Full Outdoor Radio (FOR) Microwave Links

Full Outdoor Radio (FOR)

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

CableFree Full Outdoor Radio
CableFree Full Outdoor Radio with 30cm parabolic antenna

The Full Outdoor Radio (FOR) architecture is popular with:

  • Internet Service providers (ISP)
  • Wireless ISPs (WISPs)
  • 4G/LTE Operators
  • CCTV Networks

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:

  • Frequency band
  • Regional Rainfall
  • Required throughput (Mbps)
  • Desired Availability (%)
  • Antenna size (gain)

For more information on Full Outdoor Radios and Microwave Networks please Contact Us

Fresnel Zone – Microwave Planning

In radio communications, a Fresnel zone (/freɪˈnɛl/ fray-nel), , is one of a (theoretically infinite) number of concentric ellipsoids which define volumes in the radiation pattern of a (usually) circular aperture. Fresnel zones result from diffraction by the circular aperture. The cross section of the first (innermost) Fresnel zone is circular. Subsequent Fresnel zones are annular (doughnut-shaped) in cross section, and concentric with the first.    The Fresnel Zone is named after the physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel.

Importance of Fresnel zones

CableFree Microwave and Radio Fresnel Zone
Microwave and Radio Fresnel Zone

If unobstructed, radio waves will travel in a straight line from the transmitter to the receiver. But if there are reflective surfaces along the path, such as bodies of water or smooth terrain, the radio waves reflecting off those surfaces may arrive either out of phase or in phase with the signals that travel directly to the receiver. Waves that reflect off of surfaces within an even Fresnel zone are out of phase with the direct-path wave and reduce the power of the received signal. Waves that reflect off of surfaces within an odd Fresnel zone are in phase with the direct-path wave and can enhance the power of the received signal. Sometimes this results in the counter-intuitive finding that reducing the height of an antenna increases the signal-to-noise ratio.

Fresnel provided a means to calculate where the zones are–where a given obstacle will cause mostly in phase or mostly out of phase reflections between the transmitter and the receiver. Obstacles in the first Fresnel zone will create signals with a path-length phase shift of 0 to 180 degrees, in the second zone they will be 180 to 360 degrees out of phase, and so on. Even numbered zones have the maximum phase cancelling effect and odd numbered zones may actually add to the signal power.

To maximize receiver strength, one needs to minimize the effect of obstruction loss by removing obstacles from the radio frequency line of sight (RF LOS). The strongest signals are on the direct line between transmitter and receiver and always lie in the first Fresnel zone.

Determining Fresnel zone clearance

Microwave and Radio Fresnel Zone
Microwave and Radio Fresnel Zone

The concept of Fresnel zone clearance may be used to analyse interference by obstacles near the path of a radio beam. The first zone must be kept largely free from obstructions to avoid interfering with the radio reception. However, some obstruction of the Fresnel zones can often be tolerated. As a rule of thumb the maximum obstruction allowable is 40%, but the recommended obstruction is 20% or less.

For establishing Fresnel zones, first determine the RF Line of Sight (RF LOS), which in simple terms is a straight line between the transmitting and receiving antennas. Now the zone surrounding the RF Line of Sight is said to be the Fresnel zone.

Unlicensed Wireless Links

What is an Unlicensed Microwave link?

Unlicensed and light licence wireless links is the most cost effective of all links and can be deployed in a matter of days. Currently in most countries there are a few unlicensed ISM-band frequencies that are used for point to point links and a few light licensed frequencies that provide interference free operation.

What is a Light Licensed microwave link?

Regional regulators (typically, in each country) are responsible for Spectrum Management of the Radio Spectrum.  This naturally varies in each country due to different history of usage and allocation.

A Light License is where the licensee pays a small licence fee to register his/her radio link with regional regulators such as OFCOM  (UK).

The regulator (such as OFCOM in the UK) use the licence to inform other potential users of the spectrum that there is already a radio link or links in the area when they register their own link prior to deployment. This information is also used to resolve disputes should interference arise.

Frequencies used

Depending on which country you are in, these can include:

  • Licence free spectrum are the 5Ghz, 24Ghz, and 60GHz frequencies
  • Light licence spectrum operate in the 64-66GHz and 70/80GHz

Why consider unlicensed or light license links?

  • Low density areas not suffering from RF interference
  • Budget constraints
  • Non-critical data transmission

When are licensed links mostly used?

  • Organisations looking to create a LAN across multiple buildings on the same site
  • Organisations looking to reduce the cost of existing leased lines
  • In low density areas where RF interference is low or free

When to consider opting for a licenced over unlicensed?

  • High density areas suffering from RF interference
  • Mission-critical data transmission

Is unlicensed or light licenced microwave right for you?

If you are looking for the simple answer, please contact Wireless Excellence for details. Our very experienced team are happy to discuss your requirements and advise on the best solution whatever your needs.

QAM Modulation for Microwave Links

1. What is QAM?

Modulation is a data transmission technique that transmits a message signal inside another higher frequency carrier by altering the carrier to look more like the message. Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) is a form of modulation that uses two carriers—offset in phase by 90 degrees—and varying symbol rates (i.e., transmitted bits per symbol) to increase throughput. The table in this blog post (Figure 1) describes the various common modulation levels, associated bits/symbol and incremental capacity improvement above the next lower modulation step.

CableFree QAM Modulation Table
CableFree QAM Modulation Table

2. Must all operators who use microwave backhaul use higher-order QAMs?

Higher-order QAMs are not necessarily a must-have for all network operators. However, higher-order modulations do provide one method of obtaining higher data throughput and are a useful tool for meeting LTE backhaul capacity requirements.

3. What is the main advantage of using higher-order QAMs with microwave radios?

The main advantage is increased capacity, or higher throughput. However, capacity improvement diminishes with every higher modulation step (i.e., moving from 1024QAM to 2048QAM the improvement is only about 10 percent!), so the real capability of higher-order modulations alone to address the objective of increasing capacity is very limited. Other techniques will be needed.

4. What are the tradeoffs of higher-order QAMs on RF performance?

First, with each step increase in QAM the RF performance of the microwave radio is degraded as per the Carrier-to-Interference (C/I) ratio. For example, going from 1024QAM to 2048QAM will produce an increase of 5 dB in C/I (Figure 2). This results in the microwave link having much higher sensitivity to interference, making it more difficult to coordinate links and reducing link density. Along with this increase in phase noise there will be an increase in design complexity cost.

CableFree QAM Modulation Tradeoffs
CableFree QAM Modulation Tradeoffs

Also, by increasing from 1024QAM to 2048QAM, system gain will decrease from above 80 dB to just above 75 dB (Figure 2). With much lower system gain microwave links will have to be shorter and larger antennas will have to be employed—increasing total cost of ownership and introducing additional link design and path planning problems.

All of the above are the results of linear functions: they degrade in a one-to-one relationship with the move to higher-order QAMs. Meanwhile, the capacity increases derived from higher-order QAMs are the function of a flattening curve: Each step increase in QAM results in a reduced percentage increase in capacity compared to prior increases in QAM. The added capacity benefits are diminished when considering the added costs of higher C/I and lower system gain.

5. Do you need to use Adaptive Coding and Modulation (ACM) while using higher-order QAMs?

ACM should be implemented while employing high-order QAMs to offset lower system gain. However, while ACM does help mitigate the effects of more difficult propagation when using higher-order modulations, it cannot help offset increased C/I.

6. What gives CableFree a “heads-up” here when other big name companies seem to be supporting the technology?

CableFree realizes higher-order modulations are not a panacea—a cure-all. While every minor technology improvement in throughput can help, a focus on technologies that grow capacity in hundreds of percentage points vs. tens of percentage points is most critical now. CableFree believes that these hundreds-of-percentage-points-of-improvement-in-capacity solutions will be the most important moving forward. It is in these technologies that CableFree has a “heads-up.” Such techniques include deploying more spectrum—particularly in the form of multichannel RF bonding (N+0) solutions—to achieve a minimum of 200 percent capacity increase. This technique is subject to frequency availability, but with flexible N+0 implementations (such as being able to use frequency channels in different bands and different channel sizes) many congestion issues can be avoided.

Second, intelligently dimensioning the backhaul network based on proven rules, best practices and L2/L3 quality of service (QoS) capabilities is another technique to provide potentially very large gains in backhaul capacity. Higher-order modulations can be one tool to achieve required capacity increases in the backhaul network. However, their inherent drawbacks should be well understood, while the most attention should be paid to other techniques that deliver more meaningful and quantifiable benefits.

7. Will operators need to “retrofit” microwave radios to be capable of higher-order QAM operation in their existing microwave infrastructure? Or will completely new hardware be required?

This depends on the age and model of the existing radios. Older microwave systems will likely need to be “retrofitted” to support 512QAM and higher modulations. Recently installed microwave systems should be able to support these technologies without new hardware.

8. How will QAM evolve in the future? Is the introduction of higher-order QAMs an indefinite process, with no end in sight?

The introduction of higher-order QAMs is not an endless process. As per Figure 1 above in this blog post, the law of diminishing returns applies: Throughput percentage improvement declines as modulation rates increase. The cost and complexity of implementing higher-order QAMs probably is not worth the capacity increase benefits derived—not past 1024QAM, in any event.