Massive MIMO a Key 5G Enabler

Carl Weinschenk
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Emerging technologies are a mix of two things. The first are “new new” things, which are being developed for the first time and expressly for that new product or platform. The second is a bit more subtle. These are “newish” techniques that weren’t developed directly for the emerging technology, but evolved in parallel or initially were aimed at another technology. Clearly, engineers and planners are aware that these techniques will be employed by the emerging technology at some point in the future.

Vendors, service providers, and the rest of the wireless ecosystem are working day and night to develop 5G wireless. One of the key enablers, but one that developed independently of 5G, is multiple in multiple out (MIMO) antennas.

MIMO is the transmission of multiple streams of data. This greatly enhances the capacity of a device, cell site or other station. It goes hand in hand with smart antenna technology, which can use multiple streams to enhance the end product. Another advantage of modern antenna technology is that it can direct beams. Thus, a tremendous amount of energy is saved.


Massive MIMO is the use of the concept in cell sites and hot spots. In December, ZTE and Telefónica say that they completed a large scale “pre-5G” MIMO test in Madrid. RCR Wireless reports that the two companies began tests in October aimed at testing the antenna technology in hotspot and indoor coverage scenarios. ZTE said that the technology improved network capacity and cell-edge data rates by a factor of six compared to LTE macro base stations.

The massive MIMO was also tested by Softbank; it has deployed products from ZTE and Huawei in about 100 cell sites, most of which are in Tokyo. That number of cell sites will be multiplied to a few thousand throughout Japan next year, according to Light Reading. Hidebumi Kitahara, a senior director of Mobile Network Planning for Softbank, is quoted as saying that the portion of subscribers receiving data rates of less than 2 megabits per second (Mbps) fell from about 20 percent to “only a few percent” due to the rollout. The Massive MIMO has led to a tenfold increase capacity.

Huawei seems to be in the middle of Massive MIMO activity. Last month, the vendor announced that it and China Mobile Shanghai Branch deployed what it said is the “the world’s first wideband Massive MIMO site.” This, the press release said, followed the launch in September, 2015, of a Massive MIMO site, which it also called a world’s first. The release claims that led to a five-fold increase in capacity compared to 4G sites.

Not all the interesting testing and rollouts focuses on Massive MIMO. Telefonica is involved in related research that also figures to be an important enabler of 5G. The Spanish carrier and vendor Huawei ran the first proof-of-concept test of “no-cell” radio access network (RAN) architectures, according to SDxCentral. The User Centric No Cell (UCNC) approach sounds conceptually similar to software-defined networks (SDN). The key is that local action is replaced by a broader and higher-level, centralized control mechanism. In the case of SDN, this is switching and routing. In UCNC, it’s the handoff between cells.

The test, which was conducted in the companies’ joint 5G lab, found that the approach led to a 233 percent increase in 5G connections per cell. while decreasing overhead signaling 78 percent.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

 


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