Dish names Aviat for 5G microwave transport

Dish Wireless
Dell'Oro Group says microwave will play a critical role in growth of the 5G transport market. (Dish)

Dish Network plans to leverage microwave transport for midhaul and backhaul in its 5G network, using Aviat Networks as one of its key suppliers.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Dish struck fiber deals last year with Everstream, Segra, Uniti, and Zayo for fronthaul and backhaul. Crown Castle is also providing fiber services for Dish as part of a master lease agreement for up to 20,000 tower sites.

As part of the Aviat agreement, announced Monday, Dish will deploy the vendor’s hardware and software. Specifically Aviat is supplying its WTM 4000 microwave, millimeter wave, and multi-band radio platform. It's also providing the AviatCloud software platform "to simplify all aspects of microwave, which includes software for design, support expert systems for network management, and ecommerce for faster procurement and next day shipping," according to a spokesperson. Dish called out Aviat’s single box multi-band microwave solution. According to Aviat, multi-band utilizes a combination of E-band (70-80 GHz) with traditional microwave (6-42 GHz) on a single microwave link, that typically uses a single antenna on each end.

The vendor said this helps realize the capacity benefits of E-band while resolving issues such as a short maximum link distance of up to 2 or 3 km. On the flip side, traditional microwave that has been used backhaul sometimes lacks capacity with smaller channel widths. Multi-band increases the capacity of a traditional 15/18/23 GHz product by up to 10-times, according to Aviat. E-band capacity can also be turned on as needed via software.

RELATED: FCC advances 70-90 GHz changes to support wireless 5G backhaul

Citing Aviat’s value proposition for Dish, it pointed to the vendor's “highest system gain radios for optimum capacity, and radios with integrated software defined networking (SDN) capabilities.”

Dish noted it will obtain products via the Aviat Store ecommerce platform. In addition to its own products and services, Aviat is the exclusive distributor for NEC microwave gear, services and customer support in North America per a 2019 agreement. No word on whether Dish plans to use NEC microwave gear as well, and spokesperson wasn't immediately available to answer questions from Fierce.

"Aviat will play a central role in helping us utilize microwave, which has become a highly sought-after component of the wireless transport mix," said Jeff McSchooler, Dish Executive Vice President of Wireless Network Operations, in a statement. "This microwave-based solution will help deliver the midhaul and backhaul connectivity we need, while excelling in affordability, reliability and resilience."  

5G transport not just about fiber

While fiber is often seen as king for future proofing transport, it’s not always logistically or economically feasible and microwave transmission is still used around the globe.

In some instances, operators could also also use microwave as a kind of interim technology while they wait for fiber since greenfield fiber can have longer timelines associated with digging and deployment. Dish didn’t disclose additional details for its own microwave deployments.

In Dish’s announcement, Dell’Oro Group VP Jimmy Yu commented on the importance of microwave technology.

"The 5G wireless transport market is expected to grow exponentially to over $1B in 2023, and microwave will play a critical role in this growth. Despite common perception, it's not just about fiber," Yu said in a statement.

RELATED: Latency, reliability underpin changes for 5G transport: Special Report

A November 2020 Dell’Oro report forecast the microwave market to grow 4% in 2021 to $3.1 billion, after growing 6% year over year in the third quarter.

Aviat is among the six top microwave vendors – alongside Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, Ceragon, and NEC – that collectively held revenue share of nearly 80% in the first nine months of 2020, according to Dell’Oro.  

Of those, Aviat, as well as Huawei and Nokia, outperformed the market and increased their respective market shares by at least one percentage point in the year-to-date comparison.

Ericsson has also outlined the continued need for microwave technology. The vendor’s October 2020 microwave outlook (PDF) predicted that 38% of backhaul connections would be microwave-based by 2025, with the technology largely used for last-mile access in urban areas and aggregation links in suburban and urban areas.

RELATED: Crown Castle CFO: Fiber business a differentiator for Dish tower deal

In a statement, Aviat President and CEO Pete Smith said the selection by Dish validates the company’s position as a leader in wireless backhaul for 5G and pointed to opportunities in Open RAN.

“As 5G networks migrate to O-RAN, operators are able to choose the best-in-class backhaul vendor. As the leading specialist, the evolution to O-RAN creates exciting 5G opportunities for Aviat," Smith stated.

While backhaul is one component, Dish is also using Aviat for midhaul, a transport segment newer to 5G. Midhaul forms the link between network components known as the distributed unit (DU) and the centralized unit (CU) network components. Those arise from virtualized and open RAN architectures, where network functions that take place in the baseband unit are split up. Read more about implications of 5G for transport here.

Since Open RAN standardizes the fronthual and midhaul interfaces, proprietary interfaces like CPRI requiring ultra-high capacity and ultra-low latency are removed. This means with O-RAN, wireless transport is more applicable in more places, according to Aviat. 

As part of approval of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, Dish committed to build out a nationwide 5G network and must cover 70% of the U.S. population by mid-2023 to meet new FCC spectrum buildout deadlines. Dish continues to add to its roster of vendors, with its first 5G market expected later this year

Plans call for a fully-virtualized open radio access network (open RAN) architecture, which the company says will keep down costs. Dish has estimated a $10 billion price tag for the network build, but some analysts, such as MoffettNathanson, remain skeptical, making comparisons to Rakuten Mobile’s greenfield build in Japan.

Updated with additional information on products Aviat is supplying.