Time to explore other frequencies?

The whole industry is watching the tussle in the US as Lightsquared faces off with the FCC about the issues of interference in GPS, mostly in relief that they aren’t directly involved themselves.

Nevertheless, the spectrum crunch has earned its name for a reason. With the relentless growth in data consumption, mobile operators are particularly aware that the problems of mobile backhaul are only going to grow, as we attempt to squeeze more and more data onto our networks.

In fact, Capacity reported in March that Cisco has forecast the growth in mobile data traffic will grow 26-fold between 2010 and 2015. If that isn’t enough to generate a little forward planning, we don’t know what is. And, possibly, broadening the frequency bands available to mobile operators holds the answer.

Siklu Wireless Communications is certainly keen on this solution, and has fixed its sights on the E-band, which operates at 71-76GHz and 81-86GHz. Gaby Junowicz, Siklu’s VP of marketing and business development, said: “While traditionally operators used the regular microwave spectrum (6-38GHz), the increase in demand for more bandwidth calls for more spectrum to be available.”

Meanwhile, Shahar Peleg, director of product management at Siklu, told Capacity that the business has pinned its hopes on making this frequency a more feasible, and affordable, solution for mobile operators. While E-band frequencies have been available and regulated in the US since 2003, and shortly after that in the UK, high costs have prevented widespread adoption by the industry. As Peleg said, “The fact is that E-band equipment was very, very expensive.”

Now, having integrated most of the radio components into silicon chips, Peleg believes that they have significantly brought down the costs of E-band. There are other potential cost savings involved too. In the UK, Peleg says that the E-band frequency costs £50 per link annually, compared to over £1,000 per link for lower frequencies.

Is this affordability because UK’s Ofcom is striving to move traffic off the traditional frequencies and onto less crowded spectrums? Probably it is, in part. But there are other reasons for the lower costs. As Peleg explains: “The E-bands beamwidth is 1 degree, so it’s very, very narrow compared to the bandwidth of 10 degrees or more in lower frequencies. So Ofcom does not need to do very complex interference analysis to verify that this new link will not influence your existing links. It also means you can ‘sell’ the same frequency over and over.”

Not all is golden, of course. The higher frequency means that E-band covers much shorter distances than the traditional frequencies, effectively limiting its use to last-mile mobile backhaul, and would encourage the proliferation of base stations we have seen recently. But there is, it seems, definite interest in the market, even if this has not yet evidenced itself in widespread adoption by Tier 1 operators.

Is E-band the solution, or even a part of the solution, to the problems facing mobile operators? We’d be pleased to hear your views.

Follow Capacity on Twitter: @capacitymag

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