Modularity is the Answer

in Blog, Backhaul, MARAVEDIS, 4G, LTE

Similar to what is occurring in the realm of 4G radio infrastructure equipment, the wireless backhaul market is experiencing healthy diversification in order to provide the most suitable solution to each part of the network in terms of cost and functionality. In fact, there is a connection between both diversification processes since 4G radio and wireless backhaul transceivers are destined to share the same sites. For example, the need for all-outdoor 4G microcells that can be deployed on top of street lamps requires the availability of all-outdoor wireless backhaul equipment that can be installed in the same reduced space.

Although this equipment specialization has existed in the microwave space for years with differentiated long and short haul offerings, the scale is augmenting its granularity and expanding (especially around the short haul segment) to include new solutions. We all know that the wider the portfolio of a company, the larger the investment to develop and maintain all those products during their commercial life. Which is then the key for vendors to make this diversification possible without increasing costs? Modularity is the answer. The more equipment versions a vendor can develop from a single hardware platform, the higher the investment savings to develop new products.

Microwave backhaul vendors are providing examples of increasing modularity in their designs. Let’s start with the market leader, Ericsson. This vendor’s backhaul revenues are mainly driven by the short haul Mini-link TN platform, split-mount equipment that offers up to three different indoor unit (IDU) sizes depending on the capacity needs of the customer. These IDUs can be combined with an innovative long haul radio unit capable of operating up to 8 different channels with a single antenna (employing 4 channels with XPIC). This trend to reuse IDU equipment for long and short haul via several radio options is also employed by Ceragon, which offers the possibility to connect its short haul FibeAir IP-10 IDUs to its brand new RFU-HP, in this case allowing for operation of 5 channels with XPIC.

Microwave vendors are developing modularity even beyond what is apparent at first glance. For example Ericsson’s Mini-link CN, a compact single rack unit IDU equipment designed for last mile applications, is in fact using the same underlying technology as Mini-link TN, since both devices are interoperable. This internal technology reuse is the key differentiation for young vendors such as Exalt, which has managed to cover every hardware configuration (all indoor, split mount and all outdoor) with a single hardware platform. Obviously the casing depends on the particular configuration, but internally the devices are quite similar.

When we think about microwave modularity the image of an indoor rack with pluggable cards usually comes to mind, although this is not the only case. With the adoption of pure packet transport, microwave vendors tend to isolate radio and basic networking functionality into a separate outdoor unit that offers Ethernet connectivity to the IDU. This re-interpretation of split mount, which allows for easier additional networking functionality to be implemented in the IDU, is already used by Alcatel-Lucent’s 9500 MPR and Nokia Siemens’ FlexiPacket, and will be implemented by Ericsson in its coming Mini-link PT. Ericsson is pushing the common platform further than any vendor, since its Mini-link PT will also include a 80 GHz version (not coming from OEM agreements).

All microwave vendors will agree with me that modularity is the best solution, although sometimes they feel pushed by the market not to follow this guideline. Here it is where this mixture of management strategy and engineering gets interesting, making us wonder how microwave vendors will react to every new requirement from their customers.

MARAVEDIS is a premier global provider of market intelligence and advisory services focusing on 4G and broadband wireless technologies, regulation and markets.

Author: Esteban Monturus, Market Analyst - Europe & Backhaul

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