The point of this post is to determine the amount of latency reduction possible with a one-box integrated microwave router solution when compared to a two-box (separate router + microwave) offering. By how much does the one box solution improve latency?
Latency is important to all network operators. The lower the end-to-end delay the better it is for all types of applications.
For example, latency is critically important to mobile network operators (MNOs) for LTE Advanced features like coordinated multi-point (COMP) and MIMO, which require extremely tight latency. CRAN architectures are also demanding tighter latency from the backhaul.
In addition, latency-sensitive applications like Teleprotection, SCADA, and simulcast in private markets such as public safety, utilities, and the federal government will greatly benefit from low latency network performance. For other customers, low latency is critical for synchronization and HD video transport.
Typically, low-latency microwave is used to “replace” traditional-fiber based networks linking financial centers. The business driver for microwave-instead-of-fiber in low latency is the time it takes to transmit trading instructions. With microwave, latency is reduced by a few milliseconds as compared to fiber. Nevertheless, those few milliseconds can translate into a trading edge over rival investors, which means big bucks. Low latency investors will pay a premium for this edge resulting in increased revenue for low-latency microwave network operators.
However, as with most financial functions, low latency is subject to a set of stringent regulations. The scenario is doubly difficult when low-latency microwave networks transmit across international boundaries. This compares to linking financial centers within a single country, which is relatively straightforward from a regulatory perspective because there is only one set of rules. The fact is when connecting financial centers in different nations and the operator’s network has to traverse other countries’ borders, the process becomes orders of magnitude more complex. Download the complete article for a fuller examination of some of these issues and why there should be widespread support for greater international harmonization of microwave regulation.
In a recent interview, Trevor Burchell, Aviat Networks VP for Middle East, Africa and Europe sales and services, commented on the recent trend of low latency microwave networks. Though increasingly found in the telecom infrastructure of financial institutions, low latency microwave is not limited to these applications, he says. Burchell sees its applicability in uses as diverse as health care, government and utilities.
Some considerations are common to all microwave networks—low latency and all others, according to Burchell. Proper path planning and network engineering must be executed in order to have the most fully functional wireless point-to-point backhaul possible, he says.
In general, Burchell sees microwave as the best choice where telecommunications have to be rolled out quickly and cost effectively. There are many other points to consider. The complete interview is available online in Engineering News.
Germany is well-known for its autobahn highway system, where there are no official speed limits. Now there is a new high-speed network that traverses Western Europe from Frankfurt in Germany to London in the UK.
In addition, you may have read elsewhere in recent weeks about low latency microwave networks being constructed in the United States in support of the financial markets. The busiest route there is between the financial centers in Chicago and New York, where microwave can shave off 5 milliseconds off the transmission time along the 700 mile (1,000 km) route when compared to fastest fiber network (13 milliseconds). This saving directly equates to revenue for trading houses that are able to leverage this speed advantage.
In the United States, planning and deploying a point-to-point (PTP) microwave network is relatively predictable and straightforward: acquire sites and avoid interference from other network operators. Where PTP wireless networks cross state boundaries, a network operator need only deal with the national telecom regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), when obtaining required licenses to operate the microwave system.
But in Europe, this is a very different matter. While trans-European fiber networks have been a reality for many years, a microwave route like London to Frankfurt must traverse several national borders, forcing operators to deal with multiple regulators, with complex negotiations needed for microwave paths that cross national boundaries. For this reason very few—if any—microwave networks of this type have been built, up until now. However, the opportunities offered by the combination of the new low latency sector, along with the performance advantage of microwave over fiber, have now made the case for these kinds of networks compelling enough to outweigh the challenges, and costs, of planning and implementing them.
For a low-latency microwave network servicing the financial sector on the London-to-Frankfurt route, there are a number of major challenges beyond just identifying and securing suitable sites and coordinating frequencies. The difficulty of planning a long trunk route is also greatly exacerbated by going through the densely urbanized region of Western Europe. This results in a constant iteration between finding the right route, identifying accessible sites, and securing required microwave frequencies. To be successful you need all three—a site on a great route is useless if no microwave spectrum is available. All the while, there are other competing providers all trying to complete the same route in the fastest time possible—not only in latency terms, but also time to revenue.
This poses huge potential pitfalls in having to take the long way around, requiring additional sites and links, if a site is not available. The added latency caused by any such deviation could kill the entire project. This race is like no other in the microwave business—whoever is fastest wins first prize, and it is winner take all in this competition. The potential revenue for the London-to-Frankfurt low-latency path is quite staggering, even on a regular day, but on busy days when the market is volatile the potential can be much higher. Operators can plan on recouping their total investment in the microwave network in well under a year. Then once you have the most direct route, compared to your competitors, your problems may not be over, so it can come down to squeezing those extra few microseconds, or even nanoseconds, out of your equipment.
On this particular route there is also one significant natural barrier to contend with—the English Channel. There are only a few ways across that are short enough to allow a reliable microwave path, space diversity protection is a must and only a few towers are tall enough to support these distances. Even though there are no obstacles over the channel (apart from the occasional container ship), towers need to be high enough to allow the microwave signal to shoot over the bulge of the earth. Again, securing tower space at these sites is critical to success, but also obtaining the right to use one or more of a finite pool of available frequency channels, otherwise fiber may be needed across this stage, adding latency. One group even took the step of purchasing a microwave site in the Low Countries to secure it precisely for this purpose.
London to Frankfurt will only be the start for low latency microwave networks in Europe, as there is always a need and an opportunity to provide competitive transmission services to other financial centers throughout the continent. The winners will be those with the speed and agility to quickly seize these opportunities, along with working with the right microwave partner who can help them with the intensely complex business of planning and deploying these trans-national networks, and who can also supply microwave systems with ultra-low latency performance.
We will have more to say publicly on this topic in the near future. Or if you prefer not to wait that long, we would be more than happy to have a private conversation about low-latency microwave with you.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from all of us at Aviat Networks. Just as you are finishing those final gifting ideas for the winter, we would like to share a few thoughts from Travis Mitchell, Aviat Networks director of low latency business development. In the just published article “Microwave Technology for Low Latency Trading Networks” in Wall Street & Technology, Travis clears up the misconceptions that trading technologists may have about microwave communications, many of which have carried over from the age of analog radio and do not apply to digital microwave.
In addition, Travis spells out the advantages that low latency microwave has over fiber optic technology. Two of these are the point-to-point, direct line-of-sight communications between microwave stations and the absolute higher speed microwaves can achieve. In comparison, fiber communications oftentimes do not run directly from Point A to Point B but must instead wind their way around obstacles, burrow underground, climb tall buildings and so on before reaching their destination. This extra distance covered contributes delay to the overall latency experienced by trades sent via fiber as compared to microwave.
Then the immutable laws of nature tell us that microwave communications—even traveling through the atmosphere—approach very close to the speed of light. On the other hand, laser communications traversing the dense medium of fiber optics are much slower than the speed of light—many tens of percentage points slower than the speed of light.
To close, Travis briefly summarizes other factors that go into making low latency microwave networking the choice for traders over fiber, including minimizing the network route, maximizing the distance between microwave hops and using passive repeater technology, when appropriate. For the whole story, see the article. Other resources also include our low latency microwave white paper and low latency webinar replay.
The week of October 29, 2012, “Superstorm” Sandy made landfall in the Northeast United States. Combining a powerful hurricane with a fast-moving cold front resulted in one of the worst weather systems possible. Sandy also took shape during the full moon and high tide. The storm brought damage and destruction from the Carolinas all the way to Canada before it moved on. There was tremendous loss of power, communications and general destruction of infrastructure. Sadly, there were also a number of deaths from this powerful storm.
So what does that have to do with Aviat Networks? One of the AviatCare support services that we offer customers is a comprehensive Network Monitoring and Support service from our North American Network Operations Center (NOC) located in Texas. From that location, we have the ability to monitor, manage and dispatch resources to address customer issues with their networks. Even before the storm hit the Northeast U.S., our NOC was getting ready to ensure our customers would be prepared for this coming disturbance. With our ability to monitor weather events in real-time, we can see immediately what is affecting a customer’s network from a weather perspective.
In the path of the storm, we had two customers who rely on Aviat Networks for the monitoring and management of their networks from our NOC: an E911 Service in Virginia and a low latency network that runs from Chicago to New York City. First hit was the Virginia E911 customer’s network undergoing a glancing blow from the storm but no less destructive than what was soon to happen farther north. Three of the E911 sites were brought down by Sandy. Within eight hours of the storm touching Virginia, the NOC with support from our Technical Assistance Center (TAC) engineers had the customer back up and operational. We were able to do this 100 percent remotely without having to dispatch any field resources to site. Using the tools we have, we were able to remotely validate that there was no physical damage and all that had to be done was get power back up and reset the equipment remotely.
The Chicago-to-NYC network had bigger issues. The eastern end of this network bore the full brunt of the storm and suffered considerably. Three sites endured long-term power loss and two sites were blown out of path alignment. Even though it was outside of the scope of the carrier’s SLA, we located power generators and got them onsite in time to provide power before battery backup failed. This work started even while the storm was underway in the area. Resources got to the sites through severe flooding, virtually impassable roads and downed trees and power lines. In addition, someone returned to the sites every 12 hours to refuel the generators for three days running until power was finally restored. As soon as the storm passed, we collaborated with tower crews on site to realign the links back to operational status. Within 48 hours of the superstorm, the low-latency network was fully functional and carrying traffic within the parameters required to meet its customers’ requirements.
This was truly a team effort and involved the dedication of a large number of AviatCare resources as well as some of our key partners. This is just another example of how we can pull together to ensure our customers get a level of care that demonstrates our commitment to excellence. Whether it is a superstorm or a super number of tornadoes—which we had to address in 2011—our NOC and TAC teams know what it takes to support customers during and after a natural disaster. We never wish for these things to happen but it is critical that when they do our customers have the right level of support to ensure their networks are operational in the shortest time possible.
Director, Global Support Services
Are 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: