The American telecom operator Sprint is keen on mentioning Massive MIMO in the marketing of its 5G network deployments, as I wrote about a year ago. You can find their new video below and it gives new insights into the deployment strategy of their new 64-antenna BSs. Initially, the base station will be divided between LTE and 5G operation. According to CTO Dr. John Saw, the left half of the array will be used for LTE and the right half for 5G. This will lead to a 3 dB loss in SNR and also a reduced multiplexing capability, but I suppose that Sprint is only doing this temporarily until the number of 5G users is sufficiently large to motivate a 5G-only base station. Another thing that one can infer from the video is that the LTE/5G splitting is software-defined so physical changes to the base station hardware are not needed to change it.
The Norwegian startup company Super Radio has during the past year made several channel measurement campaigns for Massive MIMO for land-to-sea communications, within a project called MAMIME (LTE, WIFI and 5G Massive MIMO Communications in Maritime Propagation Environments). There are several other companies and universities involved in the project.
The maritime propagation environment is clearly different from the urban and suburban propagation environments that are normally modeled in wireless communications. For example, the ground plane consists of water, and the sea waves are likely to reflect the radio waves in a different way than the hard surface on land. Except for islands, there won’t be many other objects that can create multipath propagation in the sea. Hence, a strong line-of-sight path is key in these use cases.
The MAMIME project is using a 128-antenna horizontal array, which is claimed to be the largest in the world. Such an array can provide narrow horizontal beams, but no elevation beamforming – which is probably not needed since the receivers will all be at the sea level. The array consists of 4 subarrays which each has a dimension of 1070 x 630 mm. Frequencies relevant for LTE and WiFi have been considered so far. The goal of the project is to provide “extremely high throughputs, stability and long coverage” for maritime communications. I suppose that range extension and spatial multiplexing of multiple ships is what this type of Massive MIMO system can achieve, as compared to a conventional system.
A first video about the project was published in December 2017:
Now a second video has been released, see below. Both videos have been recorded outside Trondheim, but Kan Yang at Super Radio told me that further measurements outside Oslo will soon be conducted, with focus on LTE Massive MIMO.
I wrote earlier about the Ericsson AIR 6468 that was deployed in Russian in preparation for the 2018 World Cup in football. If you are curious to know more about this Massive MIMO product, among the first of its kind, you can read the public documents that were submitted to FCC for approval. For example, if you click on the link above and then select “Conf Exhibit 9 Internal photos” you will see how the product looks at the inside.
I will now summarize some of the key properties of this LTE TDD product. AIR stands for Antenna Integrated Radio, and Ericsson AIR 6468 is a unit with 64 antennas connected to 64 transmitter/receiver branches. This allows for fully digital beamforming, but the baseband processing is taking place in a separate unit that is connected to AIR 6468 with an optical cable. Hence, the processing unit can be updated to support future LTE releases and more advanced signal processing.
There are different versions of AIR 6468 that are targeting different LTE bands, for example, 2496-2690 MHz and 3400–3600 MHz. These units weight 60.4 kg and are 988 x 520 x 187 mm, which clearly demonstrates that Massive MIMO does not require physically large arrays; the height is typical for an LTE antenna, while the width is slightly larger. This can be seen in the image below, where the AIR 6468 is in the middle.
The array can be mounted on a wall or a pole, and tilted in various ways. As far as I understand, the 64 antennas consist of 32 dual-polarized antennas, which are arranged on a rectangular grid with 4 antennas in the vertical dimension and 8 antennas in the horizontal dimension. The reason that the array is still physically larger in the vertical dimension is the larger vertical antenna spacing, which is the common practice to achieve a narrower vertical beamwidth since most users are concentrated around the same elevation angles in practical deployments (see Section 7.3-7.4 in Massive MIMO Networks for a more detailed explanation).
QPSK, 16-QAM, 64-QAM, and 256-QAM are the supported modulation types. AIR 6468 can perform carrier aggregation of up to three carriers of 15 or 20 MHz each. The maximum radiated transmit power is 1.875 W per antenna, which corresponds to 120 W in total for the array. I suppose this means 40 W in total in each 15-20 MHz carrier (and 0.625 W per antenna), but it is of course the spectrum licenses that determine the actual numbers.
After some successful trials, the first deployments of TDD-LTE with Massive MIMO functionality were unveiled earlier this year. For example, the telecom operator Sprint turned on Massive MIMO base stations in Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles last April.
If you read the press release from Sprint, it is easy to get confused regarding the number of antennas being used:
Sprint will deploy 64T64R (64 transmit, 64 receive) Massive MIMO radios using 128 antennas working with technology leaders Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung Electronics.
From reading this quote, I get the impression that the Massive MIMO arrays contain 128 antennas, whereof 64 are used for the transmission and another 64 for the reception. That would be a poor system design, since channel reciprocity can only be exploited in TDD if the same antennas are used for both transmission and reception!
Fortunately, this is not what Sprint and other operators have actually deployed. According to my sources, the arrays contain 64 dual-polarized elements, so there are indeed 128 radiating elements. However, as I explained in a previous blog post, an antenna consists of a collection of radiating elements that are connected to the same RF chain. The number of antennas is equal to the number of RF chains, which is 64 in this case. The reason that Sprint points out that there are 64 transmit antennas and 64 receive antennas is because different RF chains are used for transmission and reception. The system switches between them according to the TDD protocol. In principle, one could design an array that has a different number of RF chains in the uplink than in the downlink, but that is not the case here.
So how are the 128 elements mapped to 64 antennas (RF chains)? This is done by taking pairs of vertically adjacent elements, which have the same polarization, and connecting them to the same RF chain. This is illustrated in the figure to the right (see this blog post for pictures of how the actual arrays look like). As compared to having 128 RF chains (and antennas), this design choice results in lower flexibility in elevation beamforming, but the losses in data rates and multiplexing capability are supposed to be small since there are much larger variations in azimuth angles between the users in a cellular network than in the elevation angles. (This is explained in detail in Section 7.3-7.4 of my book). The advantage is that the implementation is more compact and less expensive when having 64 instead of 128 antennas.
The textbook Massive MIMO Networks: Spectral, Energy, and Hardware Efficiency, that I’ve written together with Jakob Hoydis and Luca Sanguinetti, is from now on available for free download from https://massivemimobook.com. If you want a physical copy, you can buy the color-printed hardback edition from now publishers and major online shops, such as Amazon.
You can read more about this book in a previous blog post and also watch this new video, where I talk about the content and motivation behind the writing of the book.
Massive MIMO supports an order of magnitude higher spectral efficiency than legacy LTE networks. The largest gains come from spatial multiplexing of many users per cell, thus these gains can only be harvested when there are many users requesting data at every given millisecond, which requires larger traffic loads than you might think since many seemingly continuous user applications only send data sporadically.
For this reason, I used to say that outdoor musical festivals, where a crowd of 100,000 people gather to see their favorite bands, would be a first deployment scenario for Massive MIMO. This is fairly similar to what now has happened: The Russian telecom operator MTS has deployed more than 40 state-of-the-art LTE sites with Massive MIMO functionality in seven cities where the 2018 FIFA World Cup in football is currently taking place. The base stations are deployed to cover the stadiums, fan zones, airports, train stations, and major parks/squares; in other words, the places where huge crowds of football fans are expected.
In the press release, Andrei Ushatsky, Vice President of MTS, says:
“This launch is one of Europe’s largest Massive MIMO deployments, covering seven Russian cities, and is a major contribution by MTS in the preparation of the country’s infrastructure for the global sporting event of the year. Our Massive MIMO technology, using Ericsson equipment, significantly increases network capacity, allowing tens of thousands of fans together in one place to enjoy high-speed mobile internet without any loss in speed or quality.”
While this is one of the first major deployments of Massive MIMO, more will certainly follow in the coming years. More research into the development and implementation of advanced signal processing and resource management schemes will also be needed for many years to come – this is just the beginning.
Three massive-MIMO-related highlights from IEEE ICC in Kansas City, MO, USA, this week:
- J. H. Thompson from Qualcomm gave a keynote on 5G, relaying several important insights. He stressed the fundamental role of Massive MIMO, utilizing reciprocity (which in turn, of course, implies TDD). This is a message we have been preaching for years now, and it is reassuring to hear a main industry leader echo it at such an important event. He pointed to distributed Massive MIMO (that we know of as “cell-free massive MIMO“) as a forthcoming technology, not only because of the macro-diversity but also because of the improved channel rank it offers to multiple-antenna terminals. This new technology may enable AR/VR/XR, wireless connectivity in factories and much more… where conventional massive MIMO might not be sufficient.
- In the exhibition hall Nokia showcased a 64×2=128 Massive MIMO array, with fully digital transceiver chains, small dual-polarized path antennas, operating at 2.5 GHz and utilizing reciprocity – though it wasn’t clear exactly what algorithmic technology that went inside. (See photographs below.) Sprint already has deployed this product commercially, if I understood well, with an LTE TDD protocol. Ericsson had a similar product, but it was not opened, so difficult to tell exactly what the actual array looked like. The Nokia base station was only slightly larger, physically, than the flat-screen-base-station vision I have been talking about for many years now, and along the lines that T. Marzetta from Bell Labs had already back in 2006. Now that cellular Massive MIMO is a commercial reality… what should the research community do? Granted there are still lots of algorithmic innovation possible (and needed), but …. Cell-free massive MIMO with RF over fiber is the probably the obvious next step.
- T. Marzetta from NYU gave an industry distinguished talk, speculating about the future of wireless beyond Massive MIMO. What, if anything at all, could give us another 10x or 100x gain? A key point of the talk was that we have to go back to (wave propagation) physics and electromagnetics, a message that I very much subscribe to: the “y=Hx+w” models we typically use in information and communication theory are in many situations rather oversimplified. Speculations included the use of super-directivity, antenna coupling and more… It will be interesting to see where this leads, but at any rate, it is interesting fundamental physics.
There were also lots of other (non-Massive MIMO) interesting things: UAV connectivity, sparsity… and a great deal of questions and discussion on how machine learning could be leveraged, more about that at a later point in time.