• Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

By Raed Aoude, director of sales, MENA | SEA, CommScope

For MNOs, the 5G opportunity continues to soar. A recent survey predicted “The global market for 5G infrastructure should grow from $12.9 billion in 2021 to $115.4 billion by 2026, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 55.0% for the period of 2021-2026.” As they move to seize their share of the bonanza, agile operators are under more pressure than ever to boost network capacity, so they can accommodate a flood of new data, and an increasing volume of users. 

Backhaul is the foundation of the wireless network, and network engineers and designers face serious challenges in deploying backhaul solutions that can keep pace with these changes.

5G backhaul breaks old rules

The challenge of 5G backhaul is not only about capacity, but architecture. According to one recent article, global mobile traffic is expected to surpass 2,708 exabytes by 2025. Higher frequency spectrum can help operators meet these traffic demands, but they also introduce potential signal issues. The higher the frequency, the more the potential for signal propagation loss. To mitigate this issue, operators must deploy significant numbers of small cells or macro cells—each providing a direct connection to the core network to backhaul the traffic.

Backhaul solutions also require architectural enhancements. To meet high performance expectations, 5G requires ultra-low-latency connectivity. Operators must support thousands of simultaneous clients per cell, with data throughput of 10Gbps. Although the demands on the backhaul network may not be as substantial fronthaul requirements, meeting escalating capacity demands for 5G will probably require a significant upgrade to 10GbE or higher for 5G—more than tenfold that of 4G.

As technologies develop, operators also face new challenges as they consider infrastructure upgrade solutions. Vendors have introduced many new technologies and components, which in turn have increased network complexity. When operators multisource components, or use new, emerging, untested technology, they may threaten the performance and reliability of their infrastructures—and introduce time-consuming diagnostic and remedial tasks.

Considering fiber and microwave

How can operators address these challenges and support the increased levels of backhaul traffic for 5G? The two main options are fiber and microwave/millimeter wave (mmWave). 

Fiber is a proven solution

Fiber is generally the first backhaul choice for mobile network operators, and a great deal of fiber backhaul capacity is already in place. Reports indicate that in existing cells worldwide, fiber makes up about 50 percent of the backhaul. Its advantage is its ability to deliver virtually unlimited bandwidth over a long distance. With more than 10 Gbps of throughput and latency of less than 1ms latency, a fiber connection deliver essentially loss-less data transmission over approximately 40 miles. However, for new locations, the time, resources, and expense needed to put thousands of miles of fiber in place can strain budgets.  As they build out new cells for 5G, operators need a solution to backhaul traffic in a cost-effective way, from locations that are far from the network core.

Microwave and mmWave on the increase

Fiber remains a proven technology that will continue to enable operators to meet backhaul demands, but microwave backhaul is on the ascent. Many operators are looking to utilize microwave to complement their fiber backhaul networks, and before long the technology is predicted to account for the majority of backhaul links around the world. According to a recent report, microwave will compose 65 percent of all installed backhaul links by 2027. Like all wireless point-to-point and point-to-multipoint technologies, microwave does not require the time, cost, and permitting required by fiber backhaul. As with any wireless point-to-point or point-to-multipoint solution, microwave eliminates the cost, time and permitting issues of a fiber backhaul.

For backhaul applications, mmWave, especially the 80 GHz (E-band) spectrum, has emerged as an attractive option. Its benefits include low licensing costs and low cost per megabyte, with a channel size big enough to carry 10 Gbps. GSMA/ABI research predicts that at least 60 percent of all global mobile backhaul will be transported by microwave or mmWave by 2027— 25 percent of which will be E-band. However, the E-band spectrum is subject to distance limitations, especially in harsh weather.

More traditional microwave frequencies like 18 GHz and 23 GHz are less impacted by poor weather, but the tradeoff is limited capacity. To boost capacity over existing traditional links, many operators are utilizing link aggregation techniques, combining traditional, lower-frequency microwave bands with an 80 GHz signal. This approach lets operators bring together the best of both worlds. They can enjoy the added capacity of 80 GHz E-band microwave, while extending link distance and reliability utilizing the traditional bands.

New dual band antennas increase capacity, not expenses

Doesn’t this combined approach require two sets of infrastructure, including separate antennas for each band? Normally, operators would have to invest in both, spending time and resources to have each antenna separately installed and aligned, as well as paying for tower rental for both links. Fortunately, dual band microwave antennas enable operators to take advantage of link aggregation, without doubling their operational costs.  

Using dual band microwave antennas, operators can support not only traditional microwave frequencies but 80 GHz mmWave in the same antenna—without a negative impact on the performance of either. The approach uses one compact installation, with only one device to configure, install, and align. Instead of two tower rental costs, operators pay only one.

The performance and distance benefits for backhaul are impressive. Using the link aggregation technique and one high-performance dual band antenna, operators now have the ability to send multi-gigabit backhaul several miles. Even in foul weather conditions, link aggregation supports very high (99.999%) reliability. Using integrated intelligence, the solution can continue to maintain the connection by reducing radio modulation, as interference levels from weather increase.

When choosing a dual band microwave/mmWave antenna, operators should look for a proven vendor that can not only offer an advanced antenna solution, but a portfolio of microwave connectivity accessories to help them optimize installation and performance.  For maximum flexibility, the interface should support simultaneous integration with multiple microwave radios.

The solution should also be supported by a rich partner ecosystem, including certified design and deployment partners such as independent consultants, integrators, installers, and distributors.

Research confirms the dual band antenna advantage

CommScope recently performed a study to determine the benefits of combining an 80 GHz mmWave link with a traditional microwave link, using the company’s ValuLine dual band antenna solution. The researchers focused on how the solution would impact throughput capacity, cost of ownership, and long-distance reliability. The results of the study confirmed that a dual band microwave antenna solution can substantially enhance 5G backhaul capabilities—all while helping operators keep costs in check.

To learn more about the report’s findings, download the white paper, “Maximizing E-band potential with dual band antennas.”  

Pin It