Are Enterprise Backbones Ready for a Wireless Facelift?


Big technical advances in the use of the 60Ghz band are breathing new life into aging backbone networks. David Callisch, VP of Marketing at Nyansa, says enterprises need to brace up for a wireless facelift. 

Today’s businesses deal with a new world of media-rich applications, higher speed access technologies, such as Wi-Fi 6, and a flood of more powerful devices and users. Backbone networks are thus challenged to deliver multi-gigabit/sec capacities and increased flexibility when reconfiguration is required. This is adding pressure on aging enterprises.

Until now, enterprises have relied on Cat5 or fiber cabling. While seemingly inexpensive to deploy, pulling and upgrading cabling is actually very costly, cumbersome, and time-consuming. Moreover, as things change, cabling often can’t reach areas where it’s difficult or impossible to lay or pull the wire or fiber needed to extend backbones.  Meanwhile, older buildings, historic sites, or locations where workers can’t be disrupted, such as hospitals, are left out of contention for high-speed cabling.

Most organizations already have a wired backbone network in place. Yet over 90 percent of enterprise backbone networks deployed today are based on Category 5 (6 is pretty fast as is 5e) Ethernet that simply can’t scale to support the multi-gigabit speeds now required. All of this seems to create a perfect opportunity for some sort of high capacity wireless system. While advances in 802.11 Wi-Fi in the sub 6 GHz band have boosted speeds and improved the mitigation of signal attenuation, it is widely viewed as an access technology and a nonstarter for enterprise backbones for myriad reasons. 

For backbone and backhaul applications, problems related to interference, throughput, signal propagation, best effort access, and instability can decimate an entire access network.  In other words, reliability, stability, and capacity are non-negotiable “must-haves” for enterprise backbones.

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Millimeter Wave Communications for Wireless Networks

Wi-Fi has now been extended into the millimeter wave bands using the 802.11ad standard and 802.11ay amendment. 60 GHz wireless solutions have been attractive for recent years due to the high potential of the large bandwidth in 60 GHz unlicensed band that can deliver multi-gigabit data transfer. The 802.11ad standard was published in 2012, and the technology gives devices access to the unlicensed and relatively unclogged 60 GHz millimeter wave spectrum band. 

Unlike previous versions, however, the tech behind it didn’t come from the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) but was effectively created by the WiGig (Wireless Gigabit Alliance). 60 GHz has long been used for the WiGig flavor of Wi-Fi based on the IEEE 802.11ad standard and is set to evolve to the 802.11ay standard, which anticipates the addition of MIMO, channel bonding, and other RF innovations to provide bandwidth and coverage improvements.

The backward compatible 802.11ay amendment to 802.11ad is designed to boost speeds several-fold. That would amount to a transmission rate of 20 to 30Gbps and a range of 33 to 100 feet with 11ay-to-11ay devices. Millimeter wave solutions promiseOpens a new window to solve some of these problems but have always suffered from poor propagation and penetration through walls and obstructions. Attenuation of 30 to 90 dB can be commonplace, even for light construction. And as for getting through or around concrete in buildings, well, you might as well forget about it using conventional technology.  

This is why solutions in the 60GHz band have largely been relegated to outdoor point-to-point applications, such as a broadband fiber alternative. But this is all about to change. As major RF advances are being applied to millimeter wave wireless solutions, enterprise backbones could be rethought or reimagined to deliver unprecedented flexibility and scalable capacity that was never before possible.

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Wireless: The Future of Enterprise Backbones

New innovations to address the fundamental problems facing millimeter wave wireless solutions are promising to make wireless work faster and just as reliable as wires. If successful enterprise backbones would go wireless – solving the last piece of the all-wireless enterprise puzzle. This represents a boon for large public venues, healthcare systems, multi-dwelling units, and older buildings where adding capacity or increasing backbone bandwidth has been a pipe dream.

Stealth startups, such as AirVine, have now developed sophisticated RF technology used within the unlicensed and uncongested 60GHz band. The technology uses a modern antenna design to create a resilient millimeter band-based Ethernet network capable of delivering up to 20 Gbps or more capacity with all the flexibility that comes with wireless.

Designed for indoor enterprise backbone applications, these are closed-loop systems that leverage electronic beamforming and beam steering married with advanced modulation and forward error correction to yield high bandwidth, low bit error rates, and ultra-low latency. With the ability to deliver up to 30dBi in antenna gain, signals can now penetrate interior walls and extend up to 100 meters in the distance in non-line of sight deployments.

While not developed to replace cabling completely, such advanced 60GHz systems effectively cut in half the time and cost to deploy or reconfigure enterprise backbone networks while allowing the infrastructure to be quickly upgraded or extended to support multi-gigabit speeds without having to pull any cable. These innovations in the use of 60GHz wireless are ideal for enterprises looking for a more flexible capacity that allows for faster reconfiguration of backbones, Wi-Fi backhaul, or the retrofitting of older facilities where fiber cabling is simply isn’t possible.

Ultimately 60GHz wireless looks to be the right technology at just the right time to cut the cord on backbone networks to finally realize the true wireless enterprise.

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