Verizon and Ericsson have added end-user devices to their massive MIMO trials, bringing the bandwidth-boosting technology a step closer to commercial deployment. Their mobile test device uses Qualcomm’s X20 LTE modem, which supports advanced beamforming to enable multiple network antenna elements to transmit to a smartphone simultaneously.
Commercial smartphones that support massive MIMO are expected to hit the market in the first half of 2018, according to Verizon. The carrier did not name device manufacturers, but it is likely that some of the new Android smartphones expected to debut this February at Mobile World Congress will use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 chipset, which includes the X20 modem.
Massive MIMO is just one of the new technologies enabled by the Snapdragon 845, but for mobile network operators it’s a standout. MIMO stands for multiple-input-multiple-output, meaning that each antenna has multiple ports to receive and send data. Verizon and Ericsson have been trialling frequency division duplexing (FDD) massive MIMO using 16 transceiver radio units to drive an array of 96 antenna elements on Verizon’s network in Irvine, California.
Massive MIMO allows operators to use their spectrum more efficiently by enabling multiple data streams within the same channel. It also increases energy efficiency because beamforming allows each antenna element to focus its transmission on a moving endpoint, instead of transmitting a signal over a large area. Beamforming also reduces interference by directing the beam from the cell site directly to where the customer is, according to Verizon.
“Massive MIMO is a critical component of our 4G LTE advancements and will play an important role in 5G technology that will result in single digit latency and scalability in the billions of connections,” said Nicola Palmer, Verizon’s chief network engineer and head of wireless networks.
All the nationwide U.S. operators are likely to leverage massive MIMO as the technology develops. Sprint is preparing to deploy time division duplex (TDD) massive MIMO in its 2.5 GHz spectrum bands, which can leverage smaller radios and antennas than the lower bands can. Sprint is working with both Ericsson and Samsung. AT&T has been testing FDD massive MIMO in Minneapolis-St. Paul with antenna maker Blue Danube. T-Mobile US has been testing with Ericsson in Baltimore and with Huawei in Amsterdam.