State-Wide Microwave Network Case Study: Extra High Power Radios

State-Wide Microwave Network Case Study: Extra High Power Radios

This large western US state had a longtime relationship with a microwave radio vendor and would have continued buying from them if their radios and support evolved with the State’s needs. However, over time its needs changed and it had to have more capabilities from its communications network. But it did not want to unnecessarily build new sites and erect costly new towers.

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85 Microwave Operators tell us their Biggest Backhaul Challenge

England-Campion-Hills-communications-mast-with-microwave-antennae-Aviat-Networks-blog-30July13

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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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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Big Promise for Small Cell Mobile Backhaul

Small cell backhaul spectrum considerations

Spectrum above 6 GHz is much more available for small cell backhaul than spectrum below 6 GHz.

A different solution to handle the burgeoning demand for mobile broadband capacity will be needed. More spectrum coupled with more spectral efficiency will not be sufficient. A clear solution is more sites, but deploying more macro-sites in urban and dense urban areas (where most of the traffic will be needed) will not be feasible.

Small cells promise a new “underlay” of outdoor and indoor, low power micro-cells that are deployed on public and private infrastructure within the urban clutter, are seen as seen as a likely solution. Sites being considered include:

  • Pole tops (e.g., such as street lighting, traffic light systems, electric utility poles, telco poles)
  • Bus stops
  • Building walls
  • Building rooftops

These new sites will need to be compact, simple to install, energy efficient and incorporate an organically scalable and tightly integrated backhaul solution. As a result, there will be many more sites—some projections estimate that up to 10 small cells will be deployed for every macro-site. Small cells hold out the promise of great gains for the end users but massive challenges for the operators.

Small cell deployments so far have mainly been concentrated in Europe (3G) and the USA (LTE). 3G small cells may also be deployed in other regions as a means to avoid the difficulties in obtaining planning approval for larger macro-cell sites.

It’s Still Early
Today, as far as wireless small cell backhaul (SCBH) solutions are concerned, there is evidence of product immaturity and hyperactivity in equal measure.

There is profusion of aggressively hyped solutions, including many that are a rehashing existing/niche solutions and at the opposite extreme some very new and unproven technologies. In practice, these solutions are jockeying for position while operators grapple to understand the formidable planning and infrastructure challenges being thrown up by their small cell ambitions. It is apparent that few appear that they will fully satisfy the anticipated and emerging requirements in terms of performance (i.e., capacity, latency, availability), size/shape, ease of deployment and most importantly, total cost of ownership. For the complete article, download the PDF.

Stuart D. Little
Director, Product Marketing
Aviat Networks

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Zain Tech Conference: Tomorrow is Now

Zain Group held its Zain Technology Conference in early November 2012 for its suppliers in order to better align its technology investments for the future.

Last week, I travelled to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates with my colleague, Steve Loebrich, to attend and present at the Zain Technology Conference. That brought together senior technical staff from the Zain Group of mobile operator companies from eight countries across the Middle East and North Africa, including Bahrain, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan and Sudan. This was the second time this pioneering mobile operator has held this conference since 2009. Zain launched the first mobile network in the Middle East in 1983 and now serves more than 41 million subscribers.

At the conference, Zain announced its new initiative “Ghanduna Zain” (Zain Tomorrow), which is a new strategy to bridge its technology investment plans with the future. Like mobile operators all around the world Zain is working hard to support the booming demand for mobile broadband data as well as providing basic voice and data services, through high-speed 3G technology and now with the impending launch of LTE services in its Kuwait network.

In the words of Zain Group’s CTO, Hisham Allam, “The purpose of our conference is to facilitate the exchange of the latest industry expertise, and given we have vast areas of growth in the fields of voice and data services, such trends pose both an opportunity as well as a challenge in terms of managing the expansion in traffic efficiently.” Allam continued, “The rise in mobile data and the growth in the usage of smartphones to access content is a reality, with smartphones representing over 90 percent of all mobile devices sold in Kuwait at this point in time. The increasingly sophisticated nature of modern mobile-services consumers requires that we become fully aware of their needs and their expectations in terms of quality of services.”

During the conference, Zain’s vendor partners gave presentations on new technologies and highlighted their products and services. Aviat Networks participated along with our partner, Middle East Telecommunications Company (METCO), which has worked with Zain for the past 25 years in transmission and backhaul networks in countries such as Kuwait, Iraq and Sudan. During the breakout sessions, Aviat conducted two presentations covering Network Convergence and lowering the Total Cost of Ownership of microwave backhaul networks and an overview of technology options and challenges for providing backhaul for new Small Cells.

Overall, it was a great event and extremely well-organized by Zain, and I look forward to the next conference. You can view a short video of the conference on CNBC Arabia (in Arabic).

Stuart Little
Director Product and Regional Marketing
Aviat Networks

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Diverse Wireless Network Topologies Cost Savings

To compare how different wireless backhaul network topologies perform under the same operating scenario, let’s analyze how a traditional hub-and-spoke and a ring configuration compare in connecting the same six sites (See table below). For the hub-and-spoke configuration, each cell site is provided 50 Mbps capacity in 1+1 protection. With five links and no path diversity, full protection is the only way to achieve five nines reliability. In this configuration, 10 antennas are employed, which average a large and costly 5.2 feet in diameter. Total cost of ownership for this six-site network is close to $700,000 for five years.

TCO Comparison by Topology

TCO Comparison by Topology

For a ring design for the same six sites, throughput of 200 Mbps is established to carry the traffic for each specific hop and any traffic coming in that direction from farther up the network. Designed to take advantage of higher-level redundancy schemes, the ring configuration only requires antennas that average 2.3 feet in diameter, which are much lower in cost compared to the antennas in the hub-and-spoke configuration. And even though the ring configuration requires 12 antennas and six links, its overall TCO amounts to a little under $500,000 over five years—30 percent less than TCO for the hub-and-spoke design for the same six sites.

This comparison is based upon deployments in the USA, where most operators lease tower space from other providers.

Gary Croke
Senior Product Marketing Manager
Aviat Networks

 

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Microwave Backhaul Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) pt. 2

How Important is Initial CAPEX?

Are we seeing the forest or the trees?

Based on microwave Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) model posted earlier, the most significant contributor to total cost is ongoing OPEX.

We see an increasing trend of operators making decisions on backhaul solution based mostly (sometimes solely) on price (or initial CAPEX). While initial CAPEX is important, if the goal is lowest cost, this can be problematic approach as initial CAPEX it is not the most significant contributor to total cost.  Ongoing OPEX is key.

Perhaps a better approach would be to focus on features most impacting lowering total costs.  For instance, adaptive coding and modulation can lower antenna sizes – which can reasonably reduce 10 year TCO by as much as $48,000 (which is 2-3x more than initial CAPEX).  Deploying ring architectures with high layer (L2/L3 or packet-based) failure recovery techniques can enable lower per hop reliability and smaller antennas – further lowering costs.

Microwave Backhaul Total Cost of Ownership

Gary Croke

Product Marketing, Aviat Networks

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Aviat Networks Speaking at the CTIA Tower Technology Summit

CTIA is always an interesting event especially the Tower Technology Summit. Today,  I sat on a CTIA panel session to discuss the topic of “Microwave Backhaul Gaining Momentum”, along with two other colleagues from other microwave companies. The purpose of the session was to  discuss the proposed changes to FCC Part 101 rules listed in 10-153 for fixed microwave links. Sounds pretty dry? Not really, as the proposed changes being considered by the FCC are intended to ease some of the restrictions placed on microwave links operating in the lower frequency bands, and also to enable more flexible use of technologies like Adaptive Modulation. In short, good ideas to make microwave even more cost effective for operators.

Each panelist gave a short talk on updates to the new proposed changes and what these changes mean for microwave backhaul.  At the high level, there was clear agreement that the current rules are pretty old, outdated, and need modification to support the industry’s migration to all IP. However, there was broad recognition that changes probably won’t happen overnight!

The panel had a heavy focus on total cost of ownership (TCO) for microwave solutions, and how smaller antenna sizes can play a significant factor in reducing costs.  I presented our view of a TCO model (that we recently presented in more detail on a recent Strategies for Lowering Your LTE/4G Backhaul Bill webinar with the WCAI ), and discussed technology and network design approaches to utilize smaller antennas. You can download a copy of the presentation slides here. Aviat Networks’ CTIA Tower Technology Summit Presentation

LTE backhaul capacity requirements and backhaul options for small cell architectures were also topics of discussion.  Our perspective on this is that LTE backhaul capacity requirements are often over-hyped and overstated, leading to poor backhaul decisions, which seemed to garner a lot of “head-nods” from attendees.  There was also general agreement from the panelists that new backhaul solutions were needed to address the small cell backhaul challenge and a “one-size-fits-all” product would surely not meet the needs.

We are just touching on the tip of what will become a hot topic of discussion in the months and year ahead. For more on this topic check back next week for my follow up post to Microwave Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Pt. 1.

Gary Croke

Product Marketing, Aviat Networks

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Microwave Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Pt. 1

When choosing the right backhaul technology, total cost of a microwave system is a critical, often overlooked, consideration. TCO is not widely understood today. Lack of understanding of microwave TCO can lead to poor decisions about choice in backhaul technology and obscure the relative importance of features. Features that lower critical components of TCO are often not given enough attention.

A summary of a TCO model for a mobile operator in North America is shown below. Clearly, ongoing OPEX resulting from tower leases represent largest contributor to total cost.  These lease costs include tower space for antennas and cable runs, shelter/cabinet space and power, and ongoing move/add/change fees regularly paid to tower companies. The largest portion of this tower lease is related to the antenna size. Microwave products and features that enable smaller antennas sizes, less indoor space, and fewer cables are most important for operators.

10 Year Microwave Total Cost of Ownership

*Note: for private network applications (like state/local governments, public safety organizations, and utilities) who generally own towers, initial CAPEX is often higher, leading to an overall reduction in ongoing OPEX and TCO.

Make sure to check back next week for post #2 ” How Important is Initial CAPEX?” where I breakdown the true costs of initial and ongoing CAPEX.

Gary Croke

Product Marketing, Aviat Networks

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