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Synchronization is creating quite a stir in the mobile backhaul industry as operators are wrestling with a variety of synchronization technology options including Synchronous Ethernet (SyncE) and Precision Time Protocol (PTP) a.k.a IEEE 1588v2. Microwave is the most dominant technology globally for mobile backhaul, and will continue to be so, as it has rapidly evolved to support hybrid and packet microwave networking options. The combination of these two technologies poses some interesting questions, such as, which synchronization options are effective over a microwave backhaul? Are there any differences or unique considerations when it comes to the implementation of synchronization over a packet microwave network?

As mobile operators are now moving to “All-IP”, the clash between asynchronous and synchronous networking is nowhere more heated than in the mobile backhaul arena. Networks are undergoing a dramatic migration to support a host of bandwidth hungry data and video services, while needing to maintain traditional mobile voice services. Timing is especially critical to mobile voice quality and overall performance, since synchronization degradation can result in dropped calls, speech clipping, or the inability to hand off calls when mobile users are traveling between cell sites. Mobile base stations all rely on some means of synchronization, and timing signals transported on the mobile backhaul are critical to maintain and deliver quality of service. Synchronization to a primary reference clock in a mobile network can be based on frequency, time or phase; while frequency synchronization is the most common in mobile backhaul, time and/or phase synchronization is also necessary for CDMA, LTE TDD, LTE MBMS, Mobile WiMAX and other applications. Fortunately there are several methods available today to provide synchronization across a packetbased mobile backhaul infrastructure, but this means that mobile operators have to make tough decisions on which one or ones to adopt moving forward. There are also unique microwave backhaul characteristics that need to be considered when delivering synchronization and migrating to packet.

For topologies that utilize microwave in all or a portion of the backhaul, these are some key considerations that need to be taken into account for support of synchronization.

When migrating from legacy T1/E1 to fiber, copper wire is decommissioned, literally “ripped out”, and replaced with the new physical media. This is extremely disruptive to the network and to customers, and very costly - completely contrary to the goals for migrating to Ethernet in the first place to reduce cost for burgeoning mobile video and data user traffic. Advanced microwave systems provide the flexibility to upgrade from TDM, to Hybrid, or all Packet, via a simple software reconfiguration and additional capacity modules, while continuing to utilize the same physical media – a radio path, typically over a licensed RF channel. Having this flexibility with microwave provides a simple means to maintain synchronization for some operators. By reserving


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a small amount of bandwidth for TDM control and synchronization traffic, the TDM timing distribution is kept in place while the rest of the network can evolve to packet transport. Network disruption is eliminated with no need for a ‘rip and replace’, and upgrade costs are kept under control.

RA DIO PA TH VA RIA BIL I TY A ND A VA IL A BIL ITY Fiber, Wireline and microwave links all support binary availability - they can be either up or down and
optional link or ring protection mechanisms may be put in place to increase availability as needed. However, microwave networks have a distinct advantage in that they can be engineered to deal with non-binary operational states as a result of radio path fading, mostly due to weather or environmental related impairments. Under these conditions, advanced microwave systems are engineered to operate under multiple states of network availability e.g. 99.999%, 99.99% etc. and can invoke various mechanisms to respond to changes in the state of availability. Advanced microwave networks are now available with adaptive coding and modulation (ACM) mechanisms that can apply different modulations, e.g. QPSK, 64-QAM, 256-QAM etc., to deliver the highest available capacity across a radio path based on network conditions at a particular point in time. As synchronization traffic is critical to the operation of the mobile network, it is important that it receives the highest prioritization under all conditions of microwave transport and/or ACM state changes. An advanced microwave system provides efficient mechanisms for dealing with radio path variability and the resulting available throughput, and can ensure that timing traffic is prioritized under all conditions.

The majority of point-to-point microwave deployments are extending the ‘last mile’ reach across much longer distances, tens of miles in many cases using repeaters, resulting in multiple ‘hops’ between the end cell site and the first aggregation point. This is an important network design consideration when planning the implementation of timing over packet microwave. If SyncE is being used, then each microwave link and respective node on the links needs to support SyncE for effective distribution of synchronization clocking across the chain of hops. Alternately, packet layer timing technology, such as PTP, does not require each node in the backhaul to support PTP, but delay and delay variation is cumulative and is often proportional to the number of hops. The end effect is possible disruption to the synchronization traffic if not properly engineered. Fortunately, advanced microwave solutions with a rich set of traffic prioritization and QoS mechanisms can ensure that synchronization traffic is assigned a strict priority to minimize packet switching delays.

Four options have emerged in the last couple years as the leading candidates moving forward for mobile synchronization, all of which are applicable to microwave backhaul: • Maintaining TDM (T1/E1) synchronization - Most common approach, and lowest risk, is to keep the existing TDM distribution that is already in place, while migrating the bulk of your mobile backhaul to packet transport. However, for operators that lease E1 or T1s this can become a costly proposition. For example, considering that over 250,000 T1/E1s will be needed by the end of 2011, at an average of $300/month, would be about $1B per year, if all of these circuits were leased!


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Operators are taking advantage of hybrid microwave systems which allow them to maintain a single T1/E1 channel for synchronization over the TDM transport. Microwave tree topologies can easily accumulate dedicated TDM channels, but advanced distribution techniques are now available to minimize the bandwidth allocated. Instead of a dedicated T1/E1 circuit per destination, a single root circuit is used throughout the network for all destinations.

Cell Sites

Synchronous Ethernet (SyncE) - This approach is projected to grow the fastest over the next three years. Synchronous Ethernet is a Layer 1 approach used to propagate frequency timing across Ethernet networks by having clocks within each node logically interconnected to the master clock in the CO.
Figure 1: Preferred Ethernet Synchronization For complete end-to-end timing support, every intervening Options For Base Station Backhaul (Heavy node (radio terminal, switch or router) in the backhaul Reading, March 2011) chain must support SyncE. Timing signals must propagate from incoming Ethernet ports to outgoing Ethernet ports to ensure high synchronization accuracy and delivery. Next gen switches and advanced microwave systems support SyncE, but older generation devices may break the ‘chain’ if they cannot extract the clocking signal, clean and distribute to its downsteam neighbor.

Interoperability among node equipment is especially critical for SyncE deployment in mobile backhaul since such networks are often deployed in a mixed environment of microwave and Wireline (fiber and copper) technologies. Since microwave systems are often the ‘last mile’ connection terminating at the cell site, they are the also the last link in the SyncE chain to connect to the base station. • Precision Time Protocol PTP (IEEE 1588v2) - Layer 2 approach where dedicated timing packets are transmitted within the data packet stream to maintain a Master-Slave synchronization relationship. Time stamped PTP packets are sent from the Master clock to Slave clocks, and from the Slave clocks back to the Master. Clock delay and delay variation across the network are constantly checked, especially for heavily loaded networks. Operators can overlay PTP timing over a hybrid combination of microwave, copper and packet optical backhaul networks - essentially “bookending ” the PTP at packet entry and exit points. In this approach, networks deploy a small number of PTP master clocks in their core or aggregation hubs which then communicate to slave clocks either at the cell site, or embedded in the basestation itself – optional boundary or transparent clocks may also be used to extend the range of the PTP network when needed. In this ‘unaware’ state, networks do not have to rely on underlying physical network to support highly accurate clocking at all node points.

Satellite-based (e.g. GPS) synchronization - An overlay solution that is independent of the underlying topology, notably with additional expenses for extra antenna and cabling. Distant fourth in interest with network operators, especially limited with regard to network migration to all-IP, who have more cost-effective solutions available.


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Backhaul networks are rarely homogenous, as most deployments consist of a mix of microwave, fiber and copper, depending on geography and availability. Similarly, a homogenous synchronization solution may exist in an ideal world but is not practical in most cases. A realistic backhaul network will often need to provide support for a mix of multiple timing solutions in parallel. For example, this may be the case for operators that are deploying a combination of mobile services which require frequency, phase and time synchronization - recall that SyncE only supports frequency synchronization. Another reason for combining timing solutions might be for segments of the backhaul that aren’t capable of supporting a particular timing solution – for example, carrying SyncE over older Ethernet links that are not SyncE equipped. Some advanced microwave and other backhaul nodes are capable of effectively interworking between TDM, SyncE and PTP as required to deal with this dilemma. Microwave systems can also be advantageous in tying the distribution of clocking to a more accurate radio modem to enable highly accurate clock distribution and reproduction – providing 15ppb accuracy for example, compared to the common 50ppb table stakes benchmark.

In summary, synchronization will continue to be an important consideration for mobile backhaul evolution and deployments over the next few years as operators evaluate the most commonly available options including TDM, SyncE and PTP. Microwave will continue to dominate mobile backhaul deployments for years to come. Microwave does pose some unique challenges, but also provides significant advantages for timing deployment and migration. Regardless of which synchronization technology option is chosen, microwave can and is being utilized by operators globally for effective timing delivery, especially in applications which demand a heterogeneous mix of TDM and packet backhaul in parallel. Advanced microwave systems can provide the ability to efficiently and effectively interwork them, delivering highly accurate clocking distribution and often reducing the need for dedicated stand alone clocks in an operators’ network, or reducing the cost of dedicated leased lines. Aviat Networks is engaged with other mobile backhaul industry experts to ensure operators can successfully deploy and evolve synchronization over packet based microwave networks both today and well into the future. For example, Aviat recently participated in an industry first multivendor demonstration to validate SyncE performance over a combination of microwave, fiber and copper backhaul technologies. Aviat also recently completed extensive multivendor testing of PTP (1588v2) over multi-hop and complex microwave configurations, to validate the performance of this key synchronization solution in practical deployment topologies. Feel free to contact your local Aviat Networks representative to learn more about these and other related tests, or to help you in planning your synchronization evolution.

Aviat, Aviat Networks, and Aviat logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Aviat Networks, Inc. © Aviat Networks, Inc. 2011. All Rights Reserved


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