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LTE BACKHAUL REQUIREMENTS: A REALITY CHECK
By: Peter Croy, Sr. Network Architect, Aviat Networks

INTRODUCTION LTE mobile broadband technology is now being launched across the world with more than 140 service providers committed to implement it within the next two years. 3GPP, the LTE standards defining body, has detailed the requirements of the new radio and core network domain, but not for the packet backhaul network linking the two domains together. Therefore, the industry has been left to extrapolate requirements for the backhaul network based on the best-case radio interface capabilities. This leads to exaggerated predictions and is insufficient to plan backhaul networks. This paper estimates backhaul capacity more realistically by combining factors of LTE channel capacity, radio propagation, cell site design and traffic aggregation. LTE USER DOWNLOAD SPEEDS Base stations transmit and receive user traffic over the assigned LTE radio or channel. Traffic volume is directly proportional to the LTE radio channel size. 3GPP defined channels of 5MHz, 10MHz, 20MHz and others in the R8 standard. The standard also defines radio interface spectral efficiency targets for download (5 bits/Hz) and for upload (2.5 bits/Hz) of this radio channel. To estimate the available over-the-air LTE radio peak rate, we need to look at how an LTE radio base station maximizes the available radio channel. The main parameter is the received signal quality measured at the handset. The closer a handset is to the base station, the better the radio signal quality and the higher the radio peak rate. LTE defines three modulation settings: QPSK, 16QAM and 64QAM. The best results are achieved using 64QAM, but this is only available very close to the cell centre and represents the maximum peak rate (100%). 16QAM corresponds to 66% and QPSK to 33% of this maximum. This reduced peak rate is available throughout most of the cell coverage area, with QPSK right up to the cell edge. All LTE peak rate figures assume the use of the entire LTE cell by a single user handset and include the radio layer 1 and layer 2 overhead of 10-25% (e.g., error correction, MAC control). In reality, multiple handsets will share the available radio resources of the LTE cell, resulting in a lower peak rate as well as average throughput per user. Figure 1 below provides an overview of realistic user handset peak data rates. As an example, the calculation for a 10MHz LTE spectrum at medium cell centre distance is as follows: Theoretical peak data rate (50Mbps) x 66% (16QAM) x 85% (minus L1&2 overhead) = 28 Mbps.

Figure 1: Estimated net LTE user data peak rates
1 AVIAT NETWORKS FEBRUARY 2011

This is a logical IP interface split into a user session (S1-U) and control traffic part (S1-MME). Dense urban sites certainly have higher needs than rural sites. The busier a macro cell is. we can look at realistic cell site backhaul requirements. Figure 3: LTE cell backhaul requirements overview In the following example. The backhaul network connects to it via the S1 interface as specified in R8 (Figure 2). For low usage sites. as they are farther away from the cell center. Figure 2: LTE backhaul network interfaces Because LTE handsets are statistically distributed within the three radio sectors and not downloading at maximum peak rates all the time. CDMA and WiMAX have shown that factors between two to five work quite well. cell site type. 2 AVIAT NETWORKS FEBRUARY 2011 . Each LTE cell site typically combines three LTE radio sectors into one macro site.WHITE PAPER LTE BACKHAUL REQUIREMENTS: A REALITY CHECK  LTE CELL SITE BACKHAUL REQUIREMENTS Having estimated the LTE radio cell or sector peak data throughput. Existing backhaul transmission networks for 3G. The QoS margin ensures that the backhaul network transmission buffers can deal with highpriority data bursts without dropping frames. Rural sites cover a much larger area and the majority of handsets transmit at lower peak rates. the factor can be safely increased. backhaul capacity can be split and overbooked among individual sectors. the lower this overbooking factor needs to be. the calculation for a suburban cell with 10MHz LTE channel would be: 28Mbit/s (medium range peak of Figure 1) x 3 sectors / 3 (overbooking factor OBF) x 100/85 (15% QoS margin) = 33Mbit/s. The size of the cell coverage area is also an important factor as it determines the mean peak rates of the handsets served by the site. Figure 3 provides an overview of backhaul capacity vs.

This will require separate. cell site rollout and antenna technology progress drives the requirements for backhaul capacity. a three-sector macro cell using a 20MHz radio channel plus 4x4 MIMO technology is unlikely to require more than 150200Mbps dedicated backhaul capacity. the alternative is to deploy more LTE cell sites covering smaller radio areas. Advanced LTE radio network analysis and design 3 AVIAT NETWORKS FEBRUARY 2011 . business parks. But even for a dense urban area with large numbers of users. the radio signal conditions of a noisy and interfering LTE environment are still forming a fundamental ceiling of how much data throughput improvement is achievable. Picocells host fewer concurrent user handsets. Many smaller cells. e. picocells. For example. Given that the licensed LTE radio channel size cannot be easily increased. Figure 4 is showing this improvement through increased backhaul requirements. Of course. This capacity is not rising exponentially but is rather linear and likely to level off somewhere between 75-90Mbps. Service uptake. these figures must be viewed adjusted to the backhaul network traffic reports of regular operational capacity reviews.g. multiple output) antenna technology will enhance the peak data rates of handsets. but typically provide better radio signal quality and throughput rates to each user. The deployment of smaller cells within the coverage area of macro cells also adds radio interference and increases handovers.WHITE PAPER LTE BACKHAUL REQUIREMENTS: A REALITY CHECK  These values are a realistic starting point for designing the packet backhaul network link capacities. Figure 4 shows an extrapolation of the backhaul capacity requirements trend for a suburban radio cell site with 10MHz LTE radio channel capacity. dedicated backhaul networks to high user demand environments like sports stadiums. can supplement three-sector macro cells. Figure 4: 10MHz LTE channel evolution with MIMO Although MIMO (multiple input. conference centers or public areas. IMPROVING LTE THROUGHPUT AND SERVICE QUALITY Adding LTE radio capacity will improve user data throughput and user experience. CAPACITY INCREASE THROUGH LTE TECHNOLOGY EVOLUTION The LTE standard is of course evolving and many of its aspects are still theoretical. a major factor is the available antenna technology in use between the base station and the handset.

It is also quite difficult to insert new cell sites because it makes the chains even longer and exacerbates associated problems.WHITE PAPER LTE BACKHAUL REQUIREMENTS: A REALITY CHECK  adaptation is required to minimize side effects of deploying many small radio cells to enhance LTE throughput. HUB & SPOKE Individual links spreading out from a single hub site is improving the connectivity and capacity requirements of LTE compared to daisy chains. it is combined with fast link failure detection and recovery to ensure carrier-class transport operation. For Ethernet packet networks that connect individual cell sites to each other and to the core network. but network availability and upgradeability factors are good. smaller hub and branch sites will result in more flexible traffic routing and capacity distribution. Site-to-site connections (LTE X2 interface) are much shorter and link upgrades increase and provide capacity exactly where needed. Usually. 4 AVIAT NETWORKS FEBRUARY 2011 . Once we have chosen our desired network topology. which is critical to the strict low packet delay and latency requirements of LTE. TREE/TIERED NETWORKS Splitting the network into multiple. TOPOLOGIES FOR LTE BACKHAUL Link capacity alone is not enough for a successful LTE backhaul network. The overall packet transport capacity is still concentrated in the hub site. DAISY CHAINS Existing 2G/3G backhaul networks for TDM circuits have often relied on daisy-chained links to carry the individual circuits. MESH AND RING NETWORKS This topology incorporates the best of all networking features in terms of capacity. The topology also results in very few hops from the core edge to the cell site. we can connect multiple cell sites into a single backhaul network that we need to dimension. Each site or network node requires transport capacity from the network. availability and upgradeability. Similarly. daisy chains are not a good choice as traffic needs to pass links multiple times to provide the desired connectivity. Several factors need to be considered when designing the network. A ring network topology dimensioned for backhauling six LTE cell sites is pictured in Figure 6: Figure 6: Ring network topology BACKHAUL NETWORK DIMENSIONING We have already looked at LTE radio throughput and how to combine three sectors into a single macro cell site. we can estimate the capacity of each link that connects the sites.

which show similar packet behavior. This is important for implementing QoS policies as it’s more likely download traffic may overload links from the core network toward cell sites. Backhaul network links are typically symmetrical. EXAMPLE DIMENSIONING: RING TOPOLOGY The ring network example in Figure 6 has been dimensioned with an OBF of 1. The closer the aggregation point is to the core domain of the network. Interface buffers in each base station and network transport equipment help to adjust to extremely random periods of high and low packet rates sent through the network. Combining multiple base stations works in a similar manner as it exploits the statistical distribution of packet traffic. OBF factors can be applied at every point in the network that aggregates and combines packet data streams from multiple sources. But as a general principle. the higher the overbooking factor (OBF) for this base station can be. Figure 7 provides an overview of OBF factors relative to the location of the aggregation point in the backhaul network domain: Figure 7: Overbooking factors of backhaul links TRAFFIC ASYMMETRY We need to remember that LTE traffic volume is asymmetrically skewed toward user downloads. Each cell is located in a dense urban area and uses a 10MHz LTE channel size. NETWORK DIMENSIONING GUIDELINES It is difficult to provide dimensioning rules and overbooking factors that suit all network scenarios and topologies. OBF factors of 1. the smaller the OBF factor needs to be.5 within the transport ring and with an OBF of 2 for the link of all six sites towards the core network.WHITE PAPER LTE BACKHAUL REQUIREMENTS: A REALITY CHECK  Statistical traffic distribution LTE backhaul traffic consists of individual IP/Ethernet packet data streams that can be described best by statistical methods. Packet rates from the core network toward LTE base stations are much higher than in the other direction. 5 AVIAT NETWORKS FEBRUARY 2011 . requires a capacity of 6 x 50Mbps / 2 = 150Mbps. The link connecting the ring to the core network for example. We have already discussed an OBF of between 3 and 5 for a typical macro base station of three sectors. so uploads play no role in network dimensioning. LTE users are also spread across the cell sites and moving among them. The higher the peak packet rates are compared to the averaged packet rate. Not all base stations are operating at the theoretical maximum peak data rate at the same time. resulting in a significantly lower backhaul data rate during a given time interval.5 to 3 have proved realistic in HSPA backhaul networks.

They can also accommodate new network nodes more easily without disturbing the existing network capacity distribution and connectivity relationships. Inc.COM Aviat. but the mobile industry might still suffer from initial frustrations. Adding more macro cell sites would significantly increase network operations cost.WHITE PAPER LTE BACKHAUL REQUIREMENTS: A REALITY CHECK  CONCLUSION As in early phases of every technology. Operators will have to provide these rather than try to achieve theoretical maximum coverage of macro cells—especially in high user demand urban areas. Inc. which is highly improbable due to LTE licensing requirements. WWW. All Rights Reserved 6 AVIAT NETWORKS FEBRUARY 2011 . Aviat Networks. LTE backhaul needs to fulfill several requirements of an evolving mobile network. The introduction of 3G in the early 2000s went through similar hype.AVIATNETWORKS. LTE is likely to have an accelerated cycle. High availability. LTE backhaul capacity needs are being overstated. QoS. Usable LTE data capacity is fixed per site—independent of number of users or handsets— determined by base station technology and channel bandwidth. 2011. direct site-to-site connectivity and high network capacity are the most important. and Aviat logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Aviat Networks. low packet loss. This can be increased by adding more cell sites or increasing LTE channel bandwidth. Ring or mesh topologies with multiple paths from access to the core will fit better than long chains of single-path links. Smaller picocells with more cost-effective backhaul options are a good compromise for LTE. While a backhaul capacity limit of 150 Mbit/s for a three-sector site with 10MHz LTE channels is below some LTE backhaul claims. This will change when the technology is more established. low latency. it takes into account radio propagation limits. © Aviat Networks.

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