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Fiber vs Microwave | Difference between Fiber and Microwave

This page compares Optical Fiber vs Microwave and mentions difference between fiber and Microwave.

The emergence of mobile technologies and devices have increased which has resulted into higher use of data traffic throughout the world. This higher use of internet or voice traffic needs to be carried between backhaul of various wireless or cellular technologies such as 2G, 3G, 4G etc.

There are three mediums through which backhaul connectivity have been made. They are copper, fiber and microwave. Copper lines are costlier and have limited capacity. Hence optical fiber lines are taking place of copper in wired line connections. Microwave is used in about 50% of total backhaul network deployments across the world.

About optical Fiber:
It is widely used as wired line connectivity due to cheap material costs and higher data carrying capacity (Bandwidth of about 11THz). Simple fiber communication system will composed of transmitter (LED or laser) and receiver (photo diode). Refer fiber optic communication system tutorial. Examples of fiber based systems are CWDM and DWDM.

About Microwave:
It is one of the wireless communication system used as point to point link. The EM waves are propagated between two locations which are in LOS (Line of Sight) to each other on the earth. Microwave point to point links which are used as backhaul connectivity operates at various frequency ranges. The microwave frequency bands used are 2 GHz, 6 GHz, 11 GHz, 18 GHz, 23 GHz, 80 GHz etc. Refer what is microwave for more information. Also refer sky wave vs LOS wave vs ground wave and wireless propagation modes. Examples of microwave systems are PDH(T1,E1), SONET/SDH, Ethernet microwave etc.

Difference between Fiber and Microwave

Following table mentions difference between optical fiber and microwave.


Specifications Optical Fiber line Microwave
Capacity Unlimited in Gb/sec
Cost Costs as per feet or meter cost per link, it is incremental based on distance
Deployment time It increases with distance and vary linearly Fast
Terrain The system will become more costlier in difficult terrain region Suitable for any terrain region, Need to have Line of Sight between two points(transmit and receiver)
Re-use Fiber once deployed can not be re-located in most of the cases Microwave equipments can be removed and re-located in other regions if required
Climate effect Normally fiber is not influenced except in the flood conditions Microwave link is influenced by climate, Adaptive modulation coding (AMC) is used as solution in changing channel environment
Regulation Needs right of ways and proper infrastructure requires spectrum regulation

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