to fully scope and quantify those benefits, because although ODRs represent simplification in terms of product architecture, most networks have remained stubbornly complex. In practical terms, this means for each type of site in the network an operator needs to closely examine the gains an ODR might generate vs. a split-mount radio, for example. Our experience is that ODRs provide the most operator benefits at sites where:

  • One gigabit Ethernet (GbE) interface is adequate
  • Only a single local device will be connected (such as an LTE basestation)
  • There are no requirements to aggregate traffic from “downstream” sites
  • Out-of-band management facilities are not required
  • Non-protected (1+0) link configuration is adequate

Once operators consider sites with requirements beyond this scope—usually the majority—then ODRs (somewhat ironically) start to generate complexity and cost. This becomes manifest in the form of multiple Ethernet cable runs, multiple power cable runs, multiple PoE injectors, multiple lightning protection devices and, in some cases, the need for a separate outdoor Ethernet switch.

Even at modestly complex sites, the overhead costs ODRs can generate mean that a split-mount radio will often be a more effective option and deliver better TCO, assuming space can be found. On that note it is worth highlighting that IDUs already deployed at such sites are often modular and can be scaled without consuming any additional rack space, and the most advanced fixed (i.e., non-modular) IDUs only consume a half-rack unit of space.

On the surface, the case for ODRs can seem compelling but before jumping in, I would encourage operators to carefully examine how marketing claims translate into meaningful (real) TCO gains.

I am convinced ODRs represent a new and potentially very useful product category for microwave radio, but they are not a panacea; our experience (at Aviat Networks) is that optimum TCO is based on a mix of split-mount and all-outdoor radios (i.e., one “size” does not fit all).

So there you have it, in the right environment, an ODR can offer a winning formula but in other situations, it may not work so well. An old saying comes to mind: Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing not to put a tomato in a fruit salad.

Next time, we will examine ODRs in more detail, how they differ and how to choose the best option for your network.

Jarlath Lally
Product Marketing Manager
Aviat Networks

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Know Your Microwave Backhaul Options

If you look in the November issue of MissionCritical Communications, you will see an article by Aviat Networks director of marketing and communications, Gary Croke. In his article “Know Your Microwave Backhaul Options,” Gary covers:

  • Benefits of using indoor, outdoor and split-mount microwave radios in various scenarios
  • Rationale for choosing microwave over fiber (especially for LTE)
  • Deployability of microwave
  • Software-upgradeable capacity for “pay-as-you-grow” capex scalability
  • Cost contribution of towers over the first 10 years of LTE implementation
  • And more

You can read Gary’s article (on page-30) here—MissionCritical Communications—November 2012.

Related articles

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Evolution of Trunking Microwave Radios

Aviat WTM 6000 trunking microwave radio

Aviat WTM 6000 trunking microwave radio

Back in the day, trunking microwave radios were huge power-hungry beasts that consumed vast quantities of power and space at equal rates. They were complex “animals” that took days to install and hours to configure. Then they had to be looked after like well-loved but aged members of the family—with care, all due respect and consideration. Over time, components went out of adjustment and had to be brought back into line through various tuning routines, but overall they did their job as the super-reliable backbone of the POTS (i.e., Plain Old Telephone Service).

Jump forward a few decades and the latest trunking microwave solutions are elegant and graceful—almost svelte. With their current high levels of electronic integration, a complete repeater system can stand in a single rack space—unheard of until the most recent products. Furthermore, these new systems consume dramatically less power—a typical 3+1 system (i.e., four transceivers) consumes less than 400 watts. So now, backbone operators can save significantly on operating expenditure because of decreased space and power requirements at their microwave radio shelters.

Evolving microwave systems from analog to digital microwave systems carrying digital payloads was a rocky and dangerous path. The next migration from TDM payloads to IP payloads appears to be just as treacherous. How can a traditional TDM backbone radio, typically configured with N+1 radio protection switching, be reconfigured to transport a non-TDM payload that does not suit N+1 switching? IP transport is a completely different environment altogether! Luckily, trunking radio system designers have not ignored the Internet revolution and are perfectly aware of these challenges. In fact, well-appointed trunking microwave radio systems allow a graceful evolution from TDM to IP, with capability to transport both types of traffic simultaneously—and with their own ultra-reliable protection schemes!

Today, trunking microwave radios can support both TDM and IP seamlessly, offer robust radio performance and highly reliable switching and really do make it easy for operators to design mission-critical backbone networks. They offer mean time between failure (MTBF) reliability figures into the hundreds-of-years and highly integrated yet modular designs, which make expansion very straightforward. Before deciding on a trunking microwave radio, consider if the system:

  • Allows easy migration from TDM to IP with a minimal amount of replacement materials
  • Can expand to an expected maximum channel capacity (for example, six channels) without needing additional racks, etc.
  • Enables repeater configurations within one rack
  • Has a field-proven heritage of reliability and performance

Terry Ross
Senior Product Manager
Aviat Networks

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Best Practices for Ultra Low Latency Microwave Networks

Theoretical Chicago-NY microwave networks using existing towers compared to existing optical network

For discussion purposes of ultra low latency, two theoretical ultra low latency microwave networks are compared to an existing optical Chicago-NY network.

In today’s ultra-competitive High Frequency Trading markets, speed is everything, and recently wireless technologies, and specifically microwave networking, have been recognized as a faster alternative to optical transport for ultra-low latency financial applications.

Even though microwave technology has been in use in telecommunications networks around the world for more than 50 years, new developments have optimized microwave products to drive down the latency performance to the point that microwave can significantly outperform fiber over long routes, for example between Chicago and New York. This has provided a new market opportunity for innovative service providers to venture into the microwave low latency business.

Although reducing the latency of the equipment is an important consideration, the most important metric is the end-to-end latency. Many factors that influence overall end-to-end latency require a deep understanding of the technology and how this is applied in practice.

This white paper will show that to achieve the lowest end-to-end latency with the highest possible reliability and network stability not only requires a microwave platform that supports cutting edge low latency performance but also a combination of experience and expertise necessary to design, deploy, support and operate a microwave transmission network.

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3 Truths about High Fade Margin in Point-to-Point Path Design

Microwave Transmission ImageCurrently, there are no known ITU or North American error performance standards that address outage probability on all-packet point-to-point microwave radios. According to both the Vigants and ITU-R P.530 models, the probability of outage (i.e., Severely Errored Second Ratio) is inversely proportional to fade margin.

Truth or Myth: Higher Fade Margins Equal Better Performance?
This brings us to consider the following myth: Do higher fade margins improve error performance? Even though it makes sense intuitively, the concept of improving performance with high fade margins is not applicable to critical links—long links in low-lying, flat and humid regions. For this reason, a cautionary note needs to be disseminated among the global RF planning community.

Fade Margin and its Meaning in Point-to-Point Design
During the days of analog radios, high fade margins were required because noise was additive on a per hop basis, and any disturbance affected performance. It is important to recognize that annual or monthly outage time, not path fade margin, is the error performance objective for all-packet microwave radios. An all-packet radio will perform essentially error-free just a few dBs above threshold.

Truth 1: Critical Link C or k-Factors Reduce Fade Margin, Increase Outage Time
For long (40km+/25-miles+) and flat paths deployed in low elevations (200m/656-feet and lower) and humid areas, the geo-climatic model will yield a high geo-climatic factor (C or k-factor) that will reduce fade margin and consequently increase outage time from 300 sec/year (99.999% availability) to perhaps ~1500 sec/year (99.9952% availability). The logic is that to reduce the outage time, large (>3m/9.8-foot) antennas would be required.

Truth 2: Large Antennas Have Narrow Beamwidth, Decouple at Night
However, large antennas have a narrow beamwidth that would render the path unusable due to antenna decoupling because of dramatic changes of the k-factor at night.

Truth 3: High Output Power Does Not Accommodate High Nocturnal k-Factors
On the other hand, high output power would not accommodate very high nocturnal k-factor values and as a consequence a high fade margin would be useless—not to mention expensive to implement!

Four Principles of “Critical” Region Path Engineering
During our 54 years of existence in Silicon Valley, Aviat Networks has accumulated vast experience in the understanding of microwave radio propagation and performance in divergent geo-climatic conditions around the globe. Consequently, Aviat Networks recognizes the need to observe four path engineering commandments when implementing links in critical (i.e., low elevation, high humidity, ducting) regions as opposed to just concentrating on fade margin:

1. Adequate path clearance above suspected atmospheric boundary layers
2. Optimized antenna spacing
3. Proper antenna sizes and exacting alignments
4. Fade margin

In critical regions, wide radio channels (i.e., 28 MHz; 56 MHz) are dramatically affected by divergent tropospheric dielectric boundaries, which cannot be mitigated by high RF power or very large antennas. For these designs, sound path engineering is crucial, not necessarily high fade margin.

For additional information on high fade margins in wireless path design see our video “Check List for a Successful Microwave Link,” presented by noted microwave transmission expert Dick Laine, principal engineer for network engineering support at Aviat Networks.

Ivan Zambrano
Senior Network Engineer
Aviat Networks

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