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Employ rubidium clocks for service continuity in 4G/LTE networks

Posted: 26 Sep 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IEEE 1588? 4G/LTE? rubidium? atomic clocks?

Holdover requirements vary depending on the type, complexity, and operator requirements. 4G/LTE (TDD) networks have more stringent timing requirements than 2G/3G networks and some applications such as location based services and E911 impose even more exacting sync requirements in order to accurately locate the handset by triangulating from base stations.

Even for 2G/3G environments where the accuracy requirements are not as stringent, rubidium provides a significant advantage as the much longer holdover period can save weekend or nighttime truck rolls.

It must be noted that different grades of oscillators deliver varying holdover performance, which of course will also vary in cost. The design implementation can also have significant impact; for example a software algorithm can compensate for accuracy changes due to the aging of the oscillator. The point is that under similar environmental circumstances and within the price/performance ranges targeted for base stations, rubidium provides holdover performance significantly better than crystal oscillators.

Figure 5: Holdover technologies.

Other important factors favoring rubidium holdover technology are:

1. Rubidium atomic clocks have a much faster lock time, thereby reducing the impact of a power outage or other event that would require systems to cycle.

2. Innovation has yielded reduced size and lower power consumption making rubidium solutions easier to embed in equipment designs.

3. And most importantly, cost for rubidium clocks are on a steep decline: five years ago prices were double what they were two years ago, and technical innovation continues the downward trend today.

Future sync and holdover technologies
Carrier service availability has always relied on redundancy and backup solutions to meet the expectations of their customers. A reliable end-to-end synchronization solution for a packet-based network requires the use of a primary sync source (either IEEE-1588 PTP or GPS) and an embedded rubidium atomic clock at the base station.

In this solution, multiple technologies aid one another to extend the holdover time of rubidium and allow installation of base stations in locations that were not practical in the past. This approach has been tested for deployment and is ready for carriers to include in 4G/LTE build out plans.

With the evolution of mobile networks to 4G/LTE, the requirements for synchronization become more stringent with the advancement of tighter phase requirements. To meet the phase requirements of 1.5 microseconds and ensure continuous network operations, rubidium atomic clocks are required to deliver network holdover as a back-up to either PTP or GPS based synchronization technologies.

About the author
Michelle Pampin, director of product and channel marketing at Symmetricom Inc, is a graduate of Golden State University and McGill University.

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