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MINI-LINK: 50 years of bridging the digital divide with wireless backhaul

The journey of five million MINI-LINKs begins with a single step.

For nearly five decades, Ericsson has been supporting communications service providers in building reliable mobile transport networks, a journey which has now reached a key milestone – a total of five million MINI-LINK radio units have been delivered to more than 180 countries, helping bridge the digital divide worldwide.

 

MINI-LINK 6321 radio unit on top of a table

Ericsson began its microwave transport journey in the 70s by turning its know-how in radar technology for defense applications into wireless connectivity for diverse fixed communication use cases. Since then, MINI-LINK, a microwave product portfolio used for mobile backhaul, has undergone an extensive development process with updates in form, size, capacity, and efficiency.

From the late 70s through the 80s when the first generation of mobile technology (NMT) was launched – to the introduction of 2G (GSM) in 1992 and onwards – MINI-LINK has supported each mobile generation with best-in-class technology, availability, time-to-market, and cost-effectiveness.  

The microwave industry has evolved through the years with mobile network capacity needs shifting from Mbps to Gbps (greater than 1000 times). At the same time, production volumes have steadily risen from thousands to millions. All this punctuated by nonstop technology enhancements, system development and digitalization.

The constantly-changing market landscape has seen a corresponding transformative journey for MINI-LINK – from its defense roots in the 70s to the central role it now plays in providing backhaul connectivity to bring the benefits of 5G to everyone – from urban and suburban to rural areas, and in all deployment scenarios and site types.

Learn more about MINI-LINK’s transport journey from Jörgen Eriksson, one of the Ericsson pioneers who has witnessed the evolution of MINI-LINK through the years. Eriksson is currently Head of Network Solution Transport in Market Area Europe & Latin America.

A walk-through the MINI-LINK evolution

The first MINI-LINK was released in 1976 on the 10 and 13 GHz bands. It had 1x2 Mbps capacities that could support 120 phone calls simultaneously or one video stream in black and white. This was a small device, thus the name MINI – quick to set up and secure. Its first application was as part of a remote control system for bridge openings.

The onset of Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT), a system jointly developed by the Nordic countries, marked the start of MINI-LINK's mobile backhaul journey.

In 1991, 2G was launched, and to respond to the new market requirements, Ericsson continued adding new frequency bands and capacity. At that time, the first large GSM operator (Mannesmann Mobilfunk) decided to build backhaul with microwave and selected MINI-LINK for the deployment.

MINI-LINK products launched at the end of the millennium brought site footprint savings to service providers, being significantly smaller than the previous versions. It was the first version of the radio unit we know today.

Moving on, into the 2000s, MINI-LINK continued developing to keep up with the emerging technologies (3G and 4G), with more bands, higher capacity, and supporting any variety of network deployments, single hops, end sites, aggregation, and larger hub sites. MINI-LINK revolutionized how networks were being built going forward.  

To support the evolution to 5G, MINI-LINK has begun using E-band and innovations such as radio link bonding and multi-band solutions which have enabled higher capacities. 

Today, with MINI-LINK 6321 for 6-42 GHz bands (2T2R), Ericsson has the world’s smallest quad carrier high-power radio in its microwave portfolio, with 4.8 Gbps capacity in a single box.

“There is a conventional view in the market of fiber connections being the only way to manage the never-ending network capacity need,” Eriksson says. “While it is true that fiber presence is increasing, we firmly believe that microwave technology will stay relevant for many years ahead. We see TCO as the deciding factor on what technology to use and, reaching the milestone of five million MINI-LINK radio units deployed to more than 180 countries shows that with MINI-LINK products, we are meeting the key requirements of our customers.”

The MINI-LINK 6000 portfolio offers both split mount and all outdoor shorthaul as well as long-haul solutions that cover the complete microwave spectrum from 5 up to 80 GHz. Additionally, it enables service providers to achieve energy efficiency with 40 percent lower power consumption than the industry standard, contributing to significant cost reductions and reduced climate impact.

MINI-LINK will continue to evolve to higher capacities, reduced power consumption and increased automation to support the evolution beyond 5G.

View the full MINI-LINK timeline