Introduction to Millimeter Wave Technology
Millimeter Wave, also know as MMW or Millimetre Wave technology is being rapidly adopted for users ranging from enterprise level data centres to single consumers with smart phones requiring higher bandwidth, the demand for newer technologies to deliver these higher data transmission rates is bigger than ever before.
A wide range of technologies exist for the delivery of high throughput, with fibre optic cable considered to be the highest standard. However, fibre optics is not unmatched, especially when all considering economic factors. Millimeter wave wireless technology offers the potential to deliver bandwidth comparable to that of fibre optics but without the logistical and financial drawbacks of the deployments.
Millimeter waves represent the RF Signal spectrum between the frequencies of 30GHz and 300GHz with a wavelength between 1 – 10 millimetres but in terms of wireless networking and communications equipment, the name Millimeter Wave generally corresponds to a few select bands of radio frequencies found around 38, 60 and, more recently, the high potential 70 and 80 GHz bands that have been assigned for the public domain for the purpose of wireless networking and communications.
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MM Wave Spectrum
In the UK, there have been 3 frequency bands that have been allocated for commercial Millimeter Wave usage, these are as follows:
57 – 66GHz: The 60GHz Millimeter Wave Band or V-Band is governed by OFCOM for licensed operation. The large amount of signal absorption via atmospheric oxygen and tight regulations make this frequency band more suited to short range, Point-to-Point and Point-to-Multipoint Millimetre Wave solutions. Between 57 – 64GHz the band is licensed and regulated but from 64 – 66GHz the band is unlicensed and self coordinated.
71 – 76GHz and 81 – 86GHz: The 70GHz and 80GHz Millimeter Wave Bands or E-Bands are governed by OFCOM for licensed operation only and are regarded to be the most suited band for Point-to-Point and Point-to-Multipoint, Millimeter Wave Wireless Networking and communication transmission. Each band has a 5GHz spectral range available which totals to be more than all other assigned frequency bands added together. Each 5GHz range can act as a single contiguous wireless transmission channel allowing very efficient use of the whole band and in turn these result in high throughput speeds from 1 to 3 Gbps whilst only using simple modulation techniques such as OOK (On-Off-Keying) or BPSK (Binary Phase Shift Keying). These throughput speeds are substantially higher than those found in lower frequencies using much more complex and advanced orders of modulation so even higher throughput speeds should be achieved with Millimetre Wave devices when utilising the same advanced techniques. It should be only a matter time before market demand brings these to the forefront.
In the US, an additional band is available as well as the above which is:
92 – 95GHz: The 94GHz Millimeter Wave Band or W-Band is governed by the FCC Part 15 for unlicensed operation also but only for indoor usage. It may also be used to outdoor Point-to-Point applications following the FCC Part 101 regulations but due to a range between 94 – 94.1GHz being excluded, the band is less spectrally efficient than the others.
The 71-76, 81-86 and 92-95 GHz bands are also used for point-to-point high-bandwidth communication links. These frequencies, as opposed to the 60 GHz frequency, do not suffer from the effects of oxygen absorption, but require a transmitting license in the US from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). There are plans for 10 Gbit/s links using these frequencies as well. In the case of the 92–95 GHz band, a small 100 MHz range has been reserved for space-borne radios, making this reserved range limited to a transmission rate of under a few gigabits per second.
The band is essentially undeveloped and available for use in a broad range of new products and services, including high-speed, point-to-point wireless local area networks and broadband Internet access. WirelessHD is another recent technology that operates near the 60 GHz range. Highly directional, “pencil-beam” signal characteristics permit different systems to operate close to one another without causing interference. Potential applications include radar systems with very high resolution.
The upcoming Wi-Fi standard IEEE 802.11ad will run on the 60 GHz (V band) spectrum with data transfer rates of up to 7 Gbit/s.
Uses of the millimeter wave bands include point-to-point communications, intersatellite links, and point-to-multipoint communications.
Because of shorter wavelengths, the band permits the use of smaller antennas than would be required for similar circumstances in the lower bands, to achieve the same high directivity and high gain. The immediate consequence of this high directivity, coupled with the high free space loss at these frequencies, is the possibility of a more efficient use of the spectrum for point-to-multipoint applications. Since a greater number of highly directive antennas can be placed in a given area than less directive antennas, the net result is higher reuse of the spectrum, and higher density of users, as compared to lower frequencies. Furthermore, because one can place more voice channels or broadband information using a higher frequency to transmit the information, this spectrum could potentially be used as a replacement for or supplement to fiber optics.
Bandwidth & Scalable Capacity
The main benefit that Millimeter Wave technology has over lower RF frequencies is the spectral bandwidth of 5GHz being available in each of the E-Band ranges, resulting in current speeds of 1.25Gbps Full Duplex with potential throughput speeds of up to 10Gbps Full Duplex being made possible. Once market demand increases and better modulation techniques are implemented, spectral efficiency of the equipment will improve allowing the equipment to meet the higher capacity demands of prospective future networks.
Whereas low frequency, microwave signals have a wide beamwidth angle which reduces the reuse of transmission of the same signal within the local geographic area, Millimeter Wave signals transmit in very narrow, focused beams which allows for multiple deployments in tight proximity whilst using the same frequency ranges. This allows a density of around 15 times more when comparing a 70GHz signal to a 20GHz example making Millimeter Wave ideal for Point-to-Point Mesh, Ring and dense Hub & Spoke network topologies where lower frequency signals would not be able to cope before cross signal interference would become a significant limiting factor.
Propagation & Signal Attenuation
In general, Millimeter Wave links can range in anywhere up to 10km depending on factors such as equipment specifications and environmental conditions. The propagation properties of Millimeter Waves are much like those of the other popular wireless networking frequencies in that they are most significantly affected by air moisture levels; atmospheric Oxygen is also a large factor in the 60GHz band but almost negligible in the other ranges, under 0.2 dB per km.
Water vapour affects the signal at between 0 and 3dB/km at high humidity levels and the propagation due to clouds and fog acts in a very similar way depending on the density and amount of droplets in the air. These losses are relatively low and only play a major factor when considering links at 5km+.
|Effect||Signal Loss (dB/km)|
|Oxygen absorption at Sea Level||0.22|
|Humidity of 100% at 30°C||1.8|
|Heavy Fog of 50m visibility||3.2|
|Heavy Rain Shower at 25mm/hr||10.7|
At the 70 to 80GHz bands, water, in the form of rain, plays the most significant role in signal attenuation as it does with lower frequency signals too. The rate of rainfall, measured in mm/hour, is the depending factor in signal loss meaning that the harder it is raining, the lower the signal strength will be. Signal Propagation loss is also directly proportional to distance, so if the distance between transmitter and receiver is doubled, the loss in dB will be twice as much. Millimeter Wave performance is quite heavily dependent on rainfall and strongly affects Availability (discussed below), however, successful links can even be set up in areas of occasional heavy downpours.
|Rainfall Type||Rain Rate||Signal Loss (dB/km)|
|Light Shower||1 mm/hour||0.9|
|Normal Rain||4 mm/hour||2.6|
|Intense Storm||50 mm/hour||18.4|
The reliability of a Millimeter Wave Wireless Network relies on the same principles as any other, in particular, the distance of operation, the radio’s link margin (being factors of transmit power, receiver sensitivity and beam divergence) and others such as redundancy paths. A link may be heavily affected by a period of intense rainfall but if it has a large enough margin, it will not suffer an outage.
The reliability of a network is called the availability and is measured as a percentage of time that the network will be functioning, for example, an availability of 99.999% over a year will equate to just over 5 hours of downtime. Much research by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) has gone into collecting rainfall date from metropolitan areas around the world and how it will affect Millimeter Wave transmissions. You can see below an example of the expected availability of a widely available Millimeter Wave link for a few global cities and their respective availability for a 2km link.
|Location||Link Range (km, at 99.999% Availability)||Availability (2 km link)|
Security is also an issue when dealing with wireless transmissions but due to Millimeter Wave’s inherently low beam widths (“pencil beams”) at about 0.36° radius with a 2ft. antenna along with, generally, lower peak transmit powers relative to lower frequencies the technology has a low probability of intercept and detection which is vital for the transference of confidential material.