What’s happening in MicrowaveBackhaul? According to the Ericsson Mobility Report Q4 2017, 3.3 billion mobile broadband subscribers will be added in the next five years, and a clear majority of these will come from LTE and 3G/HSPA in microwave-centric markets. The addition of an Indian greenfield LTE/4G operator and the densification needed to support proper MBB services will increase the number of sites, stabilizing microwave share on a global basis.
The large-scale 5G volume deployments are initially expected in areas with high fiber penetration, such as China, Korea, Japan and US.
There are also operators in Western Europe that have a combination of microwave and fiber, and are looking at introducing 5G. Larger volume rollouts of 5G networks are planned for a later point in the next few years.
Backhaul media distribution (excluding China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan)
In mature mobile broadband regions such as Western Europe, there are
examples of large operators using up to 80 percent microwave that now
plan for 5G introduction using existing microwave networks. Microwave
technology has evolved to manage the demand of mobile networks,
and can do so from any macro site. Core and inter-city aggregation
networks are typically deployed with fiber backhaul, while spurs are
implemented using microwave. It has also been observed that usage of
lower spectrum for longer-distance hops is decreasing in favor of
higher-frequency bands for short distance and high-capacity hops.
Spectrum trends up to 2025
Spectrum below 3GHz will provide coverage in 5G. The 3–5GHz spectrum will enable high bandwidth balanced with good coverage. These bands are not used by microwave today to any major extent (apart from some 4 and 5GHz long-haul links). The extreme bandwidths in 5G will be enabled for hotspots and industry applications in spectrum above 20GHz.
It is clear that the main focus will be on bands 24–42GHz. In the US the FCC currently has a 24, 28 and 38GHz focus and in Europe there is a focus on 26GHz. 3GPP is specifying 5G bands in 24.25–29.5GHz and 37–43.5GHz in Release 15. It excludes 32GHz and E-band, which are both part of the ITU study and, in a recent report, the FCC stresses the importance of E-band for 5G backhaul. The decision on which bands to use and where, will be unique to each nation. But longterm parts of the 24–42GHz spectrum will be used more by 5G and less by microwave fixed services. In some of these bands, e.g. 26 and 38GHz
in Europe, there are many existing microwave links in several countries.
It will take time to move these links to other bands such as E-band. The 15–23GHz spectrum will remain as the global high-volume microwave bands. E-band will become a global high-volume band, both on its own and in a multi-band booster combination with 15–23GHz.
For long hops and as an economical replacement to fiber, 6–13GHz will also remain important. Due to their good propagation properties in geographical areas with high rain rates, these low frequencies are fundamental to building transport networks in certain regions.
With all of this taken into account, it is clear that the availability and usage of microwave spectrum will go through a major transformation in the next 5 to 10 years
Higher Capacities: Radio Link Aggregation
When combining data over multiple carriers, radio link bonding is a key technology. An efficient bonding technique ensures that a single data stream is seamlessly transmitted across different radio channels, with negligible overhead. In the current Global market: About 80 percent of links are configured as single carriers (1+0), the remainder as multi-carrier links with backup links as protection. About 8 percent are set up with one active radio and the protection link in hot standby mode (1+1); 10 percent are configured with dual-carrier radio link bonding (2+0), where the capacity of the backup link is used to increase the link’s peak capacity. Only 2 percent are configured for three or more carriers (>2+0). Due to the need for increased transport capacity, the number of links aggregated over two or more carriers is rising globally.
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Return-on-Investment (ROI)
The total cost of ownership and time-to-market becomes critical to
secure the overall operator business case. As fiber investments typically
have a depreciation of around 25 years, and 5–8 years for microwave,
it becomes important to invest in fiber within the right areas, such
as core and aggregation networks, which historically have been
deployed with long-haul microwave.
Technology Evolution for Microwave
Over the past 20 years, microwave technology has been continuously
evolving to meet requirements. In 1996, microwave hops typically
supported 34Mbps, whereas today products have the ability to support
up to 1Gbps in traditional bands, and up to 10Gbps with E-Band.
Some content is (C) Ericsson reproduced with thanks, from Ericsson Mobility Report Q4 2017
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The difference between FDD and TDD in Microwave Transmission
Microwave links typically use Frequency-division duplexing (FDD) which is a method for establishing a full-duplex communications link that uses two different radio frequencies for transmitter and receiver operation. The transmit direction and receive direction frequencies are separated by a defined frequency offset.
Advantages of FDD
In the microwave realm, the primary advantages of this approach are:
The full data capacity is always available in each direction because the send and receive functions are separated;
It offers very low latency since transmit and receive functions operate simultaneously and continuously;
It can be used in licensed and license-exempt bands;
Most licensed bands worldwide are based on FDD; and
Due to regulatory restrictions, FDD radios used in licensed bands are coordinated and protected from interference, though not immune to it.
Disadvantages to FDD
The primary disadvantages of the FDD approach to microwave communication are:
Complex to install. Any given path requires the availability of a pair of frequencies; if either frequency in the pair is unavailable, then it may not be possible to deploy the system in that band;
Radios require pre-configured channel pairs, making sparing complex;
Any traffic allocation other than a 50:50 split between transmit and receive yields inefficient use of one of the two paired frequencies, lowering spectral efficiency; and
Collocation of multiple radios is difficult.
TDD compared with FDD
Time-division duplexing (TDD) is a method for emulating full-duplex communication over a half-duplex communication link. The transmitter and receiver both use the same frequency but transmit and receive traffic is switched in time. The primary advantages of this approach as it applies to microwave communication are:
It is more spectrum friendly, allowing the use of only a single frequency for operation and dramatically increasing spectrum utilization, especially in license-exempt or narrow-bandwidth frequency bands ;
It allows for the variable allocation of throughput between the transmit and receive directions, making it well suited to applications with asymmetric traffic requirements, such as video surveillance, broadcast and Internet browsing;
Radios can be tuned for operation anywhere in a band and can be used at either end of the link. As a consequence, only a single spare is required to serve both ends of a link.
Disadvantages of TDD
The primary disadvantages of traditional TDD approaches to microwave communications are:
The switch from transmit to receive incurs a delay that causes traditional TDD systems to have greater inherent latency than FDD systems;
Traditional TDD approaches yield poor TDM performance due to latency;
For symmetric traffic (50:50), TDD is less spectrally efficient than FDD, due to the switching time between transmit and receive; and
Multiple co-located radios may interfere with one another unless they are synchronized.
5G Mobile networks, Microwave Backhaul and future trends in Mobile Networks
With 5G mobile communication becoming available around 2020, the industry has already started to develop a fairly clear view of the main challenges, opportunities and key technology components it involves. 5G will extend the performance and capabilities of wireless access networks in many dimensions, for example enhancing mobile broadband services to provide data rates beyond 10 Gbps with latencies of 1 ms.
Microwave is a key element of current backhaul networks and will continue to evolve as part of the future 5G ecosystem. An option in 5G is to use the same radio access technology for both the access and the backhaul links, with dynamic sharing of the spectrum resources. This can provide a complement to microwave backhaul especially in very dense deployments with a larger number of small radio nodes.
Today, microwave transmission dominates mobile backhaul, where it connects some 60 percent of all macro base stations. Even as the total number of connections grows, microwave’s share of the market will remain fairly constant. By 2019, it will still account for around 50 percent of all base stations (macro and outdoor small cells (see Figure 3). It will play a key role in last mile access and a complementary role the aggregation part of the network. At the same time, fibre transmission will continue to increase its share of the mobile backhaul market, and by 2019 will connect around 40 percent of all sites. Fibre will be widely used in the aggregation/metro parts of the networks and increasingly for last-mile access. There will also be geographical differences, with densely populated urban areas having higher fibre penetration than less populated suburban and rural areas, where microwave will prevail for both short-haul and long-haul links.
Spectrum efficiency (that is, getting more bits per Hz) can be achieved through techniques like higher-order modulation and adaptive modulation, the superior system gain of a well-designed solution, and Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO).
The maximum number of symbols per second transmitted on a microwave carrier is limited by the channel bandwidth. Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) increases the potential capacity by coding bits on to each symbol. Moving from two bits per symbol (4 QAM) to 10 bits per symbol (1024 QAM) delivers a more than five-fold capacity increase.
Higher-order modulation levels have been made possible through advances in component technologies that have reduced equipment-generated noise and signal distortion. In the future there will be support for up to 4096 QAM (12 bits per symbol), but we are approaching the theoretical and practical limits. Higher-order modulation means increased sensitivity to noise and signal distortion. The receiver sensitivity is reduced by 3 dB for every increased step in modulation, while the related capacity gain gets smaller (in percentage terms). As an example, the capacity gain is 11 percent when moving from 512 QAM (9 bits per symbol) to 1024 QAM (10 bits per symbol).
Increasing modulation makes the radio more sensitive to propagation anomalies such as rain and multi-path fading. To maintain microwave hop length, the increased sensitivity can be compensated for by higher output power and larger antennas. Adaptive modulation is a very cost-effective solution to maximize throughput in all propagation conditions. In practice, adaptive modulation is a prerequisite for deployment with extreme high-order modulation.
Adaptive modulation enables an existing microwave hop to be upgraded from, for example, 114 Mbps to as much as 500 Mbps. The higher capacity comes with lower availability. For example, availability is reduced from 99.999 percent (5 minutes’ yearly outage) at 114 Mbps to 99.99 percent of the time (50 minutes’ yearly outage) at 238 Mbps. System gain Superior system gain is a key parameter for microwave. A 6 dB higher system gain can be used, for example, to increase two modulation steps with the same availability, which provides up to 30 percent more capacity. Alternatively it could be used to increase the hop length or decrease the antenna size, or a combination of all. Contributors to superior system gain include efficient error correction coding, low receiver noise levels, digital predistortion for higher output power operation, and power-efficient amplifiers, among others.
MIMO Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO)
MIMO is a mature technology that is widely used to increase spectral efficiency in 3GPP and Wi-Fi radio access, where it offers a cost-effective way to boost capacity and throughput where available spectrum is limited. Historically, the spectrum situation for microwave applications has been more relaxed; new frequency bands have been made available and the technology has been continuously developed to meet the capacity requirements. However in many countries the remaining spectrum resources for microwave applications are starting to become depleted and additional technologies are needed to meet future requirements. For 5G Mobile Backhaul, MIMO at microwave frequencies is an emerging technology that offers an effective way to further increase spectrum efficiency and so the available transport capacity.
Unlike ‘conventional’ MIMO systems, which are based on reflections in the environment, for 5G Mobile Backhaul, channels are ‘engineered’ in point-to-point microwave MIMO systems for optimum performance. This is achieved by installing the antennas with a spatial separation that is hop distance-and frequency-dependent. In principle, throughput and capacity increase linearly with the number of antennas (at the expense of additional hardware cost, of course). An NxM MIMO system is constructed using N transmitters and M receivers. Theoretically there is no limit for the N and M values, but since the antennas must be spatially separated there is a practical limitation depending on tower height and surroundings. For this reason 2×2 antennas is the most feasible type of MIMO system. These antennas could either be single polarized (two carrier system) or dual polarized (four carrier system). MIMO will be a useful tool for scaling microwave capacity further, but is still at an early phase where, for example, its regulatory status still needs to be clarified in most countries, and its propagation and planning models still need to be established. The antenna separation can also be challenging especially for lower frequencies and longer hop lengths.
Another section of the microwave capacity toolbox for 5G Mobile Backhaul involves getting access to more spectrum. Here the millimeter-wave bands – the unlicensed 60 GHz bands and the licensed 70/80 GHz band – are growing in popularity as a way of getting access to new spectrum in many markets (see Microwave Frequency Options section for more information). These bands also offer much wider frequency channels, which facilitate deployment of cost-efficient, multi-gigabit systems which enable 5G Mobile Backhaul.
Throughput efficiency (that is, more payload data per bit), involves features like multi-layer header compression and radio link aggregation/bonding, which focus on the behaviour of packet streams.
Multi-layer header compression
Multi-layer header compression removes unnecessary information from the headers of the data frames and releases capacity for traffic purposes, as shown in Figure 7. On compression, each unique header is replaced with a unique identity on the transmitting side, a process which is reversed on the receiving side. Header compression provides relatively higher utilization gain for packets of smaller frame size, since their headers comprise a relatively larger part of the total frame size. This means the resulting extra capacity varies with the number of headers and frame size, but is typically a 5–10 percent gain with Ethernet, IPv4 and WCDMA, with an average frame size of 400–600 bytes, and a 15–20 percent gain with Ethernet, MPLS, IPv6 and LTE with the same average frame size.
These figures assume that the implemented compression can support the total number of unique headers that are transmitted. In addition, the header compression should be robust and very simple to use, for example offering self-learning, minimal configuration and comprehensive performance indicators.
Radio Link Aggregation (RLA, Bonding)
Radio link bonding in microwave is akin to carrier aggregation in LTE and is an important tool to support continued traffic growth, as a higher share of microwave hops are deployed with multiple carriers, as illustrated in Figure 8. Both techniques aggregate multiple radio carriers into one virtual one, so both enhancing the peak capacity as well as increasing the effective throughput through statistical multiplexing gain. Nearly 100 percent efficiency is achieved, since each data packet can use the total aggregated peak capacity with only a minor reduction for protocol overhead, independent of traffic patterns. Radio link bonding is tailored to provide superior performance for the particular microwave transport solution concerned. For example, it may support independent behaviour of each radio carrier using adaptive modulation, as well as graceful degradation in the event of failure of one or more carrier (N+0 protection).
Just like carrier aggregation, radio link bonding will continue to be developed to support higher capacities and more flexible carrier combinations, for example through support for aggregation of more carriers, carriers with different bandwidths and carriers in different frequency bands.
The next section of the capacity toolbox is network optimization. This involves densifying networks without the need for extra frequency channels through interference mitigation features like super high performance (SHP) antennas and automatic transmit power control (ATPC). SHP antennas effectively suppress interference through very low sidelobe radiation patterns, fulfilling ETSI class 4. ATPC enables the transmit power to be automatically reduced during favorable propagation conditions (that is, most of the time), effectively reducing the interference in the network. Using these features reduces the number of frequency channels needed in the network and could deliver up to 70 percent more total network capacity per channel. Interference due to misalignment or dense deployment is limiting backhaul build-out in many networks. Careful network planning, advanced antennas, signal processing and the use of ATPC features at a network level will reduce the impact from interference.
Looking to the future, 5G and Beyond
Over the coming years, microwave capacity tools for 5G Mobile Networks will be evolved and enhanced, and used in combination enabling capacities of 10 Gbps and beyond. Total cost of ownership will be optimized for common high-capacity configurations, such as multi-carrier solutions.
Find out information on technology, deployment and applications for modern Digital Microwave Links
Microwave links are widely used for connectivity in modern digital IP networks. With capacities up to 6Gbps and beyond, a modern Microwave Link network can deliver bandwidth in a reliable, cost-effective and flexible manner – without need for disruption and delay caused by digging up streets and avoiding costly leased-line or leased fibre optic alternatives.
On this website you can find more information about radio link deployment and technology. Also we invite you to contact our experts with any questions by sending a message to us on our contact page.
Microwave links are used extensively in 4G & 5G LTE backhaul networks, 2G (GSM) and 3G (UMTS) mobile operators, wireless metropolitan area networks (Wi-MAN) and corporate networks where high performance, flexibility, speed of deployment and low operating costs are required. Key features of links include high spectral efficiency (256QAM, 1024QAM, 2048QAM and 4096QAM), Automatic Transmit Power Control (ATPC) and Adaptive Coding and Modulation (ACM).
Globally, MW radio links are used for around 60% of all mobile backhaul connections due to the compelling technical and commercial arguments in favour of MW radio compared to leased line and trenched fibre alternatives. Speed of deployment and flexibility – the ability to move sites or provision rapidly – are greatly in favour of MW radio over fibre and cabled alternatives.
A link typically features a radio unit and a parabolic antenna, which may vary in size from 30cm up to 4m diameter depending on required distance and capacity. The radio unit is generally either a “Full Outdoor”, “Split Mount” or “Full Indoor” design depending on operator preference, deployment, features and available indoor space for specific sites and installation.
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