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Why 5G microwave transport is heading for the great outdoors

As the globe continues to gear up for 5G, the need to upgrade transport networks is rising up the agenda for many operators. As always, higher performance and lower cost are the two leading considerations.

Fortunately, the ongoing development of microwave technology is keeping pace with requirements. In particular, installing complete microwave solutions fully outdoors is a fast-growing trend.

By eliminating the need for indoor units, all-outdoor microwave radios promise a new level of flexibility and cost saving for operators. Such products are commonly called zero footprint, because no additional site space is needed. Outdoor-only microwave installations can be mounted on existing masts and outdoor infrastructure such as bus shelters and traffic light posts.

So great is the potential of these zero footprint solutions to meet the demands of 5G that they will come to dominate microwave transport deployment. Eliminating indoor units saves site space, there is less cabling, installation becomes easier and faster, fewer spares are needed and less hardware means higher reliability.

While there will probably always be some deployments that will need indoor units, my view is that these benefits will lead the majority of microwave transport installations being based on outdoor, zero footprint products within just a few years.

Zero footprint, maximum flexibility

But not all zero footprint products are the same.

Take the latest Nokia Wavence zero footprint family. We are launching new products at Mobile World Congress 2020. These take advantage of the new E-Band, offering the highest transmit power, for the smallest size and power consumption, compared to other products. They are also ready for future spectrum bands and support multi-band carrier aggregation to provide a range of options - long range backhaul for rural areas, suburban capacity expansion and urban capacity boost.

As well as offering any-to-any carrier aggregation, the solutions can be connected to 4G or 5G base station or router and even to existing microwave indoor units if needed. Their flexibility goes further as an integrated part of Software Defined Network (SDN) RAN transport for end-to-end network slicing and full network programmability supported by automation, analytics and machine learning.

Such a single, unified and intelligent automated network that combines all elements of transport from small cell backhaul to high-capacity fronthaul is commonly called the X-haul network and is the focus of a new study by IHS Markit. The research firm’s January 2020 “5G Transport Strategies” report says that ultra-low latency, network slicing, ultra-high capacity and automation were the most important demands of operators – all challenges that the Nokia Wavence portfolio addresses.

In fact, the IHS Markit study reveals that Nokia is perceived by operators as the leading X-haul vendor with the best product roadmap, product reliability, solution breadth and service and support. Nokia was also rated highly for its technology innovation and price-to-performance ratio.

Why does it matter that Nokia has the broadest transport portfolio? Well, as the IHS Markit report says: “X-haul for 5G is a new paradigm that integrates the transport layer more tightly with the radio access and core, and so will reward vendors that take a more holistic approach.”

If you are at MWC 2020 please come along to the Nokia stand as we’d love to show you our latest innovations in microwave transport and what they can do for your network.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokia or @nokianetworks using #5G 

Tamas Madarasz

About Tamas Madarasz

Tamas is portfolio marketing manager for Nokia’s Mobile Network Solutions. With 15 years experience in wireless technologies and MSc degrees in both Economics and Electrical Engineering, feel free to ask him anything about the latest mobile applications!

Tweet me at @t_madarasz

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