Is microwave transport ready for 5G?

The 5G RAN wave is coming. Which transport is best?

Dense Urban Rooftop
Shane McClelland  

Vice President, Strategy and Business Development, Head of Transport

Category, topic & hashtags

The 5G RAN wave is coming. Which transport is best?

Microwave transport has historically been the preferred technology of choice for macro-site radio access network (RAN) mobile backhaul. Microwave-based transport offers low-cost, quick installation and reliable, secure operations. That’s why Ericsson’s customers have relied on microwave transport as part of their RAN for years.

However, recent headlines in the trade press and direct feedback from our customers clearly reveal that the focus and the investment is moving to fiber optic distribution networks for RAN Transport. The ever-growing consumer demand for bandwidth, small-cell densification and service provider’s 5G plans are the main drivers for investment in fiber optical distribution networks (ODN).

This makes sense, of course. The gradual migration to fiber has been underway for at least two decades and will continue in the foreseeable future. Leveraging the advantages of a fiber optic distribution network has its benefits. But fiber may not always be available where we want it, when we want it. And deploying fiber ODNs comes with a materially significant price in terms of expense, time required and complexity, which service providers must balance against the pressures to deploy radios and get them on-the-air, thwart competitors and achieve growth ambitions.

Moving Microwave from Megabits per second to Gigabits per second

With recent technological advances in microwave system software and new radio hardware, microwave transport capacity has moved from megabit-per-second capacity to gigabit-per-second capacity. In addition, since the refractive index of air is lower than fiber optic cable, microwave hops actually exhibit lower latency than fiber links.

Many of our customers have asked us if we think microwave transport can handle the demands of a 5G radio access network.

The answer is yes

The key is having the right microwave technology. Many existing microwave products don’t have the capability to handle the demands of a 5G network. To have the right microwave technology to support 5G, you need:

  • High levels of bits/Hz. 5G ready microwave systems need to support 4096 QAM with a light-coding mechanism. Coupled with wide channels, this makes the most efficient use of available spectrum, offering significant increase in link capacity
  • E-band solutions with wide channels (750 MHz) and high modulation (256 QAM), which effectively increases capacity by 2X over traditional solutions
  • Radio link Bonding capability that takes advantage of licensed and unlicensed spectrum, driving aggregate link capacities in to the gigabit range
  • MIMO-ready capability
  • A range of traffic interfaces up to 10G
  • Integrated Ethernet Switching and IP Routing functionality. That way, external equipment isn’t needed, and costs and complexity are significantly reduced
  • Hierarchical QoS enabling microwave networks for network slicing
  • Advanced automation and intelligence with features like TWAMP and Bandwidth Notification
  • 1588v2 and Precision Time Protocol for tight radio coordination

The Microwave you will need tomorrow is here, today

Ericsson saw the need for all these enhanced capabilities, and more, in microwave so we’ve continued to invest in microwave technology, adding 5G-ready microwave products to the market-leading MINI-LINK portfolio.

The MINI-LINK Capacity Tool Box is a combination of SW and HW features and capabilities that are unmatched in the market today including features like Adaptive Modulation, Header Compression, Multi-band Booster, Radio Link Bonding, E and V Band and 4X4 MIMO. And you won’t have to wait. The MINI-LINK Capacity Tool Box is available today.

While others may have some of these features today and show availability of others in their roadmaps, MINI-LINK can deliver all the features I mentioned above and more.

Moreover, current MINI-LINK customers can take advantage of these capabilities with a small hardware line card addition and a SW upgrade, re-using up to 70% of the equipment they’ve already purchased. That’s a great value proposition for investment protection.

New customers can feel confident they can use MINI-LINK as 5G-ready transport so they can quickly deploy radios, get them on-the-air and start generating revenue today, not sometime in the future.

To find out more about the latest developments and insights into the microwave industry, download the latest edition of Ericsson Microwave Outlook report, released on December 6, 2018.

Check out Ericsson’s Mobile Transport solutions.

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