Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Planning Your 4G Broadband Wireless Network

by John Celentano, Market Development Manager, TESSCO Technologies

There is much to consider when planning a 4G broadband wireless network.

Begin your planning by considering your customer, and asking yourself a few key questions. Who are your target customers -- residences or businesses? What services do you plan to offer to these customers?

With 4G broadband wireless technologies, whether WiMAX or Long Term Evolution (LTE), a service provider can offer a range of Internet Protocol (IP)-based services over very high-speed connections that are not possible with currently available 3G wireless technologies.

Consider the possibilities -- high-speed Internet access for homes and businesses alike, Voice over IP (VoIP), remote video surveillance, public safety and first responders’ unified communications, distance learning with video instruction, medical diagnostics at sites remote from hospitals, and other IP-based applications still to be developed. Will services be delivered to customers in a fixed location, or are they mobile? Fixed or mobile services determine the type of equipment that the customer will need to access the services.

Next, determine the size of your network. How big an area or territory do you plan to cover? How many customers, either homes or businesses, will you cover within this operating area?

To ensure reliable service, the base station transceivers (BTS) must be located to achieve maximum radio frequency (RF) signal coverage. Eradiated power levels and antenna heights determine the transmission quality. Antenna height must be sufficient to clear obstructions, and that height is determined by the terrain. Is it flat with few obstructions, or is it hilly, or even mountainous? Are there many trees and buildings in the way? These days, overcoming obstructions means mounting antennas on wireless towers or other heights such as rooftops, water or utility towers, even steeples.

Locating the BTS and calculating antenna heights are determined through RF propagation and interference studies that take into account terrain, transmit levels, and other radios operating in the same area. On what frequencies will you be transmitting? Are these in licensed or unlicensed bands? Are you going with WiMAX now, or waiting for LTE? This is important. Frequency and technology determine the RF propagation and interference characteristics, as well as data handling capabilities. Licensed or unlicensed operation also impacts the capital investment needed to build the network. Such studies generally are conducted by RF engineering and consulting firms.

Once the BTS sites are located, how will the antennas be mounted? Is there an existing tower or other suitable mounting point nearby that can be leased for the antennas and radio equipment? Or, do you need to construct your own tower? Online tools are available to calculate the necessary type and size of towers to support the antennas. Building a tower, however, means you must also buy land, apply for licenses, and obtain zoning approvals.

The other important consideration is how to “haul” customers’ connections from the BTS “back” to the network switching point. Backhaul circuits can be carried over either copper or fiber cable facilities leased from local wireline service providers. At the same time, owning your own point-to-point microwave systems for backhaul has become a cost-effective alternative to leased wireline circuits.

Once the BTS sites are established, the construction can begin. You will need to buy antennas, broadband wireless radios, cables to connect the radios to the antennas, microwave radios for backhaul, mounting hardware, DC power and backup batteries, and equipment cabinets along with tools and test sets. All of this equipment can be purchased from a variety of vendors, or through a single source provider such as TESSCO. You will need a professional contractor or construction company to do the actual installation.

The final step is to prove the system works as designed. After the BTS sites are activated, RF propagation and interference tests can be performed with spectrum analyzers. Signal quality and strength can be tested at selected locations around the entire coverage area.

Once the network is operational, your task is to market and sell the broadband services that it can support. Certainly, a sound network plan and design will yield profitable revenue streams for years to come.

Featured in The Wireless Journal, January/February 2010. Reprinted with permission from TESSCO Technologies. www.TESSCO.com

Editor’s Note: WCAI members who would like to be featured in the WCAI Member Spotlight section should contact Susan Polyakova at susan@wcai.com.

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