Massive MIMO continues to move quickly from science fiction to mainstream reality. In the past week, Ericsson has announced new deals in three continents, while ZTE and Belgium’s Telenet are claiming Europe’s first Massive MIMO roll-out in paired spectrum.
Most deployments are still in unpaired (TDD) spectrum in which the technology is simpler to implement and the results are clearer, but over the past year there have also been trials and a few commercial deployments in FDD spectrum, which is still the majority of most MNOs’ airwaves.
Ericsson’s latest agreements in this area are with Entel in Chile, SmarTone in Hong Kong, and Verizon in the US. Entel will deploy Massive MIMO for TD-LTE as part of a broader 4G enhancement project which includes expanded FDD-LTE and virtualized packet core and IMS to support, initially, VoLTE.
These roll-outs will take place over the next two years and Arun Bansal, Ericsson’s head of Europe and Latin America, said: “We write a new chapter in the history of our strategic partnership with Entel by evolving their network to Gigabit LTE and paving the way to 5G and beyond, cementing their leadership position among operators in the Latin American region.”
In Hong Kong, SmarTone is trialling Ericsson’s FDD Massive MIMO system in the 1.8 GHz band, in preparation to go live with the AIR 3246 radio, a new product which is optimized to work with large degrees of MIMO antenna arrays. SmarTone says some of the technologies it is currently implementing in its LTE network, including recent trials of LTE-LAA in unlicensed spectrum, are also designed to lay some foundations for 5G.
To complete Ericsson’s hat trick, it has worked with Verizon on the US operator’s first deployment of Massive MIMO in paired spectrum, in Irvine, California. Verizon is also using the AIR 3246, the Swedish vendor’s first to support FDD Massive MIMO – a technology it commercialized later than most of its rivals, but with which it is now making an impact.
This deployment incorporates 16 transceiver radio units driving an array of 96 antenna elements running in a 20 MHz block of AWS midband spectrum.
“While continuing to drive 5G development, the deployment of Massive MIMO offers very tangible benefits for our customers today,” said Nicola Palmer, Verizon Wireless’s chief network officer of Verizon Wireless, in a statement. “As we innovate, we learn and continue to lay the groundwork and set the standards for 5G technology.”
ZTE was a frontrunner in getting Massive MIMO into commercial networks, partly because of the importance of TDD spectrum to its home market of China. It recently conducted a demonstration with Telenet at an event in Brussels, of a system with 32 antenna elements in both the transmitter and receiver devices, running in the 1.8 GHz band.
“All of the major European operators have more FDD than TDD,” said Eddy Tang, ZTE’s CTO for the Europe and Americas regions. “TDD was quite easy to do but FDD was difficult for vendors,” said Christian Vyncke, Telenet’s head of mobile RAN innovation. “ZTE was the first to provide FDD.”
Telenet, a subsidiary of Liberty Global, used to operate just as an MVNO but became an MNO last year with the acquisition of BASE from KPN. It is now testing a variety of pre-5G technologies at a new innovation center as part of its €250m network modernization initiative, Project Radar, in which ZTE is the lead vendor.