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21 January 2019

JMA acquires Phazr to add mmWave radio to its virtualized 5G platform

One of the interesting acquisitions of the turn of the year was JMA Wireless’s purchase of Phazr, a millimeter wave (mmWave) specialist which hopes to ride the wave of interest in high frequency spectrum for 5G.

JMA says the deal creates the industry’s first fully integrated architecture that can address 5G New Radio – both Non-Standalone and Standalone – for in-building coverage, dense capacity in large venues, and outdoor deployments. It brings together the acquirer’s virtualized RAN and small cell solutions, with Phazr’s mmWave radios. The combined platform can also support LTE and help operators migrate towards virtualized RAN and edge compute, claims JMA.

“Phazr really complements our current XRAN platform,” Todd Landry, JMA Wireless’ corporate VP of product and market strategy, told FierceWirelessTech. “It also establishes us as the first American company with a complete LTE and 5G technology suite.”

JMA’s XRAN is a software-based platform that aligns with specifications from the ORAN Alliance (see lead item). Its main commercial business is supplying LTE solutions for stadiums to large US operators.

Phazr is still in start-up mode, and was originally backed by Fibertower, which is now owned by AT&T. “JMA is a great fit,” for the smaller firm, said CEO and founder Farooq Khan. He said its new owner was a 100% US–based company, and “our goal from the beginning has been to create a US-based alternative to the three big guys” in American 5G roll-outs (Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung).

Phazr has gained FCC and European CE certification for its mmWave radios, and has demonstrated its RAN conducting 5G data calls with Cisco’s packet core. The start-up says its 5G New Radio vRAN is being trialed today by three major US operators.

The FCC and CE permits cover equipment operating in the 27.5-28.35 GHz, and the 31.8-33.4 GHz, bands, though the Phazr radios can support other bands.

Khan has spent years pushing mmWave towards the mainstream, first in his previous role as president of Samsung Research America, and since 2016, at the helm of Phazr. He authored an mmWave paper, which was presented at the IEEE conference back in 2011.

Phazr uses what it calls ‘cliff computing’ – massive MIMO arrays, RF and baseband functions are integrated into a single physical unit to reduce latency and fronthaul requirements. The idea is not to revert to old-style all-in-one base stations, but to move compute resource close to the antennas to enable fully digital, hyperdense beamforming, and multiuser MIMO support across a 120-degree sector.

Last year, Phazr petitioned the FCC for an experimental licence to test its Quadplex technology, which pairs mmWave frequencies on the downlink with sub-6 GHz spectrum for the uplink, something that is supported in the 5G NR standards. The company plans to use the 3.5 GHz, 24 GHz, 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands for tests at its facilities in Allen, Texas, over the course of the next two years.

Phazr says it is seeing increasing interest in this hybrid approach. Khan says that implementing the uplink on mmWave is cost-prohibitive because the links need to be close together and will be about 10 times more numerous. Quadplex avoids the need for a power-hungry mmWave transmitter in 5G devices, reducing cost and power consumption.

Phazr also believes its digital approach to beamforming is required to make the most of 5G NR and of mmWave. The large vendors are mainly using hybrid beamforming, which combines analog and digital, but Khan argues this is limited by an inability to frequency-multiplex users or to use power-amplifier efficiency improvement techniques. It also behaves poorly in non-line of sight environments – hence the move to ‘hyperdense beamforming’.

Both Verizon and C Spire have previously applied for temporary permits to test the Phazr technology, which has also been in field trials with the cable industry’s R&D unit, CableLabs. Most of these tests have used the start-up’s low cost fixed wireless platform, which is based on a WiFi ASIC and incorporates 384 antennas in the base station and 64 in the CPE. It promises data rates of up to 30Gbps over one kilometer with line of sight, or 200-800 meters without.

The company has patents pending for its beamforming technologies and for a user-installable router, called Gazer, which combines the mmWave modem with 802.11ac WiFi. This allows the ‘5G’ Radio Backbone (RABACK) nodes to provide backhaul for gigabit access for standard WiFi devices.