Massive MIMO antenna arrays, combined with beamforming, will be mainstays of 5G cell sites. The former greatly enhances capacity by allowing up to 1,024 antennas (more, no doubt, in future) to work in parallel; while beamforming enables them to be directed far more precisely, increasing performance and spectral efficiency.
Pivotal Commware claims to be taking beamforming a step further with its technology, Holographic Beamforming, and is drumming up OEM and operator support to try to establish industry standards for the advanced approach to “beam management”.
As with smart start-ups working on other potential enablers of high 5G performance – like mobile full duplex, for instance – Pivotal knows that, with technology operating at this fundamental radio level, success is reliant on being included in standards, preferably 3GPP ones.
In 3G and 4G, antenna tilt functionality was fairly limited in impact, and was standardized outside of 3GPP by the Antenna Interface Standards Group (AISG). But with advanced beamforming being far more integral to 5G performance, 3GPP aims to define an abstraction layer of beam options supported by an open interface, in order to support interoperability between different vendors of networks and antennas.
Pivotal hopes to place its technology at the heart of that effort, thereby achieving powerful partnerships and the ability to punch above its weight in the ecosystem, and gain a commercial headstart on larger rivals.
The firm says 5G – especially the millimeter wave spectrum and Massive MIMO which are key elements – is making beamforming essential. In previous mobile generations, antennas were directed by upper layer functionality, but 5G is seeing the emergence of software-defined antennas (SDAs). These acquire information about the user environment in order to determine the shape and steering of the beam, and negotiate as full partners with upper layers to optimize the link.
CEO Brian Deutsch said in a recent interview: “Beamformers offering low cost, size, weight, power and the ability to conform to curved surfaces found in street furniture, will be indispensable to widespread 5G implementation and need to be part of the 3GPP standard.”
Alex Katko, director of product engineering, added: “3GPP delegates have determined that beamforming capabilities range from fundamental to advanced. It’s critical to 5G equipment interoperability that fundamental capabilities are standardized rather than left to proprietary implementations.”