On LTE Around the World

Back in October, mobile research firm Yankee Group held a very interesting webinar on the state of LTE around the world. The webinar, still available in replay, notes that, with the exceptions of Japan and Korea, North America is very far ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to implementing LTE. The LTE vanguard is based on North America, Japan and Korea having the greatest CDMA legacy.

Yankee Group analysts note the commonly known LTE driver in the form of worldwide proliferation of the iPhone and other smartphones has led to greater demand for high-speed connectivity. Overall, the webinar explores the LTE landscape from Asia to Europe to North America.

E-Band Global Regulation Roundup

Because of need for higher capacities, the trend toward shorter link distances for mobile backhaul and declining product costs, 70/80GHz (i.e., E-band) solutions are gathering significant interest for mobile backhaul and enterprise access applications. However, because these frequencies are new to most people, there is little understanding of costs and other issues related to licensing the 70-80GHz spectrum.

As a service to network operators, Aviat Networks recently finished its update on the status of costs and regulation for E-band frequencies for a large number of countries around the world. This document (registration required) examines the regulatory requirements that apply around the globe for operation in these bands.

Details of comparative license costs are also available in another document (registration also required). We believe that we have covered all the countries of interest to most network operators and some in addition to those. If there are any specific countries missing, please let us know with a comment.

Ian Marshall
Regulatory Manager
Aviat Networks

All-Outdoor Microwave Radios: Site Considerations

One of the great things about the microwave radio market today is the diversity of products available to network operators. But like many situations where there is a glut of options, it tends to put more stress on making the right choice.

An operator looking at products in the microwave radio sector will notice that there are three general categories of product to choose from: all-indoor, split-mount and all-outdoor, and within each, they are myriad different flavors.

All-outdoor radios are the most recent addition to the microwave radio party, and for the sake of easy reference, I’ll refer to them as ODRs (outdoor radios). These self-contained systems incorporate the traffic interfaces, switching/multiplexing elements, radio modem and radio transceiver—all packaged in a weatherproof outdoor housing. By contrast, an outdoor unit (ODU) used in split-mount systems only contains the radio transceiver, which connects to a radio modem embedded in an indoor unit (IDU). In a split-mount radio system, the IDU also provides the traffic interfaces and switching/multiplexing elements.

The rationale for ODRs is straightforward—networks are getting denser, new sites are getting smaller and established sites more densely populated. Space for equipment such as IDUs is at a premium and costs of upgrading sites with bigger equipment shelters is often not viable or possible due to site constraints. As a result, more network devices are being repackaged for deployment outdoors on supporting structures such as towers, walls or masts. Advances in electronics have made microwave radios viable for all-outdoor treatment, so ODRs came into being.

They did so to a fanfare of claims that pointed to fantastic gains in terms of operator TCO (total cost of ownership). No doubt, an ODR can deliver cost benefits, but it is important to fully scope and quantify those benefits, because although ODRs represent simplification in terms of product architecture, most networks have remained stubbornly complex. In practical terms, this means for each type of site in the network an operator needs to closely examine the gains an ODR might generate vs. a split-mount radio, for example. Our experience is that ODRs provide the most operator benefits at sites where:

  • One gigabit Ethernet (GbE) interface is adequate
  • Only a single local device will be connected (such as an LTE basestation)
  • There are no requirements to aggregate traffic from “downstream” sites
  • Out-of-band management facilities are not required
  • Non-protected (1+0) link configuration is adequate

Once operators consider sites with requirements beyond this scope—usually the majority—then ODRs (somewhat ironically) start to generate complexity and cost. This becomes manifest in the form of multiple Ethernet cable runs, multiple power cable runs, multiple PoE injectors, multiple lightning protection devices and, in some cases, the need for a separate outdoor Ethernet switch.

Even at modestly complex sites, the overhead costs ODRs can generate mean that a split-mount radio will often be a more effective option and deliver better TCO, assuming space can be found. On that note it is worth highlighting that IDUs already deployed at such sites are often modular and can be scaled without consuming any additional rack space, and the most advanced fixed (i.e., non-modular) IDUs only consume a half-rack unit of space.

On the surface, the case for ODRs can seem compelling but before jumping in, I would encourage operators to carefully examine how marketing claims translate into meaningful (real) TCO gains.

I am convinced ODRs represent a new and potentially very useful product category for microwave radio, but they are not a panacea; our experience (at Aviat Networks) is that optimum TCO is based on a mix of split-mount and all-outdoor radios (i.e., one “size” does not fit all).

So there you have it, in the right environment, an ODR can offer a winning formula but in other situations, it may not work so well. An old saying comes to mind: Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing not to put a tomato in a fruit salad.

Next time, we will examine ODRs in more detail, how they differ and how to choose the best option for your network.

Jarlath Lally
Product Marketing Manager
Aviat Networks

Zain Tech Conference: Tomorrow is Now

Zain Group held its Zain Technology Conference in early November 2012 for its suppliers in order to better align its technology investments for the future.

Last week, I travelled to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates with my colleague, Steve Loebrich, to attend and present at the Zain Technology Conference. That brought together senior technical staff from the Zain Group of mobile operator companies from eight countries across the Middle East and North Africa, including Bahrain, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan and Sudan. This was the second time this pioneering mobile operator has held this conference since 2009. Zain launched the first mobile network in the Middle East in 1983 and now serves more than 41 million subscribers.

At the conference, Zain announced its new initiative “Ghanduna Zain” (Zain Tomorrow), which is a new strategy to bridge its technology investment plans with the future. Like mobile operators all around the world Zain is working hard to support the booming demand for mobile broadband data as well as providing basic voice and data services, through high-speed 3G technology and now with the impending launch of LTE services in its Kuwait network.

In the words of Zain Group’s CTO, Hisham Allam, “The purpose of our conference is to facilitate the exchange of the latest industry expertise, and given we have vast areas of growth in the fields of voice and data services, such trends pose both an opportunity as well as a challenge in terms of managing the expansion in traffic efficiently.” Allam continued, “The rise in mobile data and the growth in the usage of smartphones to access content is a reality, with smartphones representing over 90 percent of all mobile devices sold in Kuwait at this point in time. The increasingly sophisticated nature of modern mobile-services consumers requires that we become fully aware of their needs and their expectations in terms of quality of services.”

During the conference, Zain’s vendor partners gave presentations on new technologies and highlighted their products and services. Aviat Networks participated along with our partner, Middle East Telecommunications Company (METCO), which has worked with Zain for the past 25 years in transmission and backhaul networks in countries such as Kuwait, Iraq and Sudan. During the breakout sessions, Aviat conducted two presentations covering Network Convergence and lowering the Total Cost of Ownership of microwave backhaul networks and an overview of technology options and challenges for providing backhaul for new Small Cells.

Overall, it was a great event and extremely well-organized by Zain, and I look forward to the next conference. You can view a short video of the conference on CNBC Arabia (in Arabic).

Stuart Little
Director Product and Regional Marketing
Aviat Networks

Know Your Microwave Backhaul Options

If you look in the November issue of MissionCritical Communications, you will see an article by Aviat Networks director of marketing and communications, Gary Croke. In his article “Know Your Microwave Backhaul Options,” Gary covers:

  • Benefits of using indoor, outdoor and split-mount microwave radios in various scenarios
  • Rationale for choosing microwave over fiber (especially for LTE)
  • Deployability of microwave
  • Software-upgradeable capacity for “pay-as-you-grow” capex scalability
  • Cost contribution of towers over the first 10 years of LTE implementation
  • And more

You can read Gary’s article (on page-30) here—MissionCritical Communications—November 2012.

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4G World Poses Five Questions about Small Cell Backhaul

The Portage Lake Michigan shore looking across...

In Chicago, the waves on Lake Michigan were nearly as big as the controversy surrounding the topic of small cell backhaul at the 4G World show it hosted. (Photo credit: Pedco via Wikipedia)

4G World struggled a bit due to Hurricane Sandy, but went on as planned. Unfortunately, some speakers and attendees were not able to get to Chicago due to travel cancellations. I have to admit that watching surfers ride the big waves on Lake Michigan was an added bonus for the week!

Back at the show, small cell was the focus and backhaul was its No. 1 topic. Everyone has heard the concerns over technologies, costs, etc. The soapbox was available for anyone to jump on and espouse the potential benefits of their products. I believe that companies are selling their product capabilities, not addressing mobile operators’ real needs. Why? The biggest issue is that mobile operators, in most cases, really do not know what they need. The complexities of implementation are so diverse in small cell, that it is taking operators a long time to draw conclusions about their best path forward. Enter the fog of vendor technology pitches!

I believe that the real issues to be resolved center around implementation and OPEX control not technology. A few technologies could help, but they are not ready to provide the Carrier Class performance that the operators need. They will only have marginal effect on the final solution, in any event. What we need are answers to questions such as:

  • Who can climb which poles in the city and to what heights?
  • What are the power restrictions and cost of power on these poles?
  • What size enclosure is allowed to be on the poles and on the ground?
  • What are the aesthetic requirements for such an enclosure?
  • What attachment height is needed to architect the best network for both access and backhaul?

Most people think fiber is a slamdunk—that is not the case. You need to read the fine print and ask:

  • How plentiful are existing fiber onramps in the metro core area?
  • What’s the cost of putting a new onramp in place and stringing fiber from below street level up poles to small cells?
  • What piece of the action are municipalities going to demand for all this new telecom construction?

My recommendation: keep an eye on the technology evolution but focus on the real issues at hand. Partnerships with companies that have proven skills will be critical as these problems are best handled by a team of diverse thinkers. Look for ones that have a history in the business and have demonstrated innovation in all its facets. They are the partners who will get you through these very difficult problems.

Randy Jenkins
Director Business Development
Aviat Networks