Microwave in Modern Transport Networks

Author: Martin Shortall

Modern transport networks are all about fiber, aren’t they? 5G and gigabit broadband need really fast and reliable fiber in both access and back-haul networks?

Yes, they do, but not only. Despite furious fiber deployment by operators, microwave deployments are still growing both as permanent last mile solutions and as medium-term temporary bridges for fiber spans or backup/redundancy solutions.


How is the persistence of Microwave infrastructure impacting modern network operations?

Transport network monitoring has evolved over the last 10 years as services carried have shifted to IP and data volumes have increased exponentially.

Microwave has not stood still – TDM technology has largely been replaced by native ethernet and 1+1 links re-purposed to XPIC increasing return on existing investment. Technology advances such as Adaptive Modulation are now standard offerings from most vendors and are being widely deployed, in conjunction with newly available RF spectrum bands, as networks are upgraded and renewed.

Operators monitor link KPIs such as availability, utilization, available bandwidth and search to eliminate the scourge of congestion and dropped packets in order to ensure IP services keep running smoothly. Monitoring of infrastructure has an increasing focus on service performance. Ethernet performance of MW links is receiving a growing focus from operators.

One thing to never forget is that the underlying technology is RF Microwave  – it is vital to continue to monitor the RF performance KPIs and counters of microwave links, especially when adaptive modulation technology can maintain availability (albeit at the expense of capacity) and mask poor underlying RF performance.

It is also vital to ensure care and attention to detail is maintained from Planning & Design through to installation & commissioning. The link between the planned/engineered performance of a link and its actual performance can sometimes be lost until problems with the overlaid services are experienced.


The Aspire Approach

In Aspire Technology we believe that the connection between design, implementation and operations is an area ideally suited for a focus on automation and improvement – but this needs to be done in conjunction with an eye on existing business processes – one cannot automate in isolation.

Tools and automation need to fundamentally support business processes, make people’s life easier, more efficient and not pose an administrative headache or a means of increasing unnecessary workload. They can and should be used by operators to automatically collate, trend and analyse data for individual microwave links as well as network performance.

Automated audits of configured radio parameters versus planned values can be combined to provide powerful analytic tools. Tools, which identify discrepancies in deployed configuration and actual performance versus planned values, can provide an early indicator of future problem areas allowing preemptive corrective measures to be planned in a controlled manner.  Automated collection of both planning, live network data and its storage in a reliable “source of truth” database is key to establishing tools capable of eliminating the manual toil of reliable Microwave network monitoring. This, combined with intelligent analytics and automated anomaly detection, can complement existing operational processes to drive optimal Microwave network operation.


Beyond 2020

The future of Microwave Transport as a valuable component in modern transport networks has been cemented by recent technical advancements in areas such as 4×4 and 8×8 MIMO as well as pushing modulation schemes in existing frequency bands to 16KQAM. Capacities of over 135Gbps carried in 2.25GHz of E-Band spectrum have already been demonstrated with commercially available equipment. Increases in spectral efficiency achieved using MIMO and high modulation, should allow more sustainable mass deployment of beyond 100Gbps links using narrower channels within 4 – 7 years.  While fibre may be considered the future, Microwave is certainly here to stay.