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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