The changing RF landscape for WISPs

Recently, there have been some discussions on Facebook about waining support for 2.4GHZ .  KP Performance recently published a Future of 5GHZ and beyond blog post. So why all this focus on 5GHZ and why are people forgetting about 2.4?

To answer this question, we need to update our thinking on the trends in networks, not just wireless networks.  Customers are demanding more and more speed. Network backbones and delivery nodes have to be updated to keep up with this demand. For anything but 802.11 wifi,2.4GHZ can’t keep up with the bandwidth needs.

One of the significant limitations of many 2.4 radios is they use frequency-hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) and/or direct-sequence spread spectrum (DSSS) modulation. Due to 2.4GHZ being older, the chipsets have evolved around these modulation methods because of age.  When you compare 2.4GHZ to 5GHZ radios running OFDM, you start to see a significant difference.  In a nutshell, OFDM allows for higher throughput. If you want to read all about the differences in the protocols here ya go: http://www.answers.com/Q/Difference_between_ofdm_dsss_fhss

Secondly, is the amount of spectrum available.  More spectrum means more channels to use, which translates into a high chance of mitigating interference. This interference can be self-induced or from external sources. To use an analogy, the more rooms a building has, the more simultaneous conversations can happen without noise in 2.4GHZ we only have 3 non-overlapping channels at 20mhz. Remember the part about more and more customers wanting more bandwidth? In the wireless world, one of the ways to increase capacity on your APs is to increase the channel width. Once you increase 2.4 to 30 or 40 MHz, you do not have much room to deal with noise because your available channels have shrunk.

One of the biggest arguments in support of using 2.4GHZ for a WISP environment is the physics.  Lower frequencies penetrate trees and foliage better. As with anything, there is a tradeoff.  As the signal is absorbed, so is the available “air time” for transmission of data.  As the signal travels through stuff, the radios on both sides have to reduce their modulation rates to deal with the loss of signal.  Lower modulation rates mean lower throughput for customers.  This might be fine for customers who have no other choice.  This thinking is not a long term play.

With LTE especially, the traditional thinking is being uprooted.  Multiple streams to the customer as well as various paths for the signal due to antenna stacking are allowing radios to penetrate this same foliage just as well as a 2.4 signal, but delivering more bandwidth. These systems are becoming more and more carrier class.  As the internet evolves and becomes more and more critical, ISPs are having to step up their services.  The FCC  says the definition of broadband is at least 25 meg download. A 2.4 radio just can’t keep up in a WISP environment.  I am seeing 10 meg becoming the minimum customers want. Can you get by with smaller packages? Yes, but how long can you maintain that as the customer demand grows?

So what is the answer? Cell sizes are shrinking.  This is helping 2.4 hold on.  The less expensive radios can be deployed to less dense areas and still provide decent speeds to customers.  This same trend allows 5GHZ cells to be deployed as well. With less things to go through, 5GHZ can perform in modern networks at higher modulation rates.  Antenna manufacturers are also spending R&D to get the most out of their 5GHZ antennas. More money in the pipeline means stronger products. My clients are typically deploying 3.65 and 5GHZ on their towers.  LTE is changing RF WISP design and taking the place of 2.4 and 900.

Antenna patterns and interference

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Mikrotik mAP for the WISP installer

One of the problems installers run into on a few networks we manage is having the right tools to properly test a new install. Sure, an installer can run a test to speedtest.net to verify customers are getting their speed.  Anyone who has done this long enough knows speedtest.net can be unreliable and produce inconsistent results. So, what then? Or what happens if you need to by-pass customer equipment easily? Most installers break out their laptop, spend a few minutes messing with settings and then authenticating themselves onto the network. Sometimes this can be easy, other times it can be challenging.

mAP with extenral battery pack

In steps the Mikrotik mAP.
What you are about to read is based on a MUM presentation by Lorenzo Busatti from http://routing.wireless.academy/ with my own spin on it. You can read his entire presentation on the mAP in PDF at : https://mum.mikrotik.com//presentations/US16/presentation_3371_1462179397.pdf . The meat of what we are talking about in this article starts on Page 50. If you want to watch the video you can do so at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeZetH9uX_Y . The focus of this article starts around 21:00.

I have taken Lorenzo’s idea and have several different versions based upon the network.  In most of our scenarios, the ethernet ports are what plug into the CPE or the customer’s equipment, and the technician connects to the mAP over wifi.  This post covers using the mAP as an installer tool, not a traveling router. Lorenzo covers the travel option quite well in his presentation.

In this post, we focus on networks which use PPPoE. PPPoE networks usually are the ones who take much time to set up to diagnose.   What we have done is set up an uncapped user profile that is available on every tower.  Authentication can be done with local secrets or via radius.  Depending on your IP design the user can get the same IP across the network, or have an IP that assigned to this user on each tower/routed segment. We could do an entire article on IP design.

On our Mikrotik, we setup ether1 to have a PPPoE client running on it.  When the installer plugs this into the customers CPE the mAP will automatically “dial-out” and authenticate using the technician user we talked about earlier.  Once this connection has is established, the mAP is set to turn on the red “PoE out” light on the mAP using the following code.

/system leds
add interface=pppoe-out1 leds=user-led type=interface-status

Note. Our PPPoE interface is the default “pppoe-out1″ name. If you modify this, you will need to modify the led setup as well to match.

The red light gives the technician a visual indicator they have authenticated and should have internet. At the very least their mAP has authenticated with PPPoE. There are netwatch scripts mentioned in the above presentation which can kick on another LED indicating true internet reachability or other functions.  In our case, we can assume if the unit authenticates with the tower, then internet to the tower is up.  While this isn’t always the case if the Internet is down to the tower you quickly know or the NOC quickly knows.  At least you hope so. We chose the PoE out led because we are not using POE on this setup and a red light is noticeable.

Once the technician has a connection they can connect to an SSID set aside for testing.  In our case, we have set aside a “COMPANY_TECH” SSID. The tech connects to this on their laptop, and they are online.  Since this is a static profile, you can set it up just like a typical customer, or you can give the tech user access to routers, APs or other devices.  Our philosophy is you set up this SSID to mimic what a customer account experiences as closely as possible.  It goes through the same firewall rules and ques just like a typical customer.

To further enhance our tool we can set up a VPN.  This VPN can is accessible from the laptop with a second SSID named “COMPANY_VPN”. Once the technician switches over to this SSID they have access, over a preconfigured VPN on the mAP, to the network, from where they can access things customers can not, or at least should not be able to access. Many modern networks put APs, and infrastructure on separate VLANs not reachable from customer subnets.  The VPN comes in handy here. You can access these things without changing security. If you plan on using this router internally, the type of VPN you choose is not as important as if you plan to modify the config so you can travel as is the case with the above MUM presentation. If you plan to travel an SSTP VPN is the most compatible.  If it’s just inside your network, I would suggest an l2tp connection with IPsec.

Our third configuration on this is to set up the second ethernet port to be a DHCP client.  This setup is handy for plugging into the customer router for testing or for places where DHCP is the method of access, for example, behind a Baicells UE.  If your network does not use PPPoE, you could have one ethernet be a DHCP client, and the other be a DHCP server. We have found having the technicians connect wirelessly makes their lives easier.  They can plug the unit in and not have to worry about cables being too short, or getting behind a desk several times to plug and unplug things.

So why go through all this trouble?
One of the first things you learn in troubleshooting is to eliminate as many variables as you can. By plugging this into your CPE, you have a known baseline to do testing. You eliminate things such as customer routers, customer PCs, and premise wiring.  The mAP is plugged directly in CPE, whether it be wired or wireless. Experience has shown us many of the troubles customers experience are traced back to their router. Even if you provide the router, this can eliminate or point to that router as being a source of the problem if a technician needs to visit the customer.

Secondly, the mAP allows us to see and do more than your typical router. From the mAP we can run the Mikrotik bandwidth test tool from it to the closest router, to the next router inlines, all the way out to the internet. A while back I did an article titled “The Problem with Speedteststs“.  This article explains many of the issues testing just using speedtest.net or other sites.  Being able to do these kinds of tests is invaluable.  If there are four Mikrotik routers between the customer and the edge of your network all four of them can be tested independently. If you have a known good host outside your network, such as the one we provide to our clients, then you can also test against that. 

Having a Mikrotik test tool like this also allows you access to better logging and diagnostics.   You can easily see if the ethernet is negotiating at 100 meg or a Gig.  You can do wireless scans to see how noisy or busy 2.4GHZ is.  You have easy to understand ping and traceroute tools.  You also have a remote diagnostic tool which engineers can remote into easily to perform tests and capture readings.

Thirdly, the mAP allows the installer to establish a good known baseline at the time of install.  You are not reliant on just a CPE to AP test, or a speedtest.net test.

How do we make this portable?
You may have noticed in my above pictures I have an external battery pack hooked up to my mAP.   I am a fan of the Anker battery packs

Distributors such as ISP Supplies and CTIconnect have the mAP.

Finally, you will need a USB to MicroUSB cable

If you want you can add some double sided tape to hold the mAP to the battery pack for a neat package. I like the shorter cable referenced above in order to have a neat and manageable setup.

No matter what gear you use for delivering Internet to your customers, the mAP can be an invaluable troubleshooting tool for your field staff. I will be posting configs for Patreon and subscribers to download and configure their mAPs for this type of setup, as well as a road warrior setup. In the meantime, we do offer a setup service for $200, which includes the mAP, battery, USB cable and customized configuration for you.

ALG 5GHZ backhaul before and after

If you are looking for a U.S. stocking distributor of ALG products check out ISP Supplies
https://www.ispsupplies.com/search?keywords=alg&order=relevance:asc

The following are results from a series of tests of AGLcom’s parabolic dish antennas on an existing link that is 5.7 miles long. The link typically passes 80-90Mbs with a TX capacity of 140 Mbs and radios used are Ubiquiti AF5X operating at 5218 Mhz.  A full PDF with better Readability can be downloaded here..

The tests were taken in stages:

  1. 1)  The normal performance of the link was recorded.
  2. 2)  The 2′ dish at one end, B, was replaced with the AGLcom, C, dish and the link reestablished.The link performance was recorded.
  3. 3)  The 2′ dish at the other end, A, was replaced with the AGLcom, D, dish and the link reestablished. The link performance was recorded.
  4. 4)  The setting on the AF5xs were adjusted to optimize the link performance with data recorded.
  5. 5)  The 2′ dish, B was put back in the link and the performance was recorded.
  6. 6)  The ACLcom C was put back into place.

The tables below do not follow the test order as the third line of data was actually the last test performed.

Antennas:

A-Jirous JRC-29EX MIMO
B-Jirous JRC-29EX MIMO C-AGLcom – PS-6100-30-06-DP D-AGLcom – PS-6100-29-06-DP-UHP

Results:

Table 1 is the signal strength results of the various dishes on the link. The first line, A-B, is the original Jirous to Jirous. A is the first two columns of the link and are the A side and the last two columns are the B side on the link. What is of interest is that exchanging B to C in the second line brought the signal deviation between the channels to only 1db and 0 db as seen in Table 2. The third line was a result of replacing the horn on the A dish and optimizing the setting on the AF5X radios. This changed the signal by around 7db and improved the link capacity, Table 3. Clearly, the A dish had a problem with the original horn.

In the fourth line, D-B, the signal strength improved as well at the signal deviation on the two channels, Table 2 first two columns. This link was not optimized. The fifth line, D-C is both AGLcom dishes which improved the bandwidth, Table 3, and the signal deviations, Table 2. The final line, D-C, was the previous line optimized. The signal strengths moved closer together and the bandwidth improved.

Link Ch0 Ch1 Ch0 Ch1

  1. A-B  -73 -76
  2. A-C  -73 -74

A*-C -64 -66

  1. D-B  -63 -62
  2. D-C  -62 -62

D*-C -60 -60

-70 -74 -71 -71 -65 -66 -59 -59 -58 -58 -61 -61

Signal Strength (* optimized data) Table 1

Table 2 has four data columns, the first two being the measured results and the latter two being the measured difference from theory. The Jirous and AF5X calculators were used for the theory signals. Clearly the signal approached the theoritical limit with the optimization and with the change of dishes. The optimization improved the signal by ~9db for the link that we replaced the horn on the Jirous and by ~2db for the AGLcom link.

Link dSig dSig A-B 3 4 A-C 1 0 A*-C 2 1 D-B -1 0 D-C 0 0 D*-C 0 0

dSig dSig -16.5 -17.4 -17.0 -15.0 -8.0 -9.0 -13.3 -5.3 -7.0 -4.3 -5.0 -6.0

Signal strength variation from theory Table 2

The band width improvement was more obvious, Table 3, from 22 Mbs to 39 Mbs for the RX and 144 Mbs to 141 Mbs TX for the link with the horn replacement. The bandwidth improvement for the optimization of the AGLcom link was from 61Mbs to 66Mbs RX and from 211Mbs to 267Mbs for TX.

The bandwidth improvement from the original, optimized link to the AGLcom link is from 61Mbs RX to 67Mbs and from 210Mbs TX to 267Mbs. There is a clear improvement for the AGLcom link over the Jirous link.

Link BW-RX

  1. A-B  22.5
  2. A-C  39.0

A*-C 60.9

  1. D-B  61.4
  2. D-C  60.6

D*-C 66.6

BW-TX 144.6 141.4 210.0 211.0 215.0 267.6

Table 3

Conclusions:

The data supports a measurable improvement in both signal strength and bandwidth with the use of the AGLcom dishes. However, it is difficult to quantify the improvement. The Jirous dishes were identical whereas the AGLcom dishes were not. One of the jirous dishes was under performing initially but was repaired for the last tests. Additional testing is needed to provide accurate data analysis and performance comparison. The best performance tests would involve identical AGLcom dishes, ideally two links, one each of both types of dishes.

What is VoLTE?

Voice over LTE (VoLTE) allows both Data and voice calls at the same time.  It is also known as “HD Calling” .

Lots of good info here.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voice_over_LTE

The advantages
-Simultaneous Voice and Data Calls
-High definition (HD) voice calling

Sprint currently supports VoLTE.  Airspan is supporting VoLTE.

Phones which support VoLTE
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_smartphones_with_HD_Voice_support

Water tower install with mounting frame

We recently headed up a job for a client of installing some RF elements horns, Cambium ePMP, and Baicells LTE for a client.  One of the gems of this job was the frame the client designed for the job.  We can’t take credit for this. We just think it’s cool. Some of these pictures were taken during construction, thus post clean-up.

The frame is truly an example of how WISPs are stepping up their installs to become more standardized and carrier-grade. It costs some money but is worth it in the end.

 

Aligning an 80GHZ (and other mm wave radios)

Recently we had a teaching moment for a couple of folks who had not had much experience with aligning higher frequency antennas with very tight beamwidths.  This particular day we were aligning 2 foot Siklu 80GHZ antennas.

One of the questions we often get asked is how do you align these? These questions are usually asked by someone who is familiar with aligning 5ghz antennas with a 10 or 20 degree beam which you can eyeball and has tried a microwave shot. They find out it is much harder.  The higher you go in frequency the tighter and smaller the beam is.  Distance also affects how far off you can be.  Think of it as a laser pointer.  If you have ever taken a laser pointer out at night and shone it a long distance you will notice even the slightest movement will cause it to jump inches, even feet.  Keep laser pointer analogy in mind for this next section.

In order to understand alignment, we need to understand lobes on an antenna. An antenna is just a device that focuses radiation in a direction.  In a licensed microwave setup, these antennas focus the radiation in a tighter “beam”.  Let’s go back to our laser pointer analogy.  Some laser pointers project a smaller dot at 10 feet than others.  Same for antennas.   The diagram below shows what is called the main lobe and the side lobe.

The way to get the best signal is to get both dishes locked on to the main lobe. Sounds easy right? With higher frequencies, you are talking about millimeter waves. This means the main lobe may only be 3mm wide, about the size of this text on a laptop screen.  Now imagine trying to keep that 3mm beam in the center of a paper plate at a mile.  On top of that, the difference between the main lobe and locking onto a side lobe could be the difference of 1-2mm. A slight wind can move a dish 2mm.

To give you a real-world example. A 2ft 23 GHz antenna having 3 dB beamwidth of 1.6 degrees. Allowing for a path length of about 2.5 miles (this is licensed 23GHZ) the actual beamwidth at the receiving antenna is around 370 ft and is, therefore, likely to be greater than the height of the tower. If the antenna’s out of horizontal by even a couple of degrees to start, the antennas will miss by around 460 ft and not be able to “see” each other. This can be amplified as frequency and distance increase.

This is all fine and dandy, but what about the practical world? How do I align the thing?
It all starts with the FCC path coordination paperwork you will receive on your licensed link. There is a wealth of information in here.  It tells you all of the following:
-Your mounting height (this is typically already known)
-Your heading (more on this in a bit)
-The antenna angle downtilt or uptilt (very important)
-The expected signal target

Armed with this information you will have all of the information you need to align the link.  From this point, the philosophical side of things kicks in.  Some tower climbers are good with using a compass to get their exact bearings.  Others have high dollar tools to do it all via GPS such as microwave path alignment from Sunsight.

What everyone doing alignment should have in their toolkit are the following:
-A small magnetic bubble Level. We want to make sure we start with a level mount.  We would be fighting an uphill battle if the pipe or standoff we are mounting to is not level.

-An angle Finder is very helpful for determining the antenna down or uptilt per the path calculation.

Obviously, the above tools are just one of many examples.  There are more expensive ones and bare bones ones.  Tools are only as good as the person using them.

-Ratcheting wrenches for the left and right and up and down adjustments.
Having ratcheting wrenches makes fine-tuning a very easy process.  You will see why later.

-A good hands-free communication method.  Depending on the tower FM communications may or may not work.  Cell phones may or may not work. Being able to talk to the crew on the other end is crucial.  And yes, to make this smooth you want a crew on the other end.

Aligning backhauls, especially microwave, is a skilled trade.  With any skilled trade, you will get all kinds of tips and tricks of the trade.  Some you may use, others you may not.  Ask any Carpenter, Drywaller, or Mason and they will tell you little tips and tricks. They probably all are great and will work, but you may only use some of them.  I am going to tell you mine. You may find others you like better.

We always start with a google earth plot of the path. I call this Phase 1.  The goal of phase 1 is to get the radios talking.  We make sure the line is exactly on the two points, not just approximate.  If the backhaul it on the left side of the tower, we draw the line to/from the left side of the tower.  We then pick 2-3 landmarks along the path as we can.  We start with something close to the tower the climber should be able to see.

In our photo above we have picked out two reference points close to the tower the climber can see.  The first is the clump of trees on the climbers left.  The path passes “just to the right” of the edge of the end of the trees.  The second reference is the intersection of the county roads about 2-3 miles out.  Our path should be just to the right of those.  That point of reference is more of a sanity check. More than anything. The climber at the other end has a similar printout.   I have found communication during this process works best if both climbers and someone logged to at least one radio on the ground with a laptop are on a conference bridge.  Many radios have lights, tones, or multimeter outputs to indicate signal.  Some modern radios only have web-interfaces and apps.  Hold a phone while trying to align can be cumbersome.  This is where the guy on the ground can take some load off what the climbers are doing.

Regardless of the mechanics of the radio, the goal of Phase 1 is to establish a radio link, no matter how bad it is. Now, here is where the real meat and potatoes of backhaul alignment come into play.  This is a very deliberate and calculated process.  Your goal at the end of the entire alignment process is to end up with the following diagram

What many folks don’t realize is it is possible to establish a signal on a side lobe. So how do you know if you are on a side lobe? Here is how we start phase 2. This is what I call fine-tuning. Real original huh? Depending on good, or lucky you were during phase 1 you may have a long way to go or a short way to go to meet target.  Remember that in your paperwork we talked about earlier?  One side and one side only starts moving their fine adjustment on their antenna to the left and right and up and down.  This is typically called sweeping.  The key thing to note here is you need to find the very edges of the radio signal, not just the lobe you happen to be on.

Let’s take a real-world example to explain how sweeping affects main and side lobes.  At the start of this article, we mentioned an 80ghz link.  With our phase 1 rough alignment, we were able to get linked at a -86.  The target was a -32.   The first side to start alignment started sweeping to the right, signal started going from a -86 down to a -72 rather quickly. This was using very small turns of the adjustment.  The ratcheting wrench was only clicking 1-2 times for each 2-3 db of signal change. Once it reached a -72 it started climbing back up.   The climber then kept going to the right to find the edge of the signal, not just the lobe we were on.  The signal started getting worse until we were back into the upper 80’s.

Siklu 80 GHZ Backhaul Radio

Now, the climber brings the alignment back to the left, and stops at the -72 and makes a mental note of where that is in relationship to the overall placement of the dish, etc.  Some mounts have distinct notches, some guys use markers, others just remember.  Now the climber continues on to the left and the -72 gets worse and goes back down to the -86 and continues to get worse.  So the climber, at least for now, has found the sweet spot for the left and right alignment.  The climber also knows this will probably change, but has found it for now.   Climber repeats the same procedure for the up and down. Due to the anglefinder, the climbers have with them they feel pretty confident they are fairly close with the up and down so they do not adjust the up and down travel as much as the procedure goes on.

Next, the other side does the same procedure the first side did. They do the left to right and get the signal down to a -62. Essentially, what the climbers are trying to do is find the center, which will contain the strongest signal, by sweeping past the other signals.  Keep in mind there may be only millimeters separating these other lobes.  Due to physics, and the shape of the signal, the first lobe is actually stronger than the edges of the main beam.

Say what? The first lobe is stronger than the edges of the main beam? Yes, but not stronger than the main beam.  Let’s go back to our installers. They have each had a go around at alignment and are only at a -62.  On a 5ghz backhaul that would be respectable, depending on your noise floor. But we are 30db away from our target of -32. Some climbers, incorrectly I might add, try to do a shortcut by scanning in an x pattern instead of x and y-axis separately. This makes it easier to lock onto a side lobe.

80ghz backhaul

So now our first climber goes back to making the left and right adjustments.   At this point, the installer finds something odd.  He has gotten the signal down to a -55, but that’s the best he can do. Even a small turn jumps the signal up    Then our installer remembers the above statement.  The first lobe is always stronger than the edges of the main beam.  He gets the signal back down to a -55 and turns the alignment over to the other side.

Here is a very important thing to note.  Both of our installers have now “gotten a feel” for the few turns needed to adjust the signal on these dishes.  To them compared to 5ghz dishes, these are very tiny and almost insignificant movements. But they sure make a difference in signal.  Now our installer at tower B has his second alignment session.  As he is making adjustments the signal is not changing.  He is moving his wrench for what seems like forever and the signal is barely moving, Any other time their signal would have been a -90 or dropped.  What has happened here? The main lobe of one side has locked onto the first lobe because it is always stronger.  Since the main lobe is bigger it seems like it takes forever to make any change.  If we had a guy on the laptop he was probably also probably seeing very mismatched data rates.  One side was probably much higher than the other by a large margin.

Then boom, all of a sudden the signal goes from a -55 to a -42.  A 17 db jump!   We can now tell we are on the main lobe.  If the laptop person looks at the data rates now they should be more balanced.

Data Rates on a Mimosa B11 Rates properly aligned but not fine-tuned

At this point, it is just a simple matter of each side making finer and finer adjustments back and forth to get the signal down.  If you think of the above circle/crosshair you are making smaller and smaller adjustments to nudge toward the center of the circle. This is where the ratcheting wrenches help by giving a very measured amount of travel.  This helps with the whole feel of alignment.  Much of it is feel to see how much you can move the adjustment mechanisms to make the numbers move.  Sometimes it may be a single click of the wrench.  Sometimes it may be one or two.  It just depends.  As you get closer and closer to target you are moving the adjustment less and less.

As you get closer and closer to target you need to be thinking about how tightening down the adjustment bolts will affect the alignment.  Even tightening them down snug can affect the signal.  That extra amount movement to tighten them down can move them slightly past their alignment center.  You may need to take into account the amount of travel it takes to tighten down the adjustment bolt into account on smaller dishes.  If it takes a half turn of the bolt to get it tight you may need to stop a half turn and tighten “into” target.  As you tighten it down fully that is where you end up in align.  If you wait until you are in align and then snug it completely down, the force of snugging it down may pull it past and you will end up with a worse signal.

This article sprinkled in some examples from a real-world install, with some theory, with some practical knowledge. Your mileage and experience will vary.  Your experience with 6ghz vs 80ghz will vary as well. Each frequency will have it’s own quirks and tricks.