Vodafone has been trialling wireless backhaul solutions using the Microwave E-band 70-80GHz spectrum band. Vodafone Romania, working with Huawei, recently tested a configuration of E-band technology, which achieved speeds of 10 Gbps in urban environments with 99.9% availability over distances of one kilometre.
A description of the trial has posted on a Vodafone blog by Ignacio Gonzalez, senior mobile access engineer, Vodafone Group Technology, who explained some of the drivers behind the move.
‘Increased network response times, improved coverage and higher peak speeds have stimulated a significant increase in demand for mobile data. In our European markets, 4G customers are consuming approximately two to three times more data than they did using 3G.
‘Meanwhile, the rapid roll-out of 3G in emerging markets has helped data usage in AMAP increase 78% year-on-year and the number of data users increase by 17% to 128.7 million during our last financial quarter (ended Dec 2015).’
Gonzalez observed that as the amount of data crossing Vodafone networks continues to grow apace, it is looking at ways to enhance its backhaul network to ensure that the vast amounts of traffic moving between its base stations is as quick and reliable as possible.
‘Fibre is by far the best way for us to do this: it’s high-capacity, fast, reliable and the signal degradation is minimal over long distances. However, fibre is not always available, which means that we have to look at new ways of moving the data,’ said Gonzalez.
As a consequence of this, Vodafone been researching E-band Microwave technology. E-band Microwave is a technology that uses a beam of radio waves, in the 70-80GHz frequency range, to transmit information between two fixed locations.
While E-band Microwave technology is extremely effective for transmitting data over very short distances, it has always been viewed as less than ideal for transmitting data over longer distances due to the propensity for the signal to degrade, noted Gonzalez.
‘However, working closely with Huawei, we are pushing the boundaries of what is possible with the technology. Recently, in collaboration with Vodafone Romania, we tested a configuration of E-band technology which achieved speeds of 10 Gbps in urban environments with 99.9% availability over distances of one kilometre.’
The trial also tested the use of “Multi Band Link” technology, which is a combination of E-band and traditional Microwave Ethernet. Using this, Vodafone said it achieved 4Gbps link capacity in suburban areas between two sites that were seven kilometres apart.
‘This is a marked improvement in terms of the speed and distance, which E-band Microwave technology can transmit data,’ pointed out Gonzalez. ‘While we’re still in the testing phase, we anticipate that that the technology will significantly boost the performance of our backhaul network, which in turn will enable us to deliver a faster and more reliable service to our customers.’
To date, Vodafone has introduced E-band technology in eight markets. Following the successful tests in Romania, the operator said it is now exploring how it can use the technology in other markets.