October 22, 2020

Backhaul to the future: Why microwave is the answer

When operators think about options for 5G backhaul, they may instinctively look to fiber solutions. However, in doing so they risk missing the opportunity of not only a more practical and cost-effective solution but one that can outstrip fiber when it comes to performance.

Emmanuel Saint Dizier, VP BU Microwave Antenna Solutions

When operators think about options for 5G backhaul, they may instinctively look to fiber solutions. However, in doing so they risk missing the opportunity of not only a more practical and cost-effective solution, but one that can outstrip fiber when it comes to performance. 

Microwave has long been touted as an alternative to fiber, but it comes with a number of concerns. The main issue is the expectation that to reach price point that makes microwave attractive, OEMs are forced to make design, performance and reliability sacrifices. However, at RFS we take a different approach. 

The long-term future of backhaul

To reduce risks and total cost of ownership (TCO) for our customers, as microwave antenna designers we can’t afford to compromise on any aspect of our solutions. Operators need end-to-end microwave antenna solutions that dependably perform at their peak capabilities for many years in the field, even in challenging conditions. And those solutions must be delivered in a cost-effective way.

Taking this big picture view is crucial to striking the balance between cost and performance that is essential to deliver a reliable backhaul solution. Rather than make compromises and delivering a low-cost solution that has reduced performance and a short life span, we design equipment built to last; offering superior performance over a much longer period of time. Every component is precision engineered including radomes, reflectors and shield absorbers, to maintain the specified antenna performance for life. We work to minimize sidelobes, reducing signal-to-noise ratios and interference with other radio link and design radiation patterns that exceed specifications to increase throughput.

A dual-band approach 

The result is a superior product that gives several cost saving benefits to customers. There is no need to purchase a higher-cost or larger antenna to compensate for expected performance degradation. In addition to putting a huge focus on quality, optimum performance and a decades’ long life span, RFS has been at the forefront of developing dual band microwave antennas that truly deliver when it comes to making microwave a reliable practical option for 5G backhaul.  

Dual-band microwave antennas make microwave a truly viable option when it comes to 5G backhaul. They combine E band transmissions, which offer ultra-high capacity and lower latency than fiber, with higher availability medium-frequency bands such as 15 GHz, 18 GHz or 23 GHz to enable that performance over longer distances. The result means mobile operators can backhaul higher volumes of 5G traffic much further than previously possible. Microwave can now deliver comparable performance to fiber alternatives, and in some areas such as latency, outstrip it. As requirements change, RFS is testing different frequency combinations to offer a dual band solution that can deliver in every market. 

In the real world

So, we can see the appeal of using microwave backhaul, but is it truly up to the task of supporting commercial 5G rollouts? Let’s look at the additional benefits that using a dual-band solution offers to us. 

By combining E-band with medium frequencies operators are able to hugely increase their backhaul capacity as this set up can support speeds of up to 10GBPS over long distances. Additionally, it is cost effective and simpler to deploy than its fiber counterpart, which is vital in a period when mobile operators have significant CAPEX restraints. By reducing the total cost of ownership (TCO) of reliable and capable backhaul, operators can deliver a quality, cost effective 5G offering. 

Not only does this deliver the performance needed to roll out sustainable 5G coverage, but operators are able to add another string to their bow at this point. By using the combination of frequencies, they build additional resilience into their network. The bands work best in combination but in the event of a problem, they act as a built-in backup to ensure that essential and much-needed failsafe that operators need to provide a robust 5G network that lives up to the hype. Customers have the reassurance of a network provider that is able to offer the connectivity that is absolutely essential to the success of their application. 

Making the most of microwave

Building the infrastructure to support 5G in a way that works alongside previous generations, is cost effective and reliable is a huge challenge for operators. Microwave can overcome many of these, however, it is crucial that operators partner with OEMs that focus on the future, not just a short term fix that isn’t able to deliver over time. 

If you’d like to speak to RFS about designing microwave solutions for 5G backhaul, get in touch with Benoît Bled, Product Line Manager Microwave Antennas Solutions