Category Archives: 5G

Episode 10: Reaching the Terabit/s Goal

We have now released the tenth episode of the podcast Wireless Future, with the following abstract:

5G promises peak data speeds above 1 gigabit per second. Looking further into the future, will wireless technology eventually deliver 1 terabit per second? How can the technology be evolved to reach that goal, and what would the potential use cases be? In this episode, Erik G. Larsson and Emil Björnson provide answers to these questions and discuss the practical challenges that must be overcome at the hardware level and in wireless propagation. To learn more, they recommend the article “Scoring the Terabit/s Goal: Broadband Connectivity in 6G”.

You can watch the video podcast on YouTube:

You can listen to the audio-only podcast at the following places:

Episode 9: Q/A on Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces

We have now released the ninth episode of the podcast Wireless Future, with the following abstract:

In this episode, Emil Björnson and Erik G. Larsson answer questions from the listeners on the topic of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. Some examples are: What kind of materials are used? When can the technology beat traditional relays? How quickly can one change the surface’s configuration? Are there any real-time experiments? How can the research community avoid misconceptions spreading around new technologies?

You can watch the video podcast on YouTube:

You can listen to the audio-only podcast at the following places:

Episode 8: Analog versus Digital Beamforming

We have now released the eighth episode of the podcast Wireless Future, with the following abstract:

The new 5G millimeter wave systems make use of classical analog beamforming technology. It is often claimed that digital beamforming cannot be used in these bands due to its high energy consumption. In this episode, Erik G. Larsson and Emil Björnson are visited by Bengt Lindoff, Chief Systems Architect at the startup BeammWave. The conversation covers how fully digital beamforming solutions are now being made truly competitive and what this means for the future of wireless communications. To learn more about BeammWave’s hardware architecture visit

You can watch the video podcast on YouTube:

You can listen to the audio-only podcast at the following places:

Who is Who in Massive MIMO?

I taught a course on complex networks this fall, and one component of the course is a hands-on session where students use the SNAP C++ and Python libraries for graph analysis, and Gephi for visualization. One available dataset is DBLP, a large publication database in computer science, that actually includes a lot of electrical engineering as well.

In a small experiment I filtered DBLP for papers with both “massive” and “MIMO” in the title, and analyzed the resulting co-author graph. There are 17200 papers and some 6000 authors.  There is a large connected component, with over 400 additional much smaller connected components!

Then I looked more closely at authors who have written at least 20 papers. Each node is an author, its size is proportional to his/her number of “massive MIMO papers”, and its color represents identified communities. Edge thicknesses represent the number of co-authored papers.  Some long-standing collaborators, former students, and other friends stand out.  (Click on the figure to enlarge it.)

To remind readers of the obvious, prolificacy is not the same as impact, even though they are often correlated. Also, the study is not entirely rigorous. For one thing, it trusts that DBLP properly distinguishes authors with the same name (consider e.g., “Li Li”) and I do not know how well it really does that. Second, in a random inspection all papers I had filtered out dealt with “massive MIMO” as we know it. However, theoretically, the search criterion would also catch papers on, say, MIMO control theory for a massive power plant.  Also, the filtering does miss some papers written before the “massive MIMO” term was established, perhaps most importantly Thomas Marzetta’s seminal paper on “unlimited antennas”.  Third, the analysis is limited to publications covered by DBLP, which also means, conversely, that there is no specific quality threshold for the publication venues. Anyone interested in learning more, drop me a note. 

Globecom Tutorial on Cell-free Massive MIMO

I am giving a tutorial on “Beyond Massive MIMO: User-Centric Cell-Free Massive MIMO” at Globecom 2020, together with my colleagues Luca Sanguinetti and Özlem Tuğfe Demir. It is a prerecorded 3-hour tutorial that can be viewed online at any time during the conference and there will be a live Q/A session on December 11 where we are available for questions.

The tutorial is based on our upcoming book on the topic: Foundations on User-Centric Cell-free Massive MIMO.

Until December 11 (the last day of the tutorial), we are offering a free preprint of the book, which can be downloaded by creating an account at the NOW publishers’ website. By doing so, I think you will also get notified when the final version of the book is available early next year, so you can gain access to the final PDF and an offer to buy printed copies.

If you download the book and have any feedback that we can take into account when preparing the final version, we will highly appreciate to receive it! Please email me your feedback by December 15. You find the address in the PDF.

The abstract of the tutorial is as follows:

Massive MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) is no longer a promising concept for cellular networks-in 2019 5G it became a reality, with 64-antenna fully digital base stations being commercially deployed in many countries. However, this is not the final destination in a world where ubiquitous wireless access is in demand by an increasing population. It is, therefore, time for MIMO and mmWave communication researchers to consider new multi-antenna technologies that might lay the foundations for beyond 5G networks. In particular, we need to focus on improving the uniformity of the service quality.

Suppose all the base station antennas are distributed over the coverage area instead of co-located in arrays at a few elevated locations, so that the mobile terminals are surrounded by antennas instead of having a few base stations surrounded by mobile terminals. How can we operate such a network? The ideal solution is to let each mobile terminal be served by coherent joint transmission and reception from all the antennas that can make a non-negligible impact on their performance. That effectively leads to a user-centric post-cellular network architecture, called “User-Centric Cell-Free Massive MIMO”. Recent papers have developed innovative signal processing and radio resource allocation algorithms to make this new technology possible, and the industry has taken steps towards implementation. Substantial performance gains compared to small-cell networks (where each distributed antenna operates autonomously) and cellular Massive MIMO have been demonstrated in numerical studies, particularly, when it comes to the uniformity of the achievable data rates over the coverage area.

Cracking the Pilot Contamination Nut

When T. Marzetta introduced the Massive MIMO concept in his seminal article from 2010, he concluded that “the phenomenon of pilot contamination impose[s] fundamental limitations on what can be achieved with a noncooperative cellular multiuser MIMO system.”

More precisely, he showed that the channel capacity under i.i.d. Rayleigh fading converges to a finite limit as the number of base stations goes to infinity.  The value of this limit is determined by the interference level in the channel estimation phase. There are hundreds of papers on IEEEXplore that deals with the pilot contamination issue, trying to push the limit upwards or achieve higher performance for a given number of antennas. Various advanced mitigation methods have been developed to cure the symptoms of pilot contamination.

But was pilot contamination really a fundamental limitation to start with? In 2018, we published a paper called “Massive MIMO Has Unlimited Capacity” where we showed that there is an unexpectedly simple solution to the problem. You don’t need a sledgehammer to “crack the pilot contamination nut“, but the right combination of state-of-the-art tools will do. While I have written about this in previous blog posts and briefly mentioned it in videos, I have finally recorded a comprehensive lecture on the topic. It is 82 minutes long and was given online by invitation from Hacettepe University, Turkey. No previous knowledge on the topic is required. I hope you will enjoy it in small or big doses!

Digital Millimeter Beamforming for 5G Terminals

5G used to be described as synonymous with millimeter-wave communications, but now when 5G networks are being rolled out all around the world, the focus is instead on Massive MIMO in the 3 GHz band. Moreover, millimeter-wave communications used to be synonymous with hybrid beamforming (e.g., using multiple analog phased arrays), often described as a necessary compromise between performance and hardware complexity. However, digital implementations are already on the way.

Last year, I wrote about experiments by NEC with a 24-antenna base station that carries out digital beamforming in the 28 GHz band. The same convergence towards digital solutions is happening for the chips that can be used in 5G terminals. The University of Michigan published experimental results at the 2020 IEEE Radio Frequency Integrated Circuits Symposium (RFIC) regarding a 16-element prototype for the 28 GHz band. The university calls it the “first digital single-chip millimeter-wave beamformer“. It is manufactured as a single chip using 40 nm CMOS technology and has a dimension of around 3 x 3 mm. The chip doesn’t include the 16 antenna elements (which are connected to it, see the image below and click on it to find larger images) but transceiver chains with low-noise amplifiers, phase-locked loops, analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), etc. While each antenna element has a separate ADC, groups of four adjacent ADCs are summing up their digital signals before they reach the baseband processor. Hence, from a MIMO perspective, this is essentially a digital four-antenna receiver.

One reason to call this a prototype rather than a full-fleshed solution is that the chip can only function as a receiver, but this doesn’t take away the fact that this is an important step forward. In an interview with the Michigan Engineering News Center, Professor Michael P. Flynn (who lead the research) is explaining that “With analog beamforming, you can only listen to one thing at a time” and “This chip represents more than seven years of work by multiple generations of graduate students”.

Needless to say, the first 5G base stations and cell phones that support millimeter-wave bands will make use of hybrid beamforming architectures. For example, the Ericsson Street Macro 6701 (that Verizon is utilizing in their network) contains multiple phased arrays, which can take 4 inputs and thereby produce up to 4 simultaneous beams. However, while the early adopters are making use of hybrid architectures, it becomes increasingly likely that fully digital architectures will be available when millimeter-wave technology becomes more widely adopted around the world.