May 25, 2012
Five-nines (99.999 percent) availability is a concept that is familiar in wireless engineering. Dick Laine, principal engineer of Aviat Networks, compares five-nines availability to 78-rpm records in our most recent episode of the Radio Head Technology Series.
As he relates, even with scratches and pops, a 78-rpm record still is able to transfer aural information so that you can hear it, i.e., its availability is intact, as it does not drop performance. Scratches and pops only represent degradation in the quality of communication. But when the record is broken, an outage occurs—no record, no communication.
The same goes for wireless communication systems. If a microwave link drops 315 or fewer seconds of microwave communications per year (in increments of up to 10 seconds at a time), it is maintaining five-nines availability. The microwave link is offering 99.999 percent availability for wireless backhaul. Only if the microwave link is unavailable for more than 10 seconds has an outage occurred, for the purposes of determining if microwave communications traffic has been dropped.
Dick goes on to explain about what happened in 1949 when 78-rpm records were superseded by 45-rpm records. Dick got a sneak peek at the top-secret 45-rpm record project when he visited the legendary RCA facility in Camden, New Jersey, which played a crucial role in the development of the modern music, radio and television businesses. Unfortunately, unlike a five-nines microwave link, 78-rpm and 45-rpm records are mostly unavailable nowadays.