The promise of 5G network performance depends, in part, on the next generation of antenna technology. This includes techniques such as multiplexing antenna arrays at the base station (also referred to as MIMO – multiple-input and multiple-output).
As operators roll out 5G wireless communications networks, the global massive MIMO market will grow from $1.1 billion in 2017 to $19.9 billion in 2025 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 42.4 percent from 2019 to 2026, according to Avatar Data Bridge Market Research.
5G, Massive MIMO Drive RAN Market in Q1
The mobile infrastructure radio access network (RAN) market across China, the United States and Korea had a strong first quarter in 2019, thanks to the a faster-than-expected uptake of massive MIMO and 5G new radio (NR) that began in the second half of 2018, according to a recently published report from Dell’Oro Group. Massive MIMO transceiver shipments are expected to eclipse 20 million in 2019.
“It is worth noting that 5G NR massive MIMO shipments developed at a faster pace than expected in the quarter while the price points for these 5G NR massive MIMO systems are trending at lower levels than we had initially projected,” Stefan Pongratz, a senior director with the Dell’Oro Group, said.
Massive MIMO Picks up Where MIMO Leaves Off
Although Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology accessed 4X2 and more recently 4X4 and even 8X8 passive MIMO antennas, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 5G standard calls for the use of massive MIMO beginning at 32X32.
“MIMO allows faster data rates, multiplexing more information from a single user or increasing the number of users to simultaneously access an antenna,” said Dr. David Kokotoff, senior sales engineer and product line manager for Kathrein USA. “Already, 64X64 MIMO is possible. There is no end in sight in terms of the number of transmit and receive modules.”
Massive MIMO and MIMO are similar, except MIMO has beamforming along the azimuth, and beamforming occurs on both along the azimuth and at elevation with massive MIMO. “The spot beam can be placed in an area focused around a user, which improves the signal-to-noise ratio, higher modulation schemes, lower power, faster throughput,” Kokotoff said. “With MIMO, you cannot get that same focus on the beam.”
Antenna manufacturers stand ready to fill the need, as does Kathrein USA, which offers base stations with four to 12 antenna ports. The additional ports allow the antenna to be used with multiple radios and then configured as either for MIMO or massive MIMO communications.
“Supporting multiple bands in a small-volume base station while achieving the desired performance is no small feat, especially when proper isolation must be maintained,” Kokotoff said. “Rigorous passive intermodulation (PIM) interference testing and high-quality compatible component selection also become important to ensure consistent antenna performance in the complex urban RF environments where small cells are most needed.”
CommScope now offers base stations with from four-port and 30-port antennas. In 2018, CommScope collaborated with Nokia to develop a massive MIMO integrated antenna solution: an antenna that provides a 16 transmit 16 receive functionality for two different frequency bands, which is sent to the OEM for integration radios.
Sprint became the first U.S. operator to demonstrate massive MIMO for TD-LTE spectrum using the Nokia Airscale massive MIMO adaptive antenna, 64X64, with 3-D beamforming for both the downlink and uplink on an existing LTE frequency band.
In Chicago, earlier this month, Sprint rolled out a network using 64X64 5G massive MIMO radios from Samsung Networks. The radios enable Sprint to simultaneously deliver LTE Advanced and 5G NR service on its 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum, and they are deployed on Sprint’s existing 4G cell sites, providing a nearly identical footprint for both 2.5 GHz LTE and 5G NR coverage.
At the Mobile World Congress in Shanghai, China, last month, Nokia announced that China Mobile will adopt the AirScale mMIMO Adaptive Antenna, which uses 64X64 combined to deliver 320 watts of output power.
Wi-Fi 6 Gets a Boost From MU-MIMO
Multi-user (MU)-MIMO is also set to have a big effect on the Wi-Fi world. With eight transmit and eight receive antennas, it provides the biggest benefit to total system throughput and capacity in Wi-Fi 6 networks, compared with other features, such as orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA), according to a Strategy Analytics RF & Wireless Components report.
The report, “The Ultimate Wi-Fi Access Point: Which Wi-Fi 6 Features Define the New Premium Tier?” describes the increase in capacity made possible with 8X8 MU-MIMO.