Revolutionizing 5G Mission Critical Transport Networks (Part 1)

When lives and property are at stake, a reliable transport is crucial. As it has for decades, microwave will play a key role in keeping 5G mission-critical network up and running.

The Rise of 5G

Mobile carriers are leading the way in preparing, positioning, and methodically rolling out 5G consumer services. What has seemed like a distant offshore wave is now rising and approaching land? When the big waves begin to serve major metro areas and larger subscriber populations nationally, other players in the high-bandwidth services market are sure to keep the rollers breaking with their offerings.

What drives these companies and many others to plan for 5G, to develop and push it so deliberately? As competition has gotten tougher, revenues and margins have become more difficult to maintain, and new markets and cost reduction have become more important than ever. The promise of phone upgrades, wearable devices, and premium services, such as video calling and enhanced social networking, is one key. Human-to-machine (H2M) and machine-to-machine (M2M) services, such as video monitoring, smart homes, and smart cities, will become more feasible choices for people and organizations. The potential for new revenue streams is enormous.

5G in Mission-Critical Sectors

The 5G wave will encompass much more than everyday consumer services. With 4G/LTE, high-bandwidth services in mission-critical applications have gotten some traction and will continue to expand as leading-edge public safety, emergency response, and other critical services become commonplace. Consider this statement from an article on the FCC site:

Application of Emerging Wireless Broadband Technology for Public Safety Communications

“First responders in emergencies are beginning to recognize video applications and visualized location-based services as mission critical. Such services include applications to exchange data, graphics, and video information that certainly require public safety communications capable of multimedia broadband operations. … [and] … Disasters and other incidents are simply requiring reliable communications paths with higher bandwidth requirements.”

—From the 2016 archived article, “Application of Emerging Wireless Broadband Technology for Public Safety Communications,” available by search from the FCC site only.


The same requirements are felt in health care, vehicle communications in the planned highways of the future, automated processes in manufacturing and other industries, and other mission-critical sectors. The question then becomes: How can network operators deliver 5G speeds to these markets with the same unimpeachable reliability required and delivered in the narrowband era—and at a cost that can produce the needed margins?

Microwave Makes It Possible

Using microwave in strategic sections of the network—and for backup and redundancy—is an effective practice in improving network reliability. Microwave is more survivable than fiber, especially during hurricanes, fires, floods, and other disaster scenarios. We now see many operators looking to provide media diversity as well—using both fiber and wireless—especially for critical sites.

Aviat has recently released its new reliability-and-performance-enhancing technology—the industry’s first and only single-box, multi-band radio. It integrates 80 GHz microwave (E-band) and 18 GHz millimeter wave in a single compact unit operating over a single antenna. That means the reliability of microwave and the high capacity of millimeter-wave together in the same product. This breakthrough offers significantly more uptime than would be possible with E-band alone and makes an ideal transport solution for the 5G network.

5G will improve capacity and latency in the network, but won’t, by itself, meet the reliability requirements of mission-critical applications. Network infrastructure must also be hardened, with more use of microwave and innovations such as multi-band in the transport network.

New practices in site construction will also be key, as will the pre-staging of backup products for fast recovery. A few examples of new and best practices include advanced path and routing schemes; topologies that eliminate single points of failure; concrete block shelter construction (best for fire and security) and elevated shelters; extensive grounding inside and out; minimization of interference and current ripple; adherence to Motorola R56 installation standard; earthquake zone 4 protections; and specially secured racks.

How Microwave Reliability Stacks Up Against Fiber

Microwave networks have seven to eight hours more uptime per annum than all-fiber networks

Over the years, microwave has proven more reliable than fiber. Statistically, services in microwave networks have demonstrated five-nines uptime versus three-nines for leased fiber services. Microwave networks have significantly more uptime per annum than all-fiber networks. In addition, when the network goes down, microwave is much easier and faster to get back online than fiber.

Recovery in fiber networks—especially above-ground fiber—is difficult in disasters, and delays often happen from inadvertent fiber cuts. The days after Hurricane Michael’s October 2018, landfall in Florida offers an example. The leading cause of wireless service outages in the aftermath was damage to the extensive aerial and underground cabling networks used to provide backhaul service to wireless cell sites. Microwave networks and networks with redundant or backup microwave fared much better—they typically do in such disastrous conditions.

Fiber not as reliable as microwave

Another example:

In the Northern California Camp Fire of November 2018, using aerial fiber links, fifteen sites went off the air. The sites themselves continued to operate for some hours before failing, but the fiber backhaul network was down, so traffic had nowhere to go. The La Veta fire in Colorado in June 2019, and other fires, had similar issues. Trend data shows the number of fires, and their costs are growing quickly.

billion-dollar disaster event types per year (cpi-adjusted)

Bottom line

If mobile networks want to offer mission-critical 5G services, they cannot be down—either intermittently for shorter durations or for multiple days when responders and everyday people need communications the most. Microwave has played a big role in limiting downtime in many scenarios and can do the same in the 5G network. The most common causes of network outages are displayed in the chart below.

Stay tuned next week for part 2 of our take on the 5G revolution and explore how it affects capacity, reliability, and cost-demands.

Subscribe to our newsletter