Operational efficiency is probably the most important criteria that telecom service providers need to consider before selecting their backhauling equipment. Because while theoretical or lab performance can show excellent results, what really determines the system’s capability to perform is the reality of the deployment – location, hop distances, adjacent equipment, rack and tower space, the mix of services to be delivered, etc.
In wireless (i.e. microwave based) backhauling, operationalefficiency can be defined as about how we match the increasingly demanding requirements from theradio (capacity, latency, network complexity) while controlling the expenses. There are several dimensions that I propose suggesting with technologies and innovations playing a role in each of them.
You may have noticed I did not include radio capacity on the list. That’s because radio capacity is not a goal of itself. What’s important, and what we as engineers strive to improve, is the useful capacity that can be delivered. There’s a lot we can do to today to optimize the radio performance in real-life scenarios and provide more value for the same radio capacity.
More integrated systems, with very high density, require high investments in technology – for example, designing dedicated chipsets. However, the return of the investment, in form of reduced the space requirements and number of units on site, can be highly rewarding - fewer systems to deploy while yielding lower CAPEX and faster rollouts. On the operational side, lower rental fees, less management resources and simpler maintenance provide ongoing savings throughout the network’s life cycle.
One positive side effect of highly integrated systems is that they consume less power. Innovative system configurations can also add to these savings. For example, a split-mount high-power radio requires no dedicated cooling (air conditioning) because the radio unit resides outdoors, as opposed to traditional all-indoor configurations. In remote locations where cell-sites are powered by generators, this can translate to tens of thousands of dollars saved per-site simply because the generators need less refueling.
Reuse: In a world where usable spectrum is limited, it’s required to do more in order to re-use this spectrum. Technologies like XPIC and MIMO enable efficient reuse of valuable spectrum resources and new systems today overcome traditional complexity in employing them. As Gbps becomes the “new E1,” and operators demand higher and higher bitrates for aggregation, the concept of adding spectrum is simply not viable anymore. Therefore, technologies that enable efficient spectrum reuse on a large scale are crucial.
Avoid Repetitions: As already mentioned, it is the useful capacity that really matters. By employing smart compression mechanisms and advanced de-duplication techniques, operators can avoid unnecessary repetitiveness of traffic and nearly double (!) the useful capacity over existing spectrum.
Think different: We all know that much more capacity is used downlink than uplink. By using asymmetrical delivery of traffic, operators can re-distribute spectrum allocation at the network level and build more efficient networks.
A new spectrum: E-band and V-band in 70/80GHz and 60GHz spectrum (respectively) allow high bandwidth for a relatively low cost. These bands will become more important in urban deployments and fit small cell deployments. It’s important to note though that while E/V band solutions will break the capacity limitations of legacy bands, they carry a tradeoff of distance limitation and will not be practical in links that span longer than several hundred meters.
While all the previous dimensions focused on a single radio, operators need to concern themselves with end-to-end service management across an entire network. Here too different technologies can improve operational efficiency. Examples include:
Smart E-2-E management system that allows fast, point & click provision of new services.
OAM protocols that enable performance monitoring and failure detection, and can enable rapid recovery and early warnings on congestion or other degradation in performance level.
High granularity, per-service QoS,that enables SLA assurance, specifically in cases of RAN sharing when several networks can share the same network resources.
We’ve already established that operational efficiency is more than simply providing more bits over the network. Therefore it’s important to also look at the issue of truck rolls. Unlike equipment costs that are declining year after year, labor and its related costs (transportation to the site, insurance for tower climbers) remain unchanged. Minimizing truck rolls therefore receives high priority when thinking of operational efficiency. One way to minimize truck rolls is to offer reliable systems and improve MTBF and significantly reduce – even eliminate – maintenance costs.
Technology and innovation also assists to create future proof systems that can be remotely configured and upgraded. Traditional backhaul equipment required fork-lift upgrades. New, modern systems being rolled out today offer seamless, software driven upgrades. Moreover, multi-core radios can even offer migrating from single core 1+0 to dual-core 2+0 with just a click of button.
When selecting a wireless backhaul solution, operators need to think not only about its theoretical performance, but about that particular system can improve their overall network’s operational efficiency. This will allow them to serve their customers better, reduce upfront and ongoing expenses, and improve their bottom line.