Microwave: A Cost-Effective Solution for Network Construction in Rural Areas and Islands

Microwave: A Cost-Effective Solution for Network Construction in Rural Areas and Islands

Although it is the cradle of western civilization, modern Greece lacks fully developed communications technologies. In 2013, broadband penetration in Greece was low. Less than 5% of Greek users accessed bandwidths of over 30 Mbps, comparing unfavorably to the 28% of EU users accessing bandwidths of over 30 Mbps. Greece has invested large quantities of both money and people into improving network coverage and quality. These efforts have increased broadband penetration and stimulated the national economy.

Most of the Greek population doesn’t live in metropolitan areas, whereas about 15% of the population lives in sparsely populated rural areas with complex terrains, such as islands, mountains, and rivers. In the rural areas, implementing optical fiber connections demands high initial investments (CAPEX) and high maintenance costs (OPEX). On average, the time to market for broadband services is 25 months and the return on investment period is 6 to 8 years.

A better solution is to use microwave links to replace optical fibers to provide broadband access for rural communities. The deployment costs of microwave backhaul are lower than 15% of those of optical fiber backhaul over a 10 km transmission distance.

Figure 1: Fast network construction when using microwave backhaul

By 2016, Greece had deployed more than 4,000 hops of microwave links for last-mile wireless backhaul, achieving carrier-class 99.999% reliability. Based on this success, Greece would like to use microwave backhaul solutions to carry fixed broadband services to mountainous areas and islands. This would speed up broadband network construction and improve broadband coverage. As of publication, Greece had also deployed more than 1,000 hops of microwave links for the backhaul of fixed broadband services.

Typically, when microwave backhaul is used in a fixed access network, each digital subscriber line access multiplexer (DSLAM) provides services for about 200 fixed broadband users. Each of these users has an access bandwidth of 30 Mbps, and the convergence ratio is 1:30. Microwave products can easily meet the upstream bandwidth requirements of about 200 M. Huawei's Super Dual Band solution combines the traditional IP microwave frequency band (6–42 GHz) and E-band (80 GHz) to achieve a maximum backhaul bandwidth of 10 Gbps for up to 10 km transmission. This fulfills the performance requirements for most HD IPTV and 4K TV services.

Microwave equipment is also easy to install. In most scenarios, 6-meter wooden poles are used because they are efficient and cheap. In some scenarios, simple tripods can also be used.

Figure 2: Microwave solutions offer enormous savings

Note: The total cost of ownership (TCO) calculation in Figure 2 is based on a transmission distance of 10 km. Optical fiber TCO in Greece is estimated to be 10,000 EUR per kilometer.

Compared with optical fiber solutions, microwave solutions reduce the TCO by 85% and shorten the time to market (TTM) of broadband services from 25 months to 8 months. Thanks to efficient microwave solutions, home broadband coverage in Greece has rapidly increased from 56% to 73% within 3 years. Continued application of microwave solutions will further improve network coverage and quality and will promote economic growth in Greece.