A decade of microwave insights and predictions
The start - the little sister
In 2014, the Mobility report had been around for a few years and was already a great success. Microwave backhaul was covered in some articles, but we had more insights to share. We felt that, as Ericsson is the market leader in Microwave, we ought to create something similar for Microwave transport – maybe a little sister to the Mobility report.
With a huge installed base of microwave equipment in all parts of the world, we had a lot of insights that could be used. It seemed important to look at the current status of the Microwave Transport industry, but, in front of all, look into what the future would hold in store for the industry. We also decided it should be an industry report, not a marketing brochure. It should purely discuss the microwave industry, not contain any specific marketing of our Ericsson products.
We put together a tight little group of strategic product managers, researchers, and us marketers leading the work. Together, we came up with different topics and the way to work.
We also needed a name. What should we call the report? Remember, this was in 2014, and 2020 was far, far off, so the name “Microwave toward 2020” felt like the perfect fit. But time flies, and already in 2016, we saw that the name had become obsolete. We changed it to Microwave Outlook, as the main purpose was an outlook into the future for Microwave backhaul. Now, looking back at the different front pages of the report, it is fun to see how Ericsson Brand has changed over the years.
The main topics of interest
Some topics were obvious, and they have been covered in almost all editions. Spectrum is of key importance for any radio technology, thus also for microwave. Spectrum is a finite resource handled by spectrum authorities with the goal of making the best use of the available spectrum.
During these ten years, parts of the spectrum that once were for fixed services are now used for mobile access. New spectrum has been allocated for microwave use and different channel plans have made higher capacities possible. We have the V-band that we thought should be used for small cell backhaul, but it didn't happen. And we have the E-band spectrum that has grown in both importance and use.
Another given area has been the backhaul media and the microwave portion as the main focus. We have seen a big change in this area as well during the last ten years, where copper has really lost the game and fiber and microwave have taken over for the future.
Backhaul capacity is always a topic with much focus. It is interesting to see how the capacities have increased over the years, from the very first edition to today and into the future. As we often say, the top three priorities are Capacity, Capacity, and Capacity. The microwave industry has shown over and over again that it can keep up with the ever-growing demands from RAN.
In 2014, LTE was introduced in some parts of the world, but elsewhere, 3G was deployed, and LTE was seen as a step far into the future. There were a lot of discussions around TDM, hybrid, and Ethernet at that time. Today, we barely give TDM a thought. It is still available at old sites, but no one considers TDM for a new site. In 2014, a three-sector 3G site needed about 220 Mbps as backhaul capacity. Today a three-sector, mid-band, 5G site might require 6 Gbps and a high-band site 13 Gbps. This is an increase from 2014 to today of 60 times in backhaul capacity, so a lot has happened since the first edition.
Adding external experts in the writing
Over the years, we have received great feedback from readers around the world, saying the release of the Microwave Outlook is a highlight of the year. A good testimony of this is that microwave experts within service providers regularly ask us to contribute to the writing. So many great experiences and insights are out there, and we are grateful for the time spent sharing these with us all.
2018 was the first year we had a co-written article, where we looked at E-band through the eyes of A1 Hrvatska, a Croatian service provider. They started using E-band at a very early stage and put E-band capacity over longer distances to the test.
Deutsche Telekom Greece, together with Ericsson, presented how they broke the 100 Gbps wireless backhaul barrier over 1.5 km with an 8x8 MIMO E-band hop in 2019.
In 2021, Telefónica Germany gave their perspective on using E-band for 5G. Telefónica found it apparent that E-band, as standalone or in multi-band solutions, is an excellent way to handle the required 5G capacities and support the quick roll-out of 5G in both urban and suburban areas in the German market.
The information coming from all these experts is, of course, of extra interest and is highly appreciated.
Some highlights from this year’s report
This year, we have an article that presents how Tusass in Greenland covers the Telecommunication needs of settlements along 2,134 km of the west coast of Greenland. Another article presents how Lineox in Spain uses automation to reduce site visits by 40%.
As part of our exploration of what lies ahead for microwave, we investigate whether E-band will continue to fit the bill for future backhaul capacity demands. The introduction of 5G has seen E-band spread to most parts of the world, and we examine simulations that show the E-band spectrum fulfills the capacity needs even beyond 2030.
Delivery of mobile services will continue to rely on microwave solutions. With continuing site growth and the increasing number of transceivers per site, we expect that microwave backhaul will continue to be key. By 2030, when 6G deployments are expected to start, Ericsson forecasts that 50 percent of macro sites will be connected and backhauled using microwave solutions.
We foresee a 50/50 split between microwave and fiber for mobile backhaul by 2030
Picking the right antenna from the large range of new and innovative antenna designs gives an opportunity for increased capacity and hop length. It also enables better spectrum use in dense networks and lowers operational costs. For example, sway compensation enables using 0.9 m antenna sizes that give 80 percent longer hops than regular 0.3 m antennas.
Conclusions after 10th edition
In the first edition, we were in the transition between 3G and 4G. Now, 5G is well underway in major parts of the world. Around 2030, we anticipate the arrival of 6G. Microwave needs to show its relevance for every “G” (radio access generation) and continue to evolve to even higher capacities and, at the same time, be more energy and spectrum-efficient.
Has everything we predicted happened, and how accurate have we been? We think we have been quite good, but let us aim to be even better.
We aim to share our insights and important outlooks about the microwave industry also in the coming ten years and we hope that you will continue to enjoy reading them or even contribute with your own valuable insights.
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