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Microwave Path Design

Niraj Shah

For many wireless carriers, microwave is becoming a popular choice over wireline transport. It is an attractive option for many reasons, especially as radio equipment costs decrease. Low monthly operating costs can undercut those of typical T1 expenses, proving it more economical over the long term. Carriers also are attracted to its modular and expandable characteristics. Network operators like the fact that they can own and control microwave radio networks instead of relying on other service providers for network components. Like many carriers, you may be planning to jump on the microwave bandwagon. But before you move forward, make sure you understand all of the design considerations that will affect your deployment.

Frequency Options
First, it is important to understand the relationship between capacity, frequency band, path distance, tower heights, radio equipment and antennas. In the United States, there are numerous licenses to operate microwave radio, including 2GHz, 6GHz, 7GHz, 8GHz, 10GHz, 11GHz, 13GHz, 15GHz,18GHz, 23GHz and 38GHz frequency bands. Wavelengths in the lower frequencies are longer, which is important because the wavelength determines how the atmosphere affects transmission. The atmosphere may refract longer waves. Refraction can reduce the length of the path, or microwave hop. In developed countries, such as the United States, much of the available frequency spectrum already is in use. Competition for these frequencies has pushed use into higher bands, such as 38GHz. Radios in the 2GHz to 6GHz frequencies can transmit over longer distances, which makes them more suitable for rural areas. High-frequency radios are a better fit for suburban and urban environments. For example, a low-frequency radio could carry a signal for more than 12.5 miles, while a high-frequency radio, such as a 23GHz radio, could cover a path distance of more than three miles.

which is equivalent to three DS3s. snow or fog as well as normal signal loss in the waveguide and microwave system itself. design engineers can calculate rain effect to ensure customer requirements are met.Terrain & Weather Because line of sight is a microwave requirement. Based on capacity and radio equipment. intermittent object. However. Large antennas require large towers and have higher wind and ice load factors. Capacity is another important consideration. Fog. terrain such as mountains. multiplexers. waveguide (hollow metal conductor connecting the RF equipment to the antenna) and feed cables. A microwave system includes an antenna. sand and dust have minimal influence in the frequency bands above 8GHz. the rate on the path will vary. snow. You can configure radios to carry a certain amount of traffic in a specific frequency. So you could select a 16DS1-capacity radio operating at 38GHz to carry a significant amount of traffic over a path distance of less than five miles. fade margin calculations. Capacities range from DS1 to OC-3. These four factors also will dictate system reliability. However. the reduction in energy as a signal travels through equipment. interference analysis. The term often refers to the impact of rain. trees and buildings can block a microwave signal and limit the distance of a microwave path. a . In many cases. fresnel zone clearance. you also must consider existing tower loads to ensure that you can implement the design on existing or planned towers and structures. hills. You will use a large antenna (low frequency) when the path is longer. Raindrops also vary in shape. As a result. a bird or other object moving through the microwave path will not affect your design because transmission can go around a small. As a result. You also must take into account attenuation. tower heights and terrain elevation will play a major role in how you plan and construct the system. system diversity and long-distance specifications. large drops change shape as they fall. radio. antenna size. For example. transmission lines or air. multi-path fading. Rainfall rates and storm duration can affect the availability of the path at 23GHz and 38GHz.

The propagation is like electromagnetic . The attenuation will depend on metallic content. which are affected by noise figure. Ice and snow have little effect on high-frequency radio links. Distortion also may occur in the radio path. In some cases. power failures and propagation performance of the individual paths. and filter arrangements. path length. It often is thought of as a straight line in space from transmitting to receiving antenna. Interference experience in the radio system can be classified as external interference and internal or self-interference. Transmitting through glass causes attenuation. reliability or service continuity depends on equipment failure rates. It also includes fade margins. The signal power ranges from as low as -125dBm to -100dBm. Overall. waveguides. It can be expressed as an absolute value of the interfering signal power not to be exceeded at the input to the interfered receiver. Actually. Self-interference in the radio system can be introduced through antennas. You will get the best results by placing the antenna at least 12 inches from the window at a 10-degree angle. and antenna radomes are designed to prevent snow accumulation. System Design Options The objective for any microwave system is to provide the best distortion-free and interference-free service. cabling and radiation or by spurious products within radio equipment. and frequency attenuation relationships. transmitter power and waveguide attenuation. External interference depends on many factors and typically is expressed in one of two ways. Also. This involves antenna sizes and elevations. any exterior coating on the glass and the angle of incidence of the radiated beam. microwave propagation is referred to as line of sight. Generally. the National Weather Service Library provides detailed data on rain rate and dropsize distribution. do not forget to consider temperature. frequency or space separations in diversity systems. the path is not a line and is not straight. In the United States. It also can be expressed as a value of S/I ratio with typical values ranging from 60dB to wave with vertical polarization is less attenuated than a wave that is horizontally polarized. you will need to locate an antenna indoors.

In the propagation path. They result from impedance mismatches or equipment irregularities. Waveguide echoes are another source of delay distortion. the earth's curvature and dielectric constant of the atmosphere. waveguide system or the radio equipment can cause delay distortion. When travelling through the atmosphere. in the vertical plane because of height variation. . There are two basic sets of clearance criteria that are commonly used. weather fronts. You can use sweep instrumentation to detect and delay this distortion. delay distortion is caused by reflected energy that reaches the receiving antenna but is delayed by a number of wavelengths as compared to the direct signal. To reduce terrainrelated losses. where A = free space attenuation in dB. where F1 is the first Fresnel zone. You can calculate the first Fresnel zone at any point in the path by using Fn = 72. The radio path. a characteristic loss. there is. rain attenuation and various K factors affect propagation. d1 = distance from one end of path to reflection point in miles.1*SQRT((n*d1*d2)/fD). The free space formula is A= 96. and f = frequency in GHz. In general. refractive index. you must satisfy path clearance with 0. which creates noise distortion in the received message. This loss increases with both the frequency and distance. It is known as free space loss and is defined as the loss created between two isotropic antennas in free space. Light route is used for systems with slight relaxation of the requirements. The propagation also influences path clearance. where there are no ground influences or obstructions. d2 = D .6 + 20 log10F + 20 log10D. Heavy route is used for systems with the most stringent reliability requirements. D = total length of path in miles. where Fn = nth Fresnel zone radius in feet. Terrain also plays a significant role in microwave propagation.d1. and D = path distance in miles. Spreading energy primarily causes the loss as the wavefront travels through the space. F = frequency in GHz. for a given frequency and distance. it usually follows a slightly curved path.waves represented as functions of sine and cosine. The choice of clearance criteria for a microwave route or path is important because it can affect the cost and quality of performance profoundly. reflective index. or refracted path.6F1. Although the atmosphere and terrain that a radio beam travels have little affect on path loss.

interference from other radios and atmospheric conditions can affect transmission performance. you can increase path availability. Diversity reception decreases the chance that a signal will be lost by combining signals from two or more antennas (space diversity) or by transmitting the same signal on two or more frequency channels (frequency diversity). A ring configuration protects against site failure and provides alternate transmission paths to maximize network protection. data networks carrying critical information may demand higher reliability than other applications. point to point. you should visit the planned transmission sites to conduct a walk-through of existing facilities and obtain zoning information. Frequency diversity is not allowed in many markets because spectrum is scarce. Equipment Selection When selecting equipment. For example. taking into account an estimate of system downtime for the locale of the planned radio (average rainfall). Microwave network design can take different physical forms. Geodetic survey maps and photos are useful for subsequent planning from an office location. You also must consider reliability when planning your network. determine the amount of power the radio uses to transmit and receive signals. Reflections in the atmosphere. Fade margin is the allowance made to accommodate estimated propagation fading without exceeding a specified signal-to-noise ratio. . which improves overall system reliability and availability. Equipment and the radio path itself affect reliability. You can implement space and frequency diversity to either eliminate or to reduce fading. star and ring configurations. Space and frequency diversity use redundant hardware but also decouple the paths used by microwave transmissions.Multipath fading also affects microwaves. If you want to follow appropriate design processes. By adding path diversity schemes to a radio design. System planners should perform path calculations to establish fade margins and system gain. More power usage equates to higher operating costs.

. you may want to select hot standby. With careful attention to link gain power. free space loss. antenna height. receiver sensitivity. attenuation and availability requirements.To increase equipment reliability. you can integrate microwave radio effectively into virtually any wireless system. allowing for full redundancy. In case of an equipment failure. redundant processors allow for an automatic cutover to allow transmission to continue.