OCXOs Provide Holdover Timing For Base Stations

Sept. 24, 2012
Wireless communications systems need a holdover timing element as a backup to their primary time source, and today’s OCXOs provide the accuracy to do the job.

For wireless communications that use time-division-duplex (TDD) signaling, it is very difficult to maintain synchronization. In addition to providing real-time services, base stations must maintain accurate relative timing for successful call-signal handoff. Compounding this challenge, the more advanced wireless protocols demand relative timing accuracy ranging from 10 μs to 1 μs or less. In a seven-page white paper, Vectron International explains the need for wireless-communications systems to have a holdover timing element as a backup to their primary time source.

Titled “Simplifying Holdover Design in Synchronization Applications,” the paper begins by providing the timing requirements for communications standards ranging from WCDMA to Long Term Evolution (LTE). To maintain synchronization accuracy, base stations utilize timing derived from navigation systems like the Global Positioning System (GPS). Because such signals are sometimes unavailable, a holdover timing source (i.e., an oscillator) with high short-term accuracy is needed to maintain base-station timing synchronization for periods ranging from hours to days.

Essentially, the base station uses the holdover oscillator as its timing source. The signal from the satellite-navigation system will continuously re-synchronize the holdover oscillator to maintain system timing accuracy. When that signal is unavailable, the holdover oscillator will provide system timing on its own. Such timing sources can now be based on oven-controlled crystal oscillators (OCXOs), given that today’s devices provide sufficient accuracy. Yet their implementation can be tricky, as certain OCXO performance characteristics may influence holdover.

The paper walks the reader through the three ways that designers can implement holdover timing in their systems: by purchasing a standalone precision timing device that mounts in the equipment rack (like a rubidium standard); by purchasing a holdover timing module; or by designing and embedding within the system a holdover timing source based on a precision oscillator. The last approach allows designers to make holdover timing part of their designs while promising the greatest cost minimization. Yet it also invites a major challenge, due to the difficulty of relating an oscillator’s datasheet specifications to the timing-source design’s achievable holdover performance. By providing guidance on oscillator performance specifications and the design of a holdover solution, this paper coherently explains the OCXO option for modern wireless-communications base stations.

Vectron International, 267 Lowell Rd., Hudson, NH 03051; (888) 328-7661, www.vectron.com.

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