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Microwave Radio Systems
Modern digital microwave radio Systems provide a feasible technical solution for telecommunications transmission links at distances up to 80 km (approximately 48 mi) point to point. Planning and developing a microwave system in a wireless carrier environment is a dynamic and continuous process. A typical microwave radio node (“terminal”) consists of three main components: an indoor mounted baseband shelf, an indoor or outdoor mounted RF transceiver, and a parabolic antenna. Each node transmits and receives information to and from the opposite node simultaneously providing full duplex operation. Many wireless carriers choose not to deploy extensive microwave radio systems throughout their network. However one cellular carrier, predominantly operating in rural America, has implemented one of the largest private microwave networks in the country for its fixed network. The main advantage to deploying a large, private fixed network (using microwave radio) is that a wireless carrier has ultimate control over that network in terms of the reliability of the system and the nature of the hardware components that are purchased and deployed. The objective for any microwave system is to provide the best distortion-free and interference-free service. Overall, reliability of a microwave system depends on equipment failure rates, power failure rates, and propagation performance of any individual path. Note: A (point-to-point) microwave radio system is sometimes referred to as a hop or a shot. Microwave System Development and Design Network Documentation At any given time, a design engineer should be able to view the transmission network's evolution. Therefore, a preliminary documented network design is required in the form of a large diagram, to establish all the nodes in a network, which require transmission links between them. It can become the main reference document for network planning and implementation. Standard symbols should be adopted and agreed upon internally and should be strictly adhered to. This symbol structure should permit illustration of the different types of elements in the network, along with the varying capacities utilized on the different links. Once a network diagram is established, it can help to evaluate consequences of future network growth, and forecasts for the future can be superimposed accordingly onto the network map.

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Although many modern digital microwave products are designed to be modular, providing minimum disruption upgrade routes, for a number of logistical reasons it is beneficial to have allowance for capacity growth inherent in the network from the outset. Future growth in the number of transmission links can have significant consequences in terms of site selection, and the network diagram can be used as a vehicle to highlight these areas. A new diagram should be produced every 3 to 6 months, as it is important to look at the consequences of growth both in terms of capacity and number of microwave links.

Network Design The network design should be drawn to plan and illustrate the network topology to be adopted. Typically there are two types of microwave network topologies in use, namely star networks and ring networks. Such topologies will contain one or more hub sites at strategic locations that serve spurs or chains of subordinate sites from the centralized hub. In many cases today the star and ring topologies will be combined, to form a hybrid star-ring topology. The hub sites in these networks should be limited to serving a maximum of six or seven cell sites to maintain good network reliability. The completed star-ring network design is accomplished by implementing transmission loops, or rings, between the hub sites in the network. It requires one extra transmission link from each hub site to two other hub sites. The advantage is that the rings can be used to provide path diversity and integrity to the network, removing the need for duplication of single links. See Fig. for a depiction of a hybrid star-ring network.

Note: Ring structures can be successfully achieved only if the necessary routing and grooming intelligence exists at all appropriate points in the network. Further the capacity of each link in any one ring has to be sufficient to support all sites in the loop.

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Figure: Transmission loops in a microwave network infrastructure provide diverse routing, increasing transport system reliability. Site Selection Once the prospective site is accepted by all functional groups (i.e., engineering, operations, real estate, regulatory), the final microwave design can be completed. This will entail a final path study urban/rural area considerations, frequency selection, meeting with the regulators, a review of available frequency bands, frequency approval, and finally decisions involving weather and frequency band versus path distance considerations. Minimizing the number of required sites in the network will bring logistical benefits and control real estate investments or site leasing costs. Therefore, it is always critical when selecting sites that no specific network element is considered in isolation. There are a number of specific items to bear in mind when designing microwave radio fixed links: Good microwave sites, particularly in relation to hub sites, will be relatively high geographic points to give maximum line-of-sight availability If at all possible, the wireless equipment and the microwave fixed link outdoor equipment should share any required towers or poles. Likewise, indoor microwave equipment can be housed in the same equipment shelters as the other radio equipment (i.e., cellular, PCS) and should be planned accordingly.

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Required loading needs to be calculated if new tower installations are proposed, and the loading calculations must take antennas, wind, and ice loading into account. If a new microwave system is being added to an existing towel; calculations are required to ensure the incremental loading can be handled within the specifications of the existing tower. If a site is in a rural or remote area, the service access should always be considered, particularly in times of inclement weather such as heavy snowfall. Attention should be given to future growth requirements in all areas, especially if the site is likely to develop into a future hub. It is a good practice to inform landowners of any potential future growth to prevent problems at a later date. Path Studies A microwave path is the geographic span comprising the two ends of a link, the A end and the Z end. A final path study must include propagation analysis and take into account reflection surfaces such as lakes, rivers, drainage fields, sandy areas, marshland, and large flat roofs. All these things could significantly affect how RF in a microwave path will propagate from one end of the link to the other end. If the microwave path is in an urban area and the corresponding site can be seen with binoculars or a telescope, this is generally sufficient for line-of-sight confirmation. In rural areas the microwave paths are usually longer (greater than 9 mi) and use tower structures instead of buildings. It is difficult to verify the line of sight (LOS) if the tower is not yet built. In these instances the microwave path must be plotted on a map and an analysis performed (using software tools) to determine antenna heights, taking into consideration clearance and reflection criteria.

Line of Sight It is fundamental to the correct performance of any microwave radio link that line of sight is available-that there is a clear transmission path between the two nodes of a link. This means that there can be no natural or man-made obstructions in the proposed path between the two ends of a microwave system. There are two ways of establishing line of sight: by creating a path profile, or by surveying the actual path physically. A path profile is established from topographical maps, which, by reference to the contours of the map can be translated into an elevation profile of the land between the two sites in the path. Earth curvature can be added, as can known obstacles. The Fresnel zone calculation can then be applied and an indication of any clearance problems can become known. (There are various software tools available to assist this exercise if required.)

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Visiting sites and observing that the path is clear of obstruction can undertake a path survey. It is important to make note of potential future interruptions to the path such as tree or foliage growth, future building plans, nearby airports and subsequent fight-path traffic, and any other transient traffic considerations. When transmitting from one end of a microwave path to the other, the electromagnetic signal disperses as it moves away from the source, and therefore the LOS clearance must take this dispersion into account. Particular attention should be paid to objects near the direct signal path, to ensure that the required signal levels reach the receiving antennas. This is referred to as the Fresnel zone clearance. It is a matter of a particular wireless carrier's engineering practice which of the routes to establishing line of sight is utilized, and it will be dependent upon factors such as link length, site locations, availability of topographical information, and availability of tools. It is not uncommon to use both techniques-path profile and path survey-for certain links. Fresnel Zones Fresnel (pronounced frah-nell) zones are described as the route that reflected, or indirect, microwave radio energy takes to get to the distant-end microwave radio receiver. All the electromagnetic energy of a microwave radio path does not traverse a direct path between the transmitter and receiver. The Fresnel zone represents an ellipsoid under the direct radio beam. At the distant-end received, this indirect energy (the reflected signal path) either adds to or detracts from the energy of the direct radio beam between the two microwave antennas. From a graphic perspective, Fresnel zones represent a U-shaped line placed underneath the direct line of radio energy between the transmitter and receiver. There are even-numbered Fresnel zones and odd-numbered Fresnel zones. They exist in layers underneath the direct signal. These different Fresnel zones are determined by the respective degree of phase reversal of the indirect radio signal that occurs along the route between the transmitter and the receiver. Odd-numbered Fresnel zones incur a half-wavelength phase reversal (1800) between the transmitter and the receiver but the indirect radio energy arrives at the receiver in phase with the direct radio signal. Therefore, odd Fresnel zones add to, or complement, the total, composite radio signal at the receiver because they arrive in phase with the direct signal. All odd Fresnel zones (i.e., first Fresnel, third Fresnel, etc.) are half-wavelength multiples of the direct radio beam. For example, first Fresnel is a half-wavelength phase reversal of the direct beam, and third Fresnel is a 11/2-wavelength phase reversal of the direct radio beam.

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Even-numbered Fresnel zones also incur a half-wavelength phase reversal (1800) between the transmitter and the receiver but the indirect radio energy arrives at the receiver out of phase with the direct radio signal. Therefore, even Fresnel zones lessen, or detract from, the total, composite radio signal because they arrive out of phase with the direct signal. All even Fresnel zones (i.e., second Fresnel, etc.) are full-wavelength multiples of the direct radio beam. For example, second Fresnel would be a one full wavelength phase reversal of the direct radio beam. Fourth Fresnel would be a two full wavelength phase reversal of the direct radio beam, and so on. See Figure.

Figure: Fresnel Zones Note: The goal in designing a microwave system is to ensure that no more than first Fresnel is obtained between the direct radio beam and the terrain in order to avoid unwanted signal reflections. There are many factors that determine which frequency band will be used in a microwave system. Early microwave links were implemented using lower frequencies, such as 2 GHz and below. Frequencies were easily obtained and equipment was readily available. But these bands are now congested. Typical microwave frequency bands now in use in wireless networks are 8, 10, 13, 15, 18, 23, and 38 GH4 though some of these may not even be available in some countries. Wireless operators are usually assigned three or four frequency bands for the design of the fixed network, the most common being 8, 15, 18, and 23 GHz. It should be noted that in the United States, the 8-GHz band is today primarily used in private networks. Weather is an important consideration when designing microwave systems, since it can affect their efficiency.

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Note: Raindrops attenuate higher frequencies, and this must be taken into account when working with frequencies of 10 GHz and higher in microwave systems. Along with rain outage, higher-frequency bands are attenuated more by the atmosphere (higher free-space loss) than lower-frequency bands. Optimally frequency bands should be matched to a given microwave path as follows: Higher frequencies should be assigned to shorter paths. Lower frequencies should be assigned to longer paths. While the disadvantage of using higher-frequency bands on longer paths is rain outage, the drawback of using lower frequencies on shorter paths is frequency congestion. For example, if 15-GHz systems are used for path distances of 1 mi, this will use up the 1 5-GHz frequency band quickly making it unavailable for future path distances of 4 to 9 mi. Practical design calls for using the 18- or 23-GHz band for 1-km paths and the 15-GHz band for longer paths. Table shows the ideal path distance to frequency-band association in microwave networks. Once the frequency band has been chosen, the proper frequency channel must be assigned to the microwave link. This should be selected so that it will not interfere with other operations systems (i.e., PCS base stations transmitting at 19 GHz in the United States). Microwave Frequency Band and Path Use Recommendations TABLE Path Distance Ideal Less than 4 mi 4 to 12 mi Greater than 12 mi Frequency Band 18 or 23 CHz 13 or 15GHz 2, 8, or 10 GHz

With the preliminary network design in place, a clear picture is available of the different path lengths and capacities of links required. It is then necessary to determine if this is achievable within the terms of local regulations governing frequency availability and management. As stated previously the propagation characteristics of electromagnetic waves dictate that the higher the frequency, the greater the free-space loss, or attenuation, due to the atmosphere. This means that frequency reuse distances are shorter: the distance between links operating on the same frequency can be shorter without fear of interference between these links'. As a result, using lower-frequency bands for longer paths, and higher-frequency bands for shorter paths, as shown in Table, can make more efficient use of the frequency spectrum. The majority of national frequency management administrations will also have some form of link-length policy in adherence with this philosophy.

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Microwave Frequency Bands There are six frequency bands where private microwave operators can apply for FCC licenses to implement microwave systems. These frequencies are in the common carrier" bands: L, S, X, Ku, K, and Kn bands. (See Figure.) There are also small-capacity unlicensed microwave systems that do not require licensing by the FCC. They most often use the 800-MHz frequency range, and they have a 1 to 4 DS1 capacity Diversity and Protection Systems Microwave systems are available in nonprotected and protected configurations. Several protection schemes are available including monitored hot standby (MHSB), frequency diversity and space diversity. From an equipment perspective, a protected terminal provides full duplication of all active elements, for example, both the RF transceiver and the baseband components. This is an example of MHSB. FREQUENCY BANDS HF VHF UHF L-BAND S-BAND C-BAND X-Band Ku BAND K-BAND KABAND MILLIMETER 3-30 MHZ 30-300 MHZ 300-1000 MHZ 1.0-2.0GHZ 2.0-4.0 GHZ 4.0-8.0 GHZ 8.0-12.0 GHZ 12.0 - 18.0GHZ 18.0-27.0 GHZ 27.0-40.0 GHZ 40-300GHZ

Both space diversity and frequency diversity provide protection against path fading due to multipath propagation, in addition to providing protection against equipment failure. These techniques are typically only required in frequency bands below 10 GH4 specifically for long paths over flat terrain or over areas subject to atmospheric inversion layers (i.e., bodies of water or high-humidity areas).

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Space diversity requires use of additional antennas, which must be separated vertically in line with engineering calculations. Frequency diversity can be achieved with one antenna per terminal, configured with a dual-pole feed. However, it should be noted that this would complicate frequency management in the long run. If any microwave link carries traffic from more than one site, it needs some sort of protection mechanism. As the network's number of cell base stations increases, a system of transmission loops should be established between major hub sites and the switch (or switches) to increase survivability and reliability in the network. Transmission loops in a network infrastructure provide diverse routing, thereby increasing the transport system's reliability. One option is to keep a redundant route available with the capacity to carry all the traffic (of the loop) in case the main route fails. Another option is to use the diverse route at all times so that traffic flow is split 50-50 between the two routes. This design reflects what is known as load balancing. If unprotected radios must be used, they should be deployed only to serve single end sites, known as "spurs." Microwave System Capacity Most microwave radio systems in use today employ digital carrier systems using timedivision multiplexing (TDM). There are very few (if any) analog microwave systems existing in the field today. The older analog systems used frequency-division multiplexing (FDM). Some utilities may still be using the older analog microwave systems. Capacity of a microwave system is an important consideration. Microwave radios can be configured to carry a certain amount of traffic in a specific frequency range. Capacities range from DS1 all the way up to 0C3 (three DS3s). Example: A carrier could select a 16-DS1 capacity radio operating at 23 GHz to carry a significant amount of traffic over a path distance of 4 mi. A carrier could also select a 12-DS1 capacity radio operating at 2 GHz to carry traffic over a path distance of about 23 mi. Microwave System Reliability: Index of Refractivity The reliability of the propagation of a microwave radio path is impacted by what is known as the index of refractivity of the microwave radio beam. Three atmospheric conditions have the most effect on the index of refractivity: barometric pressure humidity and temperature.

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Temperature inversion is a condition that has an adverse impact on microwave radio systems, and may cause the systems to become inoperative at times. About 99% of the time the air closer to the ground (and closer to the microwave radio system) is warmer than the air in the lower atmosphere. When the opposite occurs and the air closer to the ground is cooler than the air high above-usually because of weather fronts-temperature inversion occurs. Temperature inversion distorts the microwave radio beam. As a rule the microwave beam normally bends toward the earth. When temperature inversion occurs, the beam bends away from the earth, causing the microwave system to become inoperative. Temperature inversion occurs more frequently at higher radio frequencies, especially in the 1 1/18-GHz frequency range. Coax and Waveguide There are two choices of cable available for use with microwave antennas: either coaxial cable or waveguide. Coax cable is usually used for microwave radios that employ frequencies of 3 GHz or less. Waveguide is a hollow, elliptical metal cable that connects the RU equipment to the microwave antenna. Waveguide cable can be much heavier than coax cable and its weight must be taken into account carefully for tower loading purposes. Microwave Radio Antennas Today's microwave antennas come in two predominant forms. The most common form is a type that appears as a concave dish on communication towers: the parabolic reflector. Parabolic Reflectors These are the most common type of microwave radio antennas in the common carrier band today. They appear as dishes on towers, and the dishes come in diameters of 6, 8, or 10 ft. This type of antenna has a feed horn mounted inside of the dish. Both transmit and receive signals are reflected off the dish into and out of the feed horn. About 90% of new microwave systems use this type of antenna. See Figure.

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Figure: Parabolic reflector microwave antenna Radomes are dome-shaped or flat-shaped fiberglass covers for parabolic microwave antenna dishes. Their main purpose is to reduce wind resistance and thus tower loading as well. Radomes also protect the antenna itself from the elements.

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Horn Reflectors This type of antenna is similar to the parabolic reflector. Radio energy is beamed off a reflector inside the horn itself In effect, the radio energy is funneled out of the horn. This antenna type has a direct radio feed by waveguide as opposed to the parabolic reflector antenna, where the feed horn reflects the radio energy into and out of the system via the dish. Microwave Radio System Software Modeling Tools Microwave radio engineering can be as complicated and specialized as radio-frequency engineering for cell sites. As with RF engineering, there are special software programs that microwave engineers can use to determine the feasibility of installing microwave radio systems, and whether line of sight even exists in the first place between the intended transmitter and receiver locations. When using the software programs, a microwave radio engineer can change many of the parameters of a simulated microwave radio path in order to determine what factors, together, would optimize the radio shot. Some of the parameters (of simulated microwave radio systems) that can be changed to determine feasibility of a specific path are as follows: The microwave radio frequency The size of the antenna (dish) The height of the dish on the tower The diameter of the cable (if coax is being used) The transmitter output power The receiver threshold (the sensitivity of the receiver or how well it accepts the transmitted signal) Two of the more prevalent microwave radio software modeling programs are Rocky Mountain and Pathloss. The reliability of a microwave radio system is a company-specific issue and depends on the actual grade of service that the carrier wants to provide. However most companies engineer microwave radio systems for a reliability factor of 99.99%. This usually equates to only several minutes of outage per year.

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