DragonWave boosts gigabit wireless capacity

The goal is to cut costs for one of the most expensive elements in mobile networks

DragonWave this week announced two products aimed at improving the capacity and economics of backhauling wireless voice and data traffic.

The company unveiled Horizon Duo, a 1.6Gbps wireless Ethernet microwave radio to link base stations with core sites or fiber points of presence, and the Service Delivery Unit (SDU), a rack-mounted appliance that packetizes Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) traffic, combines it with Ethernet traffic and transports the combined stream over DragonWave's IP-based Ethernet wireless links.

The goal is to cut costs for one of the most expensive elements in mobile networks: moving a mobile voice or data call to the wired infrastructure. Ethernet is a key backhaul alternative, and high-capacity wireless for the "middle mile" is a cost-effective alternative to fiber.

Founded in 2000, DragonWave is now a public company that claims the top market share, 25 per cent, of 2007 US microwave deployments in the combined 11-, 18- and 23GHz bands. It's closely followed by rival Ceragon, then by NEC America, Harris/Stratex, and Nera Networks. About 70 per cent of DragonWave's business is with mobile operators to wirelessly backhaul traffic to and from base stations, the so-called middle mile. The remainder is high-capacity wireless links for private enterprise networks.

Its Horizon Compact radio links cellular base stations with aggregation sites, while the existing AirPair radio is a 400Mbps to link these sites with each other and with fiber points of presence.

The new Horizon Duo is intended as a high-capacity upgrade for the AirPair product. It offers native Ethernet, full-duplex connectivity with four times the capacity, simply by swapping the two units. No changes or additions are needed to any other equipment. The radio can run in licensed and unlicensed frequencies in the 11GHz to 38GHz range.

The lower frequency range, compared with other gigabit radios, gives Horizon Duo a longer range: the average distance for DragonWave backhaul links is 8 to 11 kilometres, says Alan Solheim, DragonWave's vice president of product management. Higher frequency microwave radios, from companies like BridgeWave Communications, typically are intended as shorter-range wireless bridges. BridgeWave's 60GHz radios reach up to 2.5 kilometres, and its 80GHz radios up to 9.5 kilometres.

Horizon Duo is designed to bring together several cellular base stations or other edge sites to an aggregation point, and link the aggregation points with a high-capacity fiber point of presence. Such wireless backhaul is less expensive to deploy than running fiber connections to the edge of the mobile network: just 5 per cent of base stations have fiber connectivity, according to Solheim.

Using an optional plug-in with Horizon Duo, a carrier could run 16 E1/T1 lines, two DS3/E3 connections, or one OC3/STM1 over a single Gigabit Ethernet connection. That means ongoing monthly cost savings for mobile operators that otherwise have to lease T-1 lines for about US$200 a month, according to Solheim. By contrast, DragonWave reduces those costs to about US$10 a month, he says.

Horizon Duo will ship in April. List price ranges from US$12,000 to US$30,000 per wireless link.

The new Service Deliver Unit is a way for mobile operators to combine TDM and IP services, as a step toward all-IP networks. The SDU packetizes TDM traffic at the network edge, and uses wireless Ethernet to transport the converged packet stream through intermediate sites.

Without the SDU, mobile operators need a laundry list of additional equipment and interconnections at multiple sites to deal with both types of traffic, according to Solheim.

The SDU fits into standard equipment racks, and comes in three models: 16-port T1/E1, a two-port DS#, and one-port OC3/STM1. It supports services such as traffic prioritization, virtual LAN tagging, Ethernet demarcation, and redundancy.

The SDU is available now. Carrier pricing varies, based on the number of units.

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John Cox

Network World
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