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Microwave Technology – Enabling 5G Around the Globe

By: Zoran Lazarevic, Chief Technology Officer at Ericsson Middle East and Africa

Zoran Lazarevic, Chief Technology Officer at Eric sson Middle East and Africa - زوران لازاريفيتش_ssict_1200_1412

At the onset of the pandemic, there were fears that restrictions in economic activity would halt 5G deployment efforts around the world. However, with Covid-19 highlighting the significance of cellular technology and connectivity in these uncertain times, we have witnessed 5G adoption accelerate at an incredible rate, at both organizational and industrial levels. Much of the current 5G momentum could be credited to innovations in microwave technology, which is only set to become increasingly important in the coming years. 

Over the last few years, it is safe to say that microwave technology, such as E-bands, have become an essential part of 5G wireless backhaul support.  The success of E-bands could be credited to their speed, flexibility, and spectrum availability, which allows for multi-gigabit connections where fiber is not available. Being now open for deployment in a vast majority of countries, E-band is enabling 5G network roll-out all around the world. As it allows for a less expensive microwave connection it is becoming increasingly crucial in building 5G infrastructure in developing countries.

With E-band gaining popularity, there have been concerns about the potential effect wind may have on E-band link availability. In our latest Microwave Outlook report, we have tested this issue ourselves by monitoring the impact of wind on almost 500 E-band links for a year. 32 percent of these links were in fact impacted by wind, however, we recorded that 95.5 percent had no error seconds at all. Even the worst impacted link still had over 99.99 percent availability. From this, we have come to understand that with proper tools for careful planning and monitoring,  it is possible to control and mitigate the effect of wind. 

As network slicing helps build customized networks that individually serve specific use cases, it has become an enabler of new 5G services and market opportunities.  In the near future, we estimate that up to 30 percent of 5G use cases will require network slicing. Recent advancements in microwave technology and microwave nodes have placed them in a unique position to support network slicing using standard packet technologies and QoS schemes to ensure successful deployment in 5G networks. With network slicing set to play a significant role in the creation of innovative 5G use cases, it is important that telecom operators around the world turn focus to investments in innovative microwave technology.

Microwave technology has also become a key enabler for profitable fixed wireless access (FWA) services. With FWA services such as online gaming and 4K video streaming requiring lower latency and high capacity, microwave transport offers a scalable and future-proof solution on new or existing sites, with capabilities to go up to 10Gbps with E-band or Multi-band solutions. Today, more than 70 percent of all service providers are offering fixed wireless access (FWA). We forecast FWA connections to represent 25 percent of the global mobile data traffic by 2026 and we strongly believe microwave technology can contribute to this growth. 

With data traffic growing year-on-year, so is the demand for microwave backhaul capacity. However, not all service providers have good access to microwave backhaul spectrums and can find it challenging to handle the increased data traffic demands. Some countries that have limited spectrum availability are finding the ever-growing demand for data traffic put a strain on their networks. For countries and service providers who have limited access to spectrum, it is important to utilize the available spectrum resources in the best possible way. Our simulations have shown that more aggressive channel reuse is a prime solution to handle higher traffic demands in a limited spectrum with traditional bands. Being properly dimensioned, backhaul spectrum reuse is also a spectrally efficient and sustainable solution. 

In the near future, microwave technology will be critical to support the capacity needs for 5G in urban and suburban areas. The June 2021 edition of our Mobility Report forecasts 5G subscriptions to reach 580 million by the end of 2021. With the demand for 5G services increasing rapidly, now is the time for telecom operators to invest in and leverage innovative microwave technology alongside traditional frequencies in multi-band solutions and make true 5G a reality in every corner of the world. 

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