Network design must account for reliability

Phil Marshall/Tolaga Research
28 Jun 2011

Over the past 24 months, the mobile industry has seen massive advancements in radio base station technology.

Standards like CPRI (Common Public Radio Interface) have facilitated modular base station architectures. Improvements in base band processing and radio technologies have enabled cost effective small cells and integrated multi-mode and multi-band architectures.

Service providers are well positioned to capitalize on these advancements and dramatically enhance the overall economics of their networks.

As service providers make strategic decisions regarding their network architectures, the impact of infrastructure reliability is often overlooked. For example, there is growing interest in remote radio head (RRH) architectures which have the radio amplifier equipment placed close to the antennas, whether on a tower, rooftop or other structure.

This contrasts with traditional designs which have radio amplifiers collocated with the equipment on the ground. RRH architectures eliminate the need for heavy coaxial cables for antenna connectivity, improve the radio link budget by eliminating cable losses and reduce the footprint of the radio infrastructure on the ground.

However the typical reliability of RRH solutions range between 150,000 and 300,000 MTBF (mean time between failure), which represents an annual failure rate of between 2.5% and 5%. This failure rate is much higher than would typically be seen in traditional tower mounted equipment because of the power amplification equipment required.

The impact of such a failure rate will prove costly in mature markets. For example in markets like the US, each base station tower climb costs between $1,000 and $4,000. In these markets, RRH solutions are better suited to rooftop installations, micro-cells and distributed antenna systems where maintenance and infrastructure replacement costs are lower. Tower mounted RRH solutions are more suited to emerging markets which benefit from lower labor costs.

In addition to architectural considerations, service providers must pay close attention to the varied reliability of infrastructure offered amongst the various platforms offered by different vendors.

Similar variations are observed across other critical network infrastructure. To remain competitive, service providers must evolve their networks to capitalize on advancements in radio technologies.

However we believe that as service providers evaluate alternative solutions, it is critical that all operational costs are accounted for, including the impact of infrastructure reliability.

Phil Marshall, PhD is Chief Research Officer at Tolaga Research. For more information contact: [email protected] or go to

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