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22 January 2020

Pivotal Commware gains US win for mmWave beamforming units

Start-up Pivotal Commware has made some interesting moves in advanced antenna beam management, with its ‘holographic beamforming’ technology. It has announced its first public deal with a major operator for its Echo 5G subscriber units, incorporating the beamforming system – which LightReading reports is to Verizon for its 28 GHz network.

The Echo 5G is a fixed wireless repeater that can be attached to a window to improve indoor penetration by the millimeter wave signal – something that, by all accounts, will be important to Verizon, which has had very mixed reviews for the quality of its 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) services.

The window-based unit harnesses Pivotal’s beamforming to counteract mmWave penetration, reflection and structural shadowing signal losses so that even this high frequency signal can reach deep indoors and deliver a strong, fast connection.

Pivotal CEO Brian Deutsch told LightReading that the operator’s identity has not been officially revealed yet, but the journalists got third party identification via spectrum analyst firm Allnet Insights, which analyzed the FCC documentation for the Verizon unit. “The frequency bands specified are the L1 and L2 channels in the 28 GHz band,” Geommer said – these relate to licences owned by Verizon.

Deutsch said the next product will be for the 39 GHz band, which is the main mmWave spectrum held by AT&T. This will be released in April or May this year.

Pivotal came to prominence in 2018, when it unveiled its holographic beamforming technology, with the hope of pushing it into standards. 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. This will be a target for Pivotal in future 5G releases.

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.

Alex Katko, director of product engineering, said in 2018:  “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.”

Also working on mmWave antennas for indoor usage is Japan’s NTT Docomo, which has tested a new window material made of treated low emissivity (low-E) glass, which allows 28 GHz signals to pass through. The “prototype dynamic transparent metasurface”, as Docomo calls it, is made by Japanese glass manufacturing company AGC, and can also be used in vehicles.

The MNO says that the prototype material could also be used with even higher frequencies, including bands expected to be used for ‘6G’, around 120 GHz and into the terahertz spectrum.