Technology trends in microwave backhaul

By Jonathan Nally
Tuesday, 13 February, 2018

Technology trends in microwave backhaul

Microwave backhaul is an ever-changing field that’s keeping up with digital developments.

Wireless Data Solutions services the utility, telecommunications and emergency services sectors, and specialises in backhaul, microwave wireless networking and network data products such as mobile data, SCADA, telemetry and last-mile connectivity. It offers turnkey solutions throughout Australasia and the Asia–Pacific.

To find out more about trends in the microwave field, we spoke with the company’s Business Development Manager, Alan Paddison.

CC: What are the basic differences in short-haul metro vs long-haul rural backhaul solutions?

AP: Short-haul is normally on higher frequencies, say, above 11 GHz, with larger bandwidths and data speeds that are generally higher. Typically it uses smaller antennas with reduced wind loading. Long-haul uses larger dishes, say, 11 GHz down to 1500 MHz (although 1500 MHz can also use grid packs). Data speeds are generally at 500 Mbps and below, although with higher modulations faster speeds can be obtained.

What are your wireless backhaul clients telling you about the need for security features?

AP: Point-to-multipoint wireless systems are very susceptible to attack; one reason is the use of omnidirectional antennas and remote access points with antennas that have broad beamwidths. However, microwave radio and backhaul systems use antennas that have very small beamwidths. This, plus standard encryption methods built in, make point-to-point (PTP) and backhaul digital more difficult to intercept.

Even if an eavesdropper could find a place from which to intercept signals from a microwave link, decoding them would be very difficult. Each vendor uses unique modulation and data-framing techniques, so the attacker would need to have the same radio model, tune it to the specific frequency and position the intercepting antenna within the beam of the transmitting antenna.

Today’s radios are provisioned with an identification code (link identifier) to allow communication only with its paired unit at the far end of the path. Therefore, an attacker can only capture the raw transmitted signals and cannot access the network from within the link.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the last 10 years?

AP: There have been changes in spectrum allocation, advances in modulation techniques (to achieve greater data speeds) and improvements in antenna design. Higher demand for data has driven the need for backhaul and PTP links to carry more data, forcing additional changes in the design and the use of different frequencies. There’s been the deployment of more than one radio on different frequencies, but groomed into one link.

What sort of new capabilities are on the horizon?

AP: Ethernet-based radio is taking over the industry, paving the way for most products to be IP in the way they deliver their data payload. We see even faster data speeds, carrying more data. There’ll be even better, more efficient system designs with improved security features, and advanced data digitising and compression schemes.

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