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October 2009 | Volume 12 / Number 10
Feature Story

DragonWave, Exalt Unveil New Microwave Backhaul Solutions

By: Paula Bernier

The iPhone (News - Alert) and online video are putting new pressure on cellular operators to offer ever-larger capacity on their networks. Those carriers are answering the call by enhancing their existing networks and beginning to launch 4G services. In addition to upping bandwidth on radio-to-customer connections, however, service providers need fatter pipes for backhaul to ensure a quality customer experience. But that can be a pricey proposition, especially if they use leased wireline connections to do the job.

That’s why microwave backhaul – a lower cost and more flexible alternative – is becoming an increasingly attractive option for wireless backhaul. Companies like DragonWave (News - Alert) Inc. and Exalt Communications are adding to its appeal with new solutions that deliver higher capacity and support for the latest technologies at more affordable price points.

The new DragonWave product, called Horizon Quantum (News - Alert), delivers up to 4gbps of capacity per link and includes built-in switch functionality in a very small package. CTO Erik Boch says the product – which DragonWave nicknamed “the big skinny” – provides the lowest cost per megabit on the market and offers industry-leading capacity, all in just half a rack.

Meanwhile, Exalt (News - Alert) has unveiled the ExtendAir line, which CEO Amir Zoufonoun says includes the market’s highest performance, longest range point-to-point microwave radio systems in the sub-$5,000 category. These solutions, he says, can enable network operators that require more capacity but are forced to closely control their costs in light of the rough economy to move forward with new deployments that might otherwise be canceled or tabled.

DragonWave’s Horizon Quantum

While Horizon Quantum scales up to 4gbps, service providers can start using the product for applications as low as 100mbps and then increase speed as needed, adds Boch. In addition to its capacity, switching and scalability, the product also is noteworthy for its ease of operation (as a result of integrated functionality such as RF loopback), native Ethernet implementation, support of sub-0.1-millisecond latencies, interference-free performance in licensed and unlicensed frequencies, five 9s service reliability, and advanced security and encryption.

WiMax services pioneer Clearwire (News - Alert) is endorsing the Horizon Quantum, which is scheduled to ship by the end of the year.

Exalt’s ExtendAir

The ExtendAir from Exalt, meanwhile, began shipping in August.

Although this is a low-end product, which delivers 27mbps to 120mbps of capacity, Zoufonoun says it is feature rich.

ExtendAir, according to Exalt, comes in a variety of Ethernet and TDM combinations, offers the highest Ethernet throughput in its class, has five 9s availability, very low latency, the longest range at high throughput, 4-level QoS support, VLAN tagging, Ethernet rate limiting, a high degree of security and a hardened built-in Layer 2 switch with optional 3x10/100 BaseT.

Zoufonoun adds that ExtendAir is the only product of its kind that’s designed from the ground up for point-to-point applications (he says competing products were designed for Wi-Fi and then repurposed) and that because Exalt controls “every piece of technology that goes into our boxes” it is not beholden to the costs or innovation curves of other suppliers.

He continues that customers can deploy only the capacity they need today on the ExtendAir platform, but that they have the option of easily putting multiple boxes on the same tower without interference issues. Zoufonoun says customers also can aggregate traffic from different bands using just a Cat5 cable between any Exalt radios, whereas some solutions require expensive routers at both ends of such connections for aggregation. IT

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