Telefonica and Sprint trial Massive MIMO to prolong 4G life

Telefónica has signed an agreement with Nokia to evaluate technologies that promise to provide a bridge to 5G – what Nokia calls 4.9G and includes a mixture of LTE-Advanced and LTE-A Pro standards, plus some additional elements, including Massive MIMO, to boost 4G performance and efficiency, and lay foundations for 5G.

The deal says that Nokia will focus on trials that maximize the use of Telefónica’s existing network assets, to address rising data usage and new Internet of Things services. The partners will conduct trials using licensed and unlicensed spectrum, including 64×64 Massive MIMO, to increase capacity in urban centers as well as in suburban and rural areas, particularly any areas where LTE spectrum is limited.

Some of the tests will include Nokia’s Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) platform to evaluate low latency use cases; and they also plan to explore network slicing techniques on a cloud-native core network using Telefónica’s UNICA cloud platform.

“As demand rises, we want to deliver the greatest possible network experience even as we expand our offering to both existing and new customers,” said Enrique Blanco, systems and network global director at Telefónica. “Working with Nokia we will explore the potential of key technologies that allow us to do this in the most effective way on the path to 5G.”

Nokia rival Ericsson was also talking about Massive MIMO last week. Having announced its first FDD solution – somewhat behind the Chinese vendors – it went on to describe the first US field tests for 2.5 GHz Massive MIMO, conducted with Sprint in Seattle, Washington and Plano, Texas. In downtown Seattle, the antenna arrays delivered about four times more capacity than an 8 x 8 MIMO array, said the vendor. The test involved 100 people with Samsung Galaxy S7 phones running simultaneous file downloads.

“Massive MIMO is a game changer for adding capacity to our network and taking LTE Plus to the next level,” said John Saw, CTO of Sprint. “This technology is a tremendous competitive advantage for Sprint, enabling us to maximise our deep 2.5 GHz spectrum holdings. Massive MIMO will be key to meeting our customers’ growing demand for unlimited data, as well as offering Gigabit LTE and 5G services.”