Many communication service providers have switched on 5G and more are expected to follow suit as 5G smartphones and services become increasingly available. To support the capacity and coverage needed for a widespread 5G commercial rollout, service providers are seeking ways to boost the backhaul and fronthaul capacities of their networks.
How this need is being addressed is one of the insights in the Microwave Outlook 2019 report, which also provides new forecasts up until 2025 in microwave backhaul trends. For instance, the report looks at how backhaul and fronthaul capacity per site can support 5G New Radio (NR) deployments and how service providers can use microwave technology to fill the capacity gaps.
“Microwave remains one of the most cost-efficient and fastest way to build ubiquitous transport when fiber is not a viable solution,” says Hans Mähler, Head of Microwave Systems at Ericsson, adding that it is also important to secure microwave spectrum to enable 5G for everyone. ”Some backhaul frequency bands will eventually be transitioned to 5G access use, such as 26GHz in Europe. In contrast, 32 GHz and the E-band are acknowledged as essential for 5G backhaul.”
E-band growing in importance with 5G rollouts
Radio access network (RAN) capacities in a 5G network, especially in densely-populated areas, increase the need for backhaul gear capable of cost-efficiently handling multi-gigabit traffic. Here, E-band is gaining momentum amid the limited spectrum in traditional frequency bands. In 2018, there were 14 times more E-band radios sold globally compared to 2011.
”The widespread use of E-band increasingly supports our prediction that E-band will account for 20 percent of all new microwave links by 2025,” Mähler says. ”After almost a decade of experience in commercial E-band deployment, Ericsson has gained insights into E-band’s future usage. For example, we now foresee an increased use of E-band for longer hops, even if that means accepting a slightly lower availability.”
This is already happening in Poland, where E-band penetration (as of May 2019) now exceeds 20 percent. Service providers in this country have chosen a packet-based approach to network planning that expands the use of E-band radios for much longer hops than previously expected.
Combining E-band with MIMO to break the 100Gbps barrier
The report also discusses at length how Deutsche Telekom (DT) and Ericsson were able to break the 100Gbps barrier during a trial in Athens, Greece by combining E-band radios with MIMO (Multiple-Input Multiple Output) technology. Co-written with DT, this section of the report illustrates how, with optimal antenna arrangement, the joint trial achieved 139Gbps over 1.5km – with high availability and low latency on a 2.5GHz channel.
Such microwave links will initially be ideal as cost and time-efficient complements to optical fiber, according to the report. With technical developments, the first 100Gbps links are ready to be deployed in five to eight years, depending on market demands.
Read the full report here.