What’s next for microwave?
Amazing! – that’s what the evolution of transport network is. While the demand for 5G services is increasing rapidly, microwave transport, together with optical and router solutions, are ubiquitous for high-capacity 5G services across consumer, industry markets, and even for future.
It’s been around ten years since I started working on microwave transport. I may not remember the rollout of 2G – I am too young for that – but I remember the days we implemented 3G, 4G, and now we have begun the deployment of 5G. In every generation change of GSM, microwave transport is, and has always been, ready for the capacity and every other demand.
As the capacity demand is increasing rapidly, operator’s investments are moving to fiber optic distribution networks for RAN transport. But even with its high capacity, fiber is not always the best option due to its cost, capabilities such as latency and the time required to deploy it.
It is not only an alternative, but also an opportunity
Are you aware that up to 50% of the world’s population are still waiting for reliable broadb
and access? This large number of underserved households represent a profitable fixed wireless access (FWA) growth opportunity for current 3GPP operators – and recent studies show FWA investments typically have a payback time of less than two years.
Microwave solutions offer high capacity, low-latency, and cost-efficient transport as a good complement to fiber. We used to carry only megabits over air and that was more than enough in the old days. Today, microwave transport solutions deliver tens of gigabits per second capacity with ultra-low latency and layer 3 capability needed to build, scale, and service 5G in dense urban, suburban, and rural areas. This capacity can be achieved either by using higher frequencies than traditional bands such as E-Band (80 GHz) or by using traditional bands even with 4-13 GHz on the way to 100 Gbps on MW for now. The 100Gbps wireless transport barrier is already broken by combining E-band radios with MIMO technology. Through this, 139Gbps over 1.5km was achieved, with high availability and low latency in a 2.5GHz channel. 100Gbps capacities are expected to be commercially available within the next 5–8 years. You can find the details in the Ericsson Microwave Outlook report, which you can download here .
Multiband booster for backhaul
We always had different techniques to deliver the requirements of networks and we will in the future with creative ideas. Just as an example now, we have a new methodology which is called Multi-band booster. Previously, Radio-link bonding was a well-established method for microwave backhaul, enabling multiple radio carriers to be aggregated into a single virtual one. In multiband booster concept, we use radio-link bonding to aggregate carriers in different frequency bands, enabling the full spectrum potential to be unleashed.
Wider channels are easier to obtain at higher frequencies, but as rain attenuation increases with frequency, availability drops for a given distance. Multiband booster overcomes this issue by bonding a wide high-frequency channel with a narrow low-frequency channel, as shown in Figure-1.
The resulting combination provides the best of both channels, giving higher capacities over much longer distances and improving the way spectrum can be used for backhaul.
In addition to all the above, MIMO capability, 10G ports, Integrated Ethernet Switching, IP Routing functionality, 1588v2 and Precision Time Protocol and many more functionalities, it’s clear to see that microwave products proves a very good complement to fiber and is able to serve today’s customer demands.
What about the future of microwave transport?
The industry has an interest in the use of frequencies above 100GHz, as they will enable capacities in the 40Gbps range over hop distances of about a kilometre. Please don’t think few-kilometre ranges are too short as average inter-site distance is decreasing due to increasing fiber penetration and population density.
Technologies are being investigated and regulatory studies are examining channel arrangements and deployment scenarios in the 92-114.5GHz, and 130-174.7GHz frequency ranges, commonly referred to as the W- and D-band for microwave backhaul (Ericsson Research has developed a D-band transceiver module already)
Yes, mobile backhaul capacity needs per site introducing 5G is increasing. Table below illustrates a forecast of the backhaul capacity per site, with the predictions for 2022 and towards 2025 that support the rollout of 5G NR.
As explained in microwave outlook: The figures show a slight increase for both urban sites and suburban high capacity sites due to LTE capacity upgrades in the networks. The low capacity figures represent around 80 percent of all sites, while the high capacity figures represent only a small percentage. Suburban and urban high-capacity sites in 2022 will require capacities up to 2 and 10Gbps respectively, while towards 2025, we will see examples of sites stretching between 5 and 20Gbps respectively. Microwave is well positioned and can already today support all these capacity scenarios both for backhaul and fronthaul.
I will also explain the methodologies used for 5G RAN architectures including D-RAN, C-RAN, E-RAN and V-RAN in next blogposts. But are we only going to see the difference in capacity? The answer is of course ‘No’.
At the end of this post, I will share some latest innovation reports, but I believe there are limitless innovations for microwave products, just like any other thing in technology. We will use AI in transport network management, IoT in creating agile sites, cloud for saving used or unused data, drones for emergency backup path and many more!
Just imagine, why not…
Let’s think together what innovations can be implemented in microwave future.
- 5G RAN transport topology evolution already gives us a hint about what is happening. We already used Centralized RAN in LTE on some networks using Mini-Link Fronthaul products, both optical or microwave to carry CPRI and eCPRI. Then we are now implementing more V-RAN (Virtual RAN) and Elastic RAN. At the end of 2019, I was in Ericsson Research Day in Turkey and I think the future of networks are very impressive. Especially after the presentations about Machine Learning - Autonomous Control, Multimodal mmWave power prediction, Visual sensing for URLLC for transport, active learning of Networks, Edge ML to unlock the full potential of 5G to 6G and many more. Why not to have a look at them together in next blog posts.
- 68 percent of service providers highlighted enhancing customer service as an overall business objective over the next 3 years, while 55 percent agreed that AI is already having a positive impact in this area. AI is expected to help providers on further improving customer experience in many ways, including network quality and providing personalized services. Why not to have more AI in our transport products? We already have such features.
- A computer vision application using AI techniques can improve radio tower inspections by detecting and diagnosing cabling problems. You can read that article here.
I will continue dreaming on it. How about you? You can find more about microwave transport future from the mobile transport network evolution report.