1024QAM Microwave Links for High Capacity Wireless Transmission
High Capacity Microwave Links from leading vendors use 1024QAM modulation to achieve high capacity, spectral density and efficiency without sacrificing reliability. This technology sets a new benchmark for microwave transmission capacity for operators including 4G / LTE Backhaul links for mobile operators as well as last-mile links, backbone and other applications.
High Capacity Links require High Order QAM modulation
Leading long-haul microwave equipment vendors are now using dependable long-distance transmissions using 1024 QAM. Relative to the industry-standard 256 QAM, this represents a 25% increase in capacity (and up to double the capacity of legacy SDH links), with all other factors the same. Compared to older 4QAM modulation the increase to 1024QAM is five-fold. Operators of long-haul microwave links will certainly enjoy the boost to their capacity with 1024 QAM, especially when these upgrades are relatively painless and generally require only a minor and quick swap of equipment.
Adaptive Coding and Modulation (ACM)
Leading microwave equipment vendors are able to keep their long-haul transmission links operational even in transient fade and noisy conditions. The enabling technology is ACM: Adaptive Coding and Modulation. Microwave links with ACM technology automatically sense the quality of the transmission link and can automatically decrease the modulation technique in case of degraded signal quality due to interference or other microwave propagation problems such as weather. So, if a microwave transmission is operating at maximum capacity using 1024QAM and suddenly encounters interference or high rainfall, a system such as the CableFree microwave system automatically steps down the modulation to lower levels until the transmission network, although at lower capacity now, maintains the ultra high level of link reliability and availability. As the temporary weather effects disappear, the microwave system automatically re-applies more efficient higher-order modulation techniques to regain full capacity.
Overcoming Tradeoffs due to High Order QAM Modulation
With increasing modulation the receiver sensitivity is greatly reduced, and generally transmit power has to be reduced due to linearity constraints in the transmitter. For fixed modulation speeds the result is either increase of antenna size or reduced distances, which may prevent an operator upgrading to higher capacity. The use of ACM allows use of 1024QAM whilst avoiding sacrifice of distance or antenna sizes, by graceful step-down of modulation to lower rates during rare periods of high rainfall.
Use along with other bandwidth-enhancing technologies such as XPIC
1024QAM modulation is fully compatible with other methods to increase capacity such as XPIC (Cross Polar Interference Cancellation). An advanced microwave modem featuring 1024QAM and XPIC can greatly increase capacity. XPIC alone offers double the capacity compared to a single polarised non-XPIC solution.
1024QAM Microwave Summary
These latest advancements in advanced microwave modulation offer network operators an easy and inexpensive upgrade path to higher capacities to meet demand. Advanced modulation technology of 1024QAM is fully shipping and available today and offers a very cost-effective way to boost capacity in long-haul microwave applications.
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Adaptive Coding and Modulation or Link adaptation is a term used in wireless communications to denote the matching of the modulation, coding and other signal and protocol parameters to the conditions on the radio link (e.g. the pathloss, the interference due to signals coming from other transmitters, the sensitivity of the receiver, the available transmitter power margin, etc.). In a digital Microwave Link ACM uses a rate adaptation algorithm that adapts the modulation and coding scheme (MCS) according to the quality of the radio channel, and thus the bit rate and robustness of data transmission. The process of link adaptation is a dynamic one and the signal and protocol parameters change as the radio link conditions change.
The Goal of ACM
The goal of Adaptive Modulation and Coding is to improve the operational efficiency of Microwave links by increasing network capacity over the existing infrastructure – while reducing sensitivity to environmental interferences.
Adaptive Modulation means dynamically varying the modulation in an errorless manner in order to maximize the throughput under momentary propagation conditions. In other words, a system can operate at its maximum throughput under clear sky conditions, and decrease it
gradually under rain fade. For example a link can change from 1024QAM down to QPSK to keep “link alive” without losing connection. Prior to the development of Automatic Coding and Modulation, microwave designers had to design for “worst case” conditions to avoid link outage The benefits of using ACM include:
Longer link lengths (distance)
Using smaller antennas (saves on mast space, also often required in residential areas)
Higher Availability (link reliability)
Importance to Operators of ACM
Adaptive Coding and Modulation increases the capacity of microwave links without sacrificing distance or availability, and without requiring larger antennas. The penalty – reduced capacity during heavy fade/rainfall – is usually considered an acceptable trade-off compared to the benefits, especially for IP networks where a variable capacity is generally considered acceptable, compared to legacy PDH (NxE1/T1) and SDH connections which are fixed capacity applications. Conversely, ACM allows operators to minimise costs by using smaller antennas, meet higher availability targets (e.g. 99.999% availability) and customer SLA (service level agreement) and also fit within aesthetic and planning constraints in dense urban areas and regions of natural beauty where large antennas may be prohibited by planners or building owners.
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Alignment of Microwave Antennas for Digital Microwave Transmission Systems
This article contains generic instructions for alignment of Microwave antennas. Specific products may have different features, in which case please refer to the documentation provided for those products:
Antenna Alignment for Microwave Links
This guide explains how to achieve the optimal antenna alignment of microwave antennas when used with modern digital microwave products. Before attempting to do the alignment it is highly recommended that you read this guide in detail. For specific commands please consult the manual of the product being installed
Step 1: Preparation:
Mount the antenna on the tower according to the antenna installation instructions: Ensure that the adjustment bolts move smoothly and the range of motion is sufficient for the expected angle of up and down (elevation) tilt. Ensure that the mount itself is attached securely and all safety precautions have been taken.
Step 2: Coarse Alignment:
Visually align the antenna with the far end. The most common ways to do this are :
1) If the visibility is good and the sun is in the correct position, have someone at the far end location reflect the sun with a mirror so the location is obvious.
2) If visibility is poor, use GPS coordinates and a GPS compass to aim the antenna coarsely.
Step 3: Fine Alignment.
Before conducting fine alignment, the ODUs at both ends of the link must be attached properly to the antenna via the direct mount or remote mount (using Waveguide) and the far end ODU must be powered on and transmitting. The ODU lightning surge suppressors and grounding provisions should be put in place as well before alignment. The local ODU must be powered on, but need not be transmitting.
1) Frequency of the far end transmitter matches the frequency of the local receiver.
2) The TX output power is not set above the level of the license.
3) ATPC is turned OFF on the far end.
4) Alignment mode is ON for SP ODUs – Display on ODU and IDU will update at 5 times per second.
FINE ALIGNMENT PROCEDURE
1) Adjust the azimuth over a 30 degree sweep by turning the adjustment bolt in increments of 1/10th turn to avoid missing the main lobe. When the highest signal has been found for azimuth, repeat for the elevation adjustment.
2) Turn the local transmitter on to allow alignment at the far end.
3) Move to the far end of the link and repeat step 1.
4) Lock down the antenna so no further movement can occur.
5) Install the antenna side struts supplied with the antenna.
6) Verify the RSSI remains the same and is within 2-4 dB of the expected levels.
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.
The term ODU is used in Split-Mount Microwave systems where an Indoor Unit (IDU) is typically mounted in an indoor location (or weatherproof shelter) connected via a coaxial cable to the ODU which is mounted on a rooftop or tower top location.
Often the ODU is direct mounted to a microwave antenna using “Slip fit” waveguide connection. In some cases, a Flexible Waveguide jumper is used to connect from the ODU to the antenna.
The ODU converts data from the IDU into an RF signal for transmission. It also converts the RF signal from the far end to suitable data to transmit to the IDU. ODUs are weatherproofed units that are mounted on top of a tower either directly connected to a microwave antenna or connected to it through a wave guide.
Generally, Microwave ODUs designed for full duplex operation, with separate signals for transmit and receive. On the airside interface this corresponds to a “pair” of frequencies, one for transmit, the other for receive. This is known as “FDD” (Frequency Division Duplexing)
ODU Power and data signals
The ODU receives its power and the data signals from the IDU through a single coaxial cable. ODU parameters are configured and monitored through the IDU. The DC power, transmit signal, receive signal and some command/control telemetry signals are all combined onto the single coaxial cable. This use of a single cable is designed to reduce cost and time of installation.
ODu Frequency bands and sub-bands
Each ODU is designed to operate over a predefined frequency sub-band. For example 21.2 – 23.6GHz for a 23GHz system, 17.7 – 19.7GHz for a 18GHz system and 24.5 – 26.5GHz for a 26GHz system as for ODUs. The sub-band is set in hardware (filters, diplexer) at time of manufacture and cannot be changed in the field.
1+0, 1+1, 2+0 Deployments
Microwave ODUs can be deployed in various configurations.
The most common is 1+0 which has a single ODU, generally connected directly to the microwave antenna. 1+0 means “unprotected” in that there is no resilience or backup equipment or path.
For resilient networks there are several different configurations. 1+1 in “Hot Standby” is common and typically has a pair of ODUs (one active, one standby) connected via a Microwave Coupler to the antenna. There is typically a 3dB or 6dB loss in the coupler which splits the power either equally or unequally between the main and standby path.
Other resilient configurations are 1+1 SD (Space Diversity, using separate antennas, one ODU on each) and 1+1 FD (Frequency Diversity)
The other non-resilient configuration is 2+0 which has two ODUs connected to a single antenna via a coupler. The hardware configuration is identical to 1+1 FD, but the ODUs carry separate signals to increase the overall capacity.
Grounding & Surge Protection
Suitable ground wire should be connected to the ODU ground lug to an appropriate ground point on the antenna mounting or tower for lightning protection. This grounding is essential to avoid damage due to electrical storms.
In-line Surge Suppressors are used to protect the ODU and IDU from surges that could travel down the cable in the case of extreme surges caused by lightning
The specification of a typical Microwave ODU is shown below.
Typical ODU Features and Specifications:
4-42GHz frequency bands available
Fully synthesized design
3.5-56MHz RF channel bandwidths
Supports QPSK and 16 to 1024 QAM. Some ODUs may support 2048QAM
Standard and high power options
High MTBF, greater than 92.000 hours
Software controlled ODU functions
Designed to meet FCC, ETSI and CE safety and emission standards
Supports popular ITU-R standards and frequency recommendations
Software configurable microcontroller for ODU monitor and control settings
Low noise figure, low phase noise and high linearity
Compact and lightweight design
Very high frequency stability +/-2.5 ppm
Wide operating temperature range: -40°C to +65°C
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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.
Rain fade refers primarily to the absorption of a microwave radio frequency (RF) signal by atmospheric rain, snow or ice, and losses which are especially prevalent at frequencies above 11 GHz. It also refers to the degradation of a signal caused by the electromagnetic interference of the leading edge of a storm front. Rain fade can be caused by precipitation at the uplink or downlink location. However, it does not need to be raining at a location for it to be affected by rain fade, as the signal may pass through precipitation many miles away, especially if the satellite dish has a low look angle. From 5 to 20 percent of rain fade or satellite signal attenuation may also be caused by rain, snow or ice on the uplink or downlink antenna reflector, radome or feed horn. Rain fade is not limited to satellite uplinks or downlinks, it also can affect terrestrial point to point microwave links (those on the earth’s surface).
Possible ways to overcome the effects of rain fade are site diversity, uplink power control, variable rate encoding, receiving antennas larger (i.e. higher gain) than the required size for normal weather conditions, and hydrophobic coatings.
Two models are generally used for Rain modelling: Crane and ITU. The ITU model is generally preferred by microwave planners. A global map of Rain distribution according to the ITU model is shown below:
Used in conjunction with appropriate planning tools, this data can be used to predict the expected Operational Availability (in %) of a microwave link. Useful Operational Availability figures typically vary from 99.9% (“three nines”) to 99.999% (“five nines”), and are a function of the overall link budget including frequency band, antenna sizes, modulation, receiver sensitivity and other factors.
Another useful Rain Fade map is shown here, showing the 0.01% annual rainfall exceedance rate:
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A popular choice for modern IP networks is the Full Outdoor Radio (FOR). Also called “Zero Footprint Radio”, “All Outdoor Radio”, “Outdoor IP Radio”.
In an FOR, the radio includes the modem, user network interface and all RF processing sections in a single unit. This is typically mounted on the customer rooftop or tower site mated to a high gain directional antenna.
Connectivity is typically Power over Ethernet (POE) and optional Fibre Optics (SFP) connection
The Full Outdoor Radio (FOR) architecture is popular with:
Internet Service providers (ISP)
Wireless ISPs (WISPs)
Full Outdoor Microwave Radios offer up to 400(364) Mbps and 800(728) Mbps Full Duplex payload (1.6Gbps aggregate capacity) and higher up to 3Gbps or more, 6-38GHz licensed frequency bands.
Using suitable antennas and sites, ultra-long-distance links exceeding 100km can be achieved. Distances depend on:
Required throughput (Mbps)
Desired Availability (%)
Antenna size (gain)
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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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