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March 26, 2007

DragonWave's Inexpensive Horizon Compact Wireless Carrier Ethernet System

By Richard Grigonis, Executive Editor, IP Communications Group

Carriers wanting to deploy WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) 4G personal broadband solutions, or some other wireless next-gen service, but who are faced with a backhaul bandwidth problem, can now find relief in the form of a small (9-inch-square) indoor/outdoor wireless Carrier Ethernet backhaul platform called the Horizon Compact, from DragonWave Inc. (www.dragonwaveinc.com).

DragonWave’s Horizon Compact product operates in the 11- to 38-GHz licensed radio frequencies, and provides scalable, low-latency, wire-speed native Gigabit Ethernet connectivity up to 800 Mbps. The system is designed to be easy to deploy and manage, and a full suite of network-management options are available. The DragonWave Horizon Compact supports 50-ms switching and 99.999-percent service availability over point-to-point, ring and mesh network topologies. It became available in April 2007.

The Horizon Compact supports IP capability including jumbo frames, 802.1 prioritization, flow control and virtual local area network (VLAN) management. The DragonWave product also supports fast modulation shifting, integrated radio frequency (RF) loopback and Automatic Transmit Power Control. The platform also has a link-aggregation capability, in addition to integrated 1+1 switching. The Horizon Compact enables “virtual integration” into the equipment of DragonWave partners, as it can be powered and managed directly via the base-station equipment without the need for developing new interfaces.

DragonWave, headquartered in Ottawa, Canada, designs, markets and supports broadband, wireless networking products for service providers and enterprises that support the reliable interference-free, high-bandwidth transmission of real-time, wireless services.

Alan Solhiem, DragonWave’s vice president of marketing, was on tour prior to the launch of the Horizon Compact, who disclosed to Yours Truly under embargo the device’s oodles of features, its enhanced value proposition and the CAPEX savings it affords providers of WiMax services wishing to deploy carrier class Ethernet services.

Solheim started with a bit of history:

“Historically, DragonWave really started at a place where we were competing with legacy split-mount microwave equipment where you have a radio on the roof and a separate indoor unit that’s also powered separately, space is leased separately, and so forth,” he said. “A few years ago we introduced our AirPair product line. It was the world’s first high capacity radio which could be completely mounted outdoors in climates around the world. The AirPair has now been followed by the Horizon Compact, which is a heavy-integrated, cost-reduced and feature-enhanced version of the AirPair All-Outdoor unit implementation. We’ve now crammed all of the electronics into a single, very small enclosure that we call a ‘zero-footprint’ and we’ve added a whole bunch of performance features. Embedded in that integration is improved reliability because of a lower parts count, which also leads to improved economics.”

“Moreover, the Horizon Compact’s very high level of throughput allows you to scale the Horizon to 400 and 800 Mbps full-duplex Committed Bit Rate [CBR] capacity,” Solheim said. “It’s very nearly the equivalent of wire-speed GigE, and for very long ranges. Some of these radios will be installed in environments similar to our AirPair product line, and sometimes you see these capacities shot over distances ranging from 10 to 50 kilometers. Both capital and operational expenditures [CAPEX and OPEX (News - Alert)] for carriers is reduced, installation and other operational burdens can be reduced, since the carrier no longer has any indoor backhaul equipment to support and therefore occupies no space in indoor base-station cabinets. It even uses standard CAT-5E cabling with Power over Ethernet.”

“New high capacity IP applications are driving existing networks to exhaust capacity,” he said. “The days of voice calls and the bandwidth scaling associated with that are now being replaced with highly scalable data sessions where you or I might just choose to download email, but say, my daughter will get on the LimeWire and download 50 megs of audio without thinking anything of it, since she’s experiencing reasonable connection times and the expectation of immediate service from the network. Wiring buildings or base stations to a fiber backbone is slow and expensive, and even when you move to a wireless solution, you find that there are more operators, more licensed spectrum, more locations for access points and base stations to be located, and more demand for power, space and rooftops. Being able to deploy on those very easily is a critical driver and it affects many attributes. So, to meet that growing need for services and capacity, very reliable and survivable networks are needed that also have a high degree of scalability.”

“Very highly IP-focused, legacy TDM and PDH/SDH [Plesiochronous Digital Hierarchy/Synchronous Digital Hierarchy] functionality is not what’s happening in the user devices.” Solheim said. “Instead, you’ve got technology that leads to a new cost effectiveness that’s rippling back into the network as well. And there’s also a very high focus on OPEX efficiency. The radio equipment is now becoming so highly integrated and cost effective that the next ‘big tree to kill’ in the cost reduction game involves going after operational and installation expenditures.”

“So, to address all of these requirements of the modern network,” he said, “we’ve introduced a product called Horizon Compact. It provides a whole new level of performance at reasonable cost. It delivers a high-speed solution that’s able to address the high-bandwidth demands of today’s network operators. It offers a high degree of scalability, even though it happens to be packaged in an incredibly small, installation-friendly package. The Horizon also allows for high degrees of integration with other networking equipment, which can form the basis for a full-blown build-out.”

“Here’s an example of the economic scenario,” he continued. “An alternative to installing wireless for backhaul is to simply ‘wire-up’ a given base station, access point, or municipal WiFi location, using primarily a leased line DS3, T1s or even some kind of fiber optics, such an OC-3. All of these kinds of transports are out there but in our view they’re not as cost-effective as high bandwidth wireless. We’ve calculated payback scenarios that are derived from some typical models that we’ve seen among the various operators we work with. Roughly, at $1,000 dollars per month for 10 megabits per second [Mbps], a 20 Mbps capacity WiMAX base station can pay for itself, in terms of backhauling, in 11 months. That’s quite an achievement. And consider that the same Horizon Compact radio could scale to 400 or 800 Mbps with pure software control from the remote network operations center. On the other hand, if you installed to that site a DS3 to get 40 Mbps or what have you, that’s all the bandwidth you’re ever going to get, unless you tread more cable around, and install more switching equipment and so forth. So the Horizon Compact is a very cost-effective yet bandwidth-scalable solution. A WiMAX (News - Alert) site consuming a very high bandwidth to perhaps 100 Mbps per base stations, which is something we envision in the future, then the payback is very short compared to leasing costs — it’s only a few months.”

Although many ‘perturbations’ enter into this type of analysis, Solheim’s basic message is that there’s a tremendous amount of cost effectiveness for deploying products such as the Horizon Compact against a conventional leased-line network deployment scenario.

“In the first instance I cited, this is what’s driving operators toward using wireless, generally,” Solheim said. “What the Horizon brings to the table is a whole series of optimizations of these particular scenarios. One of these optimizations is our Horizon Compact’s ability to address overall infrastructure and operational expenditure costs. Because overall costs of these types of things are continuing to increase while the capital expansion associated with the equipment is continuing to stabilize or even decrease in some cases, the percentage of a given network deployment that an operator would be confronted with is now tending towards operational infrastructure costs. In the case of wireless, that means installing equipment on a rooftop or a tower, negotiating leases with landlords for that equipment, enduring the costs of having the equipment up there month after month, engineering assessments of towers or rooftops, safety certifications, radio licensing, and on and on. There’s a whole range of such things happening in the background.”

“To address a big chunk of these necessary activities and their associated operational infrastructure costs,” Solheim said. “The Horizon Compact brings to the table a whole series of advanced features, primarily beginning with its small size and weight, making it very easy to handle and install and align, activities which typically require quite a bit of time and technical expertise on the part of the crews that do the installations. But the Horizon Compact has built-in alignment features to support, aid and verify those alignments, and there are other features such as built-in RF loopbacks to verify independently the various radio endpoints to ensure that they’re functional and fully operational, and which ultimately helps with maintenance and network debugging. All of these kinds of features in the Horizon Compact attack the total costs of ownership. There is a very powerful attraction to this particular product to the community in which we sell.”

The Horizon Compact is a very powerful tool for both Metropolitan network deployments ad well a rural and semi-rural deployments where the radio ‘hops’ tend to be very long distances. It looks like the Horizon Compact will find a home with many carriers wanting to employ wireless backhaul for many next-gen services.


Richard Grigonis is an internationally-known technology editor and writer. Prior to joining TMC (News - Alert), he was the Editor-in-Chief of VON Magazine from its founding in 2003 to August 2006. He also served as the Chief Technical Editor of CMP Media’s Computer Telephony magazine (called CommunicationsConvergence from its first year of operation in 1994 until 2003). In addition, he has written five books on computers and telecom (including the Computer Telephony Encyclopedia and Dictionary of IP Communications). To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.


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