Ceragon Boosts Backhaul for HetNets

Wireless backhaul specialist Ceragon Networks Ltd. (Nasdaq: CRNT) has expanded its microwave radio product line to target mobile operator Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) deployments.

The new product, called FibeAir IP-20C, is aimed at cell site backhaul as well as "fronthaul," which refers to the transport link between a base station's radio unit and baseband unit in a distributed macro cell scenario. By including the capacity requirements for both backhaul as well as fronthaul, Ceragon believes its latest product is suited to HetNet rollouts, which involves layers of various sizes and shapes of macro and small cells in the radio access network (RAN).

"Most of the commotion in the market is around small cells, but the most interesting thing is going on in the macro cell layer," says Ran Avital, Ceragon's VP of strategic and product marketing. "The real opportunity is in the densification and distribution of the macro layer."

And that's where fronthaul comes in. For example, in a distributed macro cell set-up, a high-capacity link is needed to connect a Long Term Evolution (LTE) baseband unit with multiple, spread-out remote radio units. A similar scenario is the Cloud RAN (C-RAN) -- sometimes called centralized RAN -- concept, where the base station processing elements of multiple base stations are centrally located and connected to distributed radios. (See China Mobile Steps Up Cloud RAN Efforts .)

Ceragon's multi-core radio FibeAir IP-20C operates in licensed spectrum and has capacity of 1 Gbit/s when deployed in a 28MHz or 30MHz channel and capacity of 2G bit/s when used in a 56MHz channel. The product also boasts 4x4 line-of-site MIMO and 2048 QAM modulation.

The product is currently in field trials in India and Norway -- though the vendor did not specify the operators -- and will be generally available in the first quarter of 2013.

Why this matters
Fronthaul, which is typically fiber-based, isn't exactly new and Ceragon is quick to admit that it's not the first microwave vendor to talk about it. Indeed, Ceragon's Avital noted that Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , BridgeWave Communications and French startup EBlink also have products that target fronthaul.

But this development offers operators another option for using microwave links to meet fronthaul as well as backhaul requirements. For Ceragon, the new product takes the company beyond the backhaul and long-haul markets and into the realm of distributed radio access networks for LTE and LTE-Advanced.

More broadly, the news is an indication of how the RAN could change with the rollout of LTE -- and even more so with the launch of LTE-Advanced networks. (See Meet the Next 4G: LTE-Advanced.)

"Tomorrow's mobile network architecture will be characterized by a far more diverse variety of base station types drawn from conventional macro-cellular as well as new small cell and Cloud-RAN models," said Patrick Donegan, senior analyst at Heavy Reading. "Microwave radio vendors can't afford to be one-trick ponies if they want substantial traction with the major cellular accounts. They will need solutions to support a variety of different operator requirements."

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— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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