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About Massive MIMO Beamforming

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What is Massive MIMO Beamforming?

Let’s put them together, beamforming and massive MIMO, and we get massive MIMO beamforming. This combination of great ideas and technology allow us to go beyond what has been done in the past.  It takes all the antenna elements to work together and separately to create 3D beamforming and with over 32 elements to push data and coverage to the outer limits. Read on to learn more.

Coming soon, the “Road to 5G” book with reports on Massive MIMO, Beamforming, and more about the trend of the tech industry.

To recap:

  • Massive MIMO is where the elements in the antenna each have an individual radio head feeding them, could transmit or receive or both (TDD).
  • Beamforming is where the beam focuses the “transmit” and/or “receive” in one specific area to avoid interference from outside sources and to increase gain and throughput.

In Massive MIMO they use 3D beamforming. This focuses the beam both vertically and horizontally. It is going to allow the element to talk to specific users if they need to. It allows the RF to focus on one area while the other elements can focus on other areas. It increases coverage and densification without moving an antenna or dropping in a small cell. WOW!Get the Wireless Deployment Handbook today!

Learn more in a blog about Massive MIMO, found here, https://wade4wireless.com/2017/11/27/what-is-massive-mimo/. Then, read the blog about beamforming, found here, https://wade4wireless.com/2018/01/08/what-is-beamforming/.

How is it done?

How can they do that? With a control beam that can track where a user is located. This was brought to light with MU-MIMO, Multi-User MIMO. It allows the elements to talk to more than one user at a time. Mainly because you have so many elements that are readily available to focus on users.

Can you imagine where you have more carriers and spectrum to communicate to the UE device? Not only that, but each element can talk to a device while the next element can talk to another simultaneously. All at the same time, using different chunks of the same spectrum along with 64 or 256 QAM. It’s really amazing, so much so there is no way I can explain how it works in detail. Sorry, look at the resources below to learn more technical details.

Here we’ll learn the high-level overview. The RF will be able to be utilized more efficiently than ever because it will be focused in a very concentrated area while other elements can concentrate on their specific users.

Please note, there is SU-MIMO, Single User MIMO, I don’t talk about that here because I think the key is to talk to as many users as possible at the same time.

While Massive MIMO Beamforming is thought of like a 5G technology, it can be and will be used in LTE. They will call it LTE Advanced, LTE-A, but really it’s LTE evolution to get more throughput. It is a critical factor in getting to 5G, so it is going to be part of the NR, New Radio. (New Radio, not a creative name at all!) I think it’s important to remember that all of these advances in LTE will be a foundation of what’s to come for 5G, but I digress, let’s get back to massive MIMO Beamforming.

Massive MIMO paves the way for 3D beamforming for several reasons. First, it’s an active antenna that has a radio head dedicate do each element. This makes it exceptionally smart. Second, it has fiber and power to the antenna which has embedded antennas, so the electronics of the element allow it to focus energy the way the radio head sees fit. That means this can pick a user, focus all of its energy on that user, and slice out RF for that user, and communicate directly with that user.

Why is the last statement so important? I am glad you asked! It’s because the UE Device doesn’t need to match the MIMO of the transmit antenna. I don’t see SAMSUNG and APPLE putting in 32 or 64 antennas on their smartphones, do you? I know they’re getting bigger, but we’re lucky they put 4 in each one. Not only that, but they have to put a crapload of RF chips in each device to handle any carrier. It’s a lot to ask of a smartphone, yet we expect it today, don’t we? Don’t deny it! You would be pissed if you couldn’t take your device and use it on another carrier or maybe even in another country. Now, pile that on top of all the formats they need to communicate, like GSM, CDMA, LTE, TDD. To make it simpler for you, 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, and soon 5G. Yowsa that is a lot to ask of that device that used to fit in your hand. Now we want them bigger, but not too big!

What made all of this possible? The OFDM format, it helped us build to what we have today. The other thing that helps is beam tracking. The beam can track where the user is and where they are going to keep the RF concentrated on that user, beam steering.

Why does it matter?

Why does massive MIMO beamforming matter? You ask some great questions! It matters because where we once thought that the antenna would just point to where we thought we needed the coverage. Then we had MIMO to allow us to pass more data simultaneously to a user, but it was really SU-MIMO passing more than twice the data to an individual user. We also had beamforming, used heavily in TDD, like Wi-Fi, to reduce interference and concentrate that low power signal to where the users were. Lower interference and increase gain to the user.

Now, on the road to 5G, we have mutated all of this to something extreme. You know, like the X-Men, we have LTE and RF superpowers! The superpower to increase coverage and densification using the antenna and the radio and the electronics to make one antenna do the job of 32 or 64 or even 128 at this time. Who knows what the future will hold.5g-deployment-plan-front-cover-3k-pixels

With beamforming you can concentrate the signal to one user, increasing the gain of that element and talk to one user while the elements are talking to another user.

Does this save money for the carrier?

Trick question! I wanted to see if you were paying attention here, so I threw in a trick question to make sure your on your toes and wearing your thinking cap.

It will cost money up front. The carriers have to replace the antennas and the radio heads. They now have to install the massive MIMO antennas. They have to run fiber and power to the antenna because it no longer has the radio head broken out. It is all one unit. They have to upgrade their BBUs, I would think, and upgrade the backhaul, (fiber) so that they can deliver 10Gbps to every macro site, maybe 100Gbps. Because now you could have 64 users all crying for 1Gbps to each device.

Up front, they have to replace hardware, install new units, and replace most everything at the cell site. Up front, it’s more money.

OpEx will increase for the backhaul. They will need more fiber, more bandwidth, more monthly cost on the backhaul

Now, it will save money in the long run. Here is what I see and it’s not as clear as I would like to make it. Please, use your imagination, will you?

The savings will be that the macro site can now supply well over 10 times the users it could before. In urban areas, this is a game changer! What does this mean? Fewer small cells to be deployed for offloading! If you have a kick-ass macro site throwing data out to many users simultaneously, who needs those pesky small cells in the same coverage area as the macro site? If you don’t think this is a thing, look at any carrier in NYC or LA, they have to offload everywhere. This can start to decline.

Coverage improves as the elements offer higher gain to individual use. This is a small gain, but the edge of the macro should see better coverage as well as throughput. Again, better handoffs and fewer small cells on the edge.

The equipment is smaller than before, and you eliminate the need for the radio head and all that annoying coax between the radio head and the antenna. You heard me! One unit, an active antenna that eliminates the need for coax at the site. This means no more Passive Modulation Interference from all those coax connections. Don’t you hate doing all the PMI testing at the site? I do, and it costs a lot of money, and there is no guarantee that it won’t happen 3 days after you leave the site. Yes, PMI sucks!

Smaller equipment at the site means that it could save the carrier money on-site rental. However, I have to tell you, ATC and CCI have ironclad leases. This is more of a pipe dream. One thing I learned is that the tower owners will NOT lower rent, they only increase rent, and they have leases so tight that Houdini could not get out of one. The thing it may hurt is the small cell leases. If the macro is kicking ass in coverage and loading, maybe a carrier could eliminate some of its small cell sites. That is a considerable cost saving when you look at the backhaul and rent. The equipment and installation are cheap, but the fiber costs are still pretty high.

Who will roll this out?

I have to tell you, the best way that I see massive MIMO beamforming rolling out is by using TDD. It’s cost effective and eliminates the need for separate transmit and receive elements. That means that if you use FDD, you would need 64 transmit and 64 receive elements in one antenna. Ouch, that just got really expensive. But wait, if you have TDD, then you could use 64 elements because the transmit and receive are shared in the same element.

Now, who has TDD in the USA? Can you guess? Go on. I’ll give you another minute. That’s right; Sprint has a crapload of 3.5GHz spectrum that is all TDD that is no longer Wi-MAX. In fact, they are migrating to LTE everywhere. They have a prime opportunity to roll out an incredible system. Will they do it? I hope so, but only time will tell.

That is why the other carriers are clamoring for mmwave and cmwave so that they can also have this technology. Does that make sense?

For this reason, I see Sprint winning this race, if they can get out of their own way. they have not made the best tech decisions in the past decade, in my opinion. Keep the deployment simple, get the teams on the same page, and for GOD’s sake, align with your vendors.

What spectrum will use this technology?

Another good question. It appears that 2GHz and up will work well for this. That means Sprint has prime 2.5GHz spectrum that aligns well with this technology.

The CBRS, 3.5GHz is well suited for this technology. While it is low power, this offers great control to allow the carriers to get the biggest bang for their buck. The lightly licensed users may not use the technology because of price and payback. Usually, private LTE networks won’t invest in anything this impressive, (code work for expensive).

It looks like the 4.4 to 4.9GHz spectrum is also ideal, good news for Japan!

Above 20GHz, where the mmwaves live, it looks to be ideal. So, when AT&T and Verizon start pushing this envelope, they will rely on this technology to deploy. Why, because the massive MIMO will allow them to cram a lot of elements into one antenna. You see, at that spectrum, the antenna elements are tiny, so they could see antennas with a high count of elements. I would think they would see 128 by 128 for almost everything. It would be a game changer, especially for fixed wireless.

Summary:

This new technology takes what the OEMs learned form MIMO and beamforming and put it together to create a new type of macro site. This makes the antenna a team player getting the signal to the end-user in the most efficient way possible. The elements of the antenna each have their own radio head and control. Using this technology to create parallel RF streams of data to the user increases throughput and loading all at the same time. That is what I call smart technology.

We have an active antenna that can do massive MIMO and 3D beamforming all controlled by a base station with even more features in it like carrier aggregation, higher throughput, more carriers, and advance interference rejection. All that and coverage improves, better densification from one BTS. WOW! We’ve come a long way, baby.

All of this so that the throughput and use loading goes way up.

I have it listed in the resources section, but a good paper on this has been put out by Nokia at https://onestore.nokia.com/asset/201377/Nokia_5G_Beamforming_mMIMO_White_Paper_EN.pdf if you have time to read it.

What can you do?

Prepare for this new technology! Come on, all the cool kids are learning it. The OEMs are relying on this as a precursor to 5G for whatever the carrier plans to use it for. What services will be needed for this? Let me count the ways:

  • RF Design – to deploy, it needs to be planned out properly to avoid self-interference.
  • Installation of new material.
  • Site engineering.
  • Commissioning, Integration, Testing, Optimization all done for the new sites.
  • Drive testing to verify it works the way we all hope it works.
  • Then, self-optimization should start cleaning up the services.
  • Then the end users will have to evaluate how awesome it is.
  • Then the carrier can start re-evaluating the use of small cells.

Resources:

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What is Massive MIMO?

What is massive MIMO? Let’s start with MIMO, Multiple in Multiple out.

What is MIMO?

Well, in wireless technology MIMO means that you have several antennas and radios all on one BTS. So, you have one BTS with a

sector that has multiple antennas for transmit and receive. So, the alpha sector could have four transmit and four receive all in one panel. With only a few transmit and receive, the radio head could be behind the antenna. MIMO is already deployed across the US by almost all the carriers helping LTE reach the speeds it has today. That along with carrier aggregation, improved processing, optimization techniques, and a myriad of additional features making that smartphone look faster than your laptop when running an app.

What is massive MIMO?

This is where we have more active elements in the antenna; this could be 64T64R or 128T128R or even higher. The 64T is 64 transmit elements, and 64R is 64 receive elements. Just imagine the feature we get from MIMO, listed above, are suddenly on steroids and making the current features even better! WOW!

This changes many things on the tower. Since running 64 coax jumpers is not practical, the OEMs are inclined to create an active antenna. That would be an antenna with the radio head inside of the antenna so that they could have a connection between each radio head to each element. It just makes sense. No more coax and fiber direct to the antenna. No more radio head and power to the antenna.

What changes will happen in the eNodeB? The BBU will need to handle more processing than ever! They will also need to improve the BBU, the baseband unit.

Why do we need massive MIMO?

Several reasons come to mind, listed below, feel free to add more.

  • High bandwidth needed for throughput
  • Spectral efficiency for improved spectrum usage
  • Lower latency
  • Improved device density connectivity
  • It is a step towards 5G

What does the BBU need to do to support massive MIMO?

It needs to process so much more data. Now, instead of controlling one or 8 radio heads, it will need to process and distribute the power Get the Wireless Deployment Handbook today!across 64 or more individual radio elements. It needs to pass more data.

The BBU needs to be significantly improved. What will it do?

  • Process more data
  • More bandwidth
  • Control more radio heads
  • Talk to more UE devices
  • Handle carrier aggregation
  • Process more services simultaneously
  • Perform self-optimizing network, SON, services
  • Capture data
  • Handle neighbor list to avoid interference

 

What about the backhaul?

It needs to be upgraded to handle more data since we are now going to increase the broadband throughput. 1Gbps backhaul may not cut it because it may need to be much more. What does this mean?

  • Better routers at the sitesSOW Training Cover
  • More strands of fiber for each site
  • Aggregation of the fiber carriers so that it looks like a massive pipe of over 10Gbps
  • Improved network slicing functions for the router to perform more functions than before

What about the fronthaul?

The fronthaul is the fiber, (or wireless), the line between the BBU and the radio heads which now should be in the active antenna.

This may require more strands per sector so that the data can be sent to each sector. Look at it this way, instead of dealing with one antenna with 4 to 8 elements; now you are dealing with one active antenna that could be simultaneously sending data to more than 64 elements in one concentrated antenna system. That is a lot of data! In theory, it could be more than 1Gbps per sector! WOW!

Fronthaul will need to be:

  • Improved for more bandwidth and data
  • Lower latency than before
  • Perhaps more strands of fiber

Can CRAN or C-RAN be a massive MIMO system?

The jury is out because of the massive bandwidth and low latency. This is going to be worked out, but it is essential that we know that a Centralized RAN and a Cloud RAN are essential parts of the 5G system. As you all know, massive MIMO is a huge stepping stone for 5G.

What about CRAN and C-RAN?

This is going to be a challenge to get to no BBU at the site, but it can be done. The need for MEC, Mobile Edge Computing is still there because we want low latency. That is right; the routing needs to be as short as possible. Also, the RF equipment is doing an excellent job of lowering latency. The 5G standards are asking for lower and lower latency, looking for 1ms or less, wow! That is going to be a real challenge if you rely on the cloud to do the BBU processing or if you have the BBU hotel somewhere else. Why? Even though it is light running through the fiber, it takes time to travel across town, the state, or anywhere. Hence, that is how MEC may be able to save the day! Direct routing would be a key factor instead of running everything back to the core.

How does it affect the UE device?

The UE probably won’t have more than four antennas in it, if that. They may have 2 to 4 receive antennas, and two transmit. The thing is though, with massive MIMO and the way it should work, an element or 2 can focus on one US device freeing up the other to talk individually to other devices. This will improve throughput and lowers latency.

The bottom line is that it will help the UE in 2 ways. The UE will get more bandwidth, especially as they add more antennas internally, they already have two receive in most devices which allow for better downloads. The massive MIMO will be able to talk directly to an individual device and lower latency. This will help the response time of the device, making the device seem more responsive and once again, quicker! Now it is up to the device makers to speed up the internal processing speed and improve the memory in each device so that we can enjoy the new low latency services.

What changes at the site?

This is going to require new equipment at the site, no matter how you look at it. The equipment that is there now will need to be upgraded or replaced. Most likely, some of it will need to be replaced. It would make sense to have 64 or more radio heads so that you would replace the existing antennas and radio heads with an active antenna. You would remove all coax and run fiber to the antenna. You would need a BBU that can kick ass with processing power and bandwidth. You need to improve your backhaul, which means a better router CRAN quality equipment at the site. You need to improve your fronthaul between the BBU and the active antenna.

What does it mean for business?

Here’s the deal, the equipment we have today will not cut it. Replacing the existing BBU and radio heads and antennas with the new system. It must happen. So, this means a lot more work for the deployment crews. As always, it will all happen at once, causing a strain on the tower workforce.

  • Tower crews – busy replacing equipment on tower and the ground
  • Engineering teams – new RF engineering and optimization along with drive tests to complete the rollout of the new system. Let’s not forget the potential for self-interference that’s going to happen. There is a learning curve.
  • Backhaul:
    • The fiber needs to be upgraded, new fiber or additional fiber.
    • Wireless backhaul will need to be replaced, added, or upgraded.
    • The router needs to be upgraded or replaced.
    • Backhaul will need to be upgraded, so the service provider had a real opportunity to make some additional money on installation and possibly monthly reoccurring for fiber delivery services.
  • The OEMs will have a significant push for getting the new gear out to carriers, mostly in urban areas, so it will not be the entire system that gets upgraded, but the specific markets where loading is needed or where 5G is a priority.
  • The carriers need to invest in this, apparently, the stepping stone to real 5G bandwidth and performance. Enough said.
  • The tower companies may not get any more money. The way most leases are written leaves room for these upgrades. Of 5g-deployment-plan-front-cover-3k-pixelscourse, the tower companies will find ways to make incremental dollars like site access, new structural for less weight, and so on. What they will not get is the additional rent money that is their bread and butter. However, we will Those larger tower owners are savvy.
  • What about small cells? I bring this up because, in theory, the way that the massive MIMO improves densification it may reduce the need for a small cell that usually would fall within the coverage area of the tower for loading purposes. This hurts me to say, but small cells will be a fill site outdoors. Indoors we will still need small cells for coverage and offloading. The outside in coverage does not cover as well with new environmentally friendly windows. We need the indoor small cells more than ever.
  • Looking at the additional parts associated with the deployments we need to see that coax is going to be reduced dramatically. What’s the need when you run fiber everywhere. Let’s look at the list and make this easy.
    • Coax, hardline, jumpers, and associated connectors and ground kits will no longer be needed for this type of deployment. Get ready to see a lot more of the old stuff on the scrap metal places.
    • Fiber will increase. I am curious if the carriers will continue buying the hybrid cables for fronthaul or if they will just buy armored fiber lines to run to the radio heads up the tower or in the rooftops. They still need power to the antenna, which they initially needed for the radio heads. Remember that the connectors may change, so we will have to think about the distribution of jumper.
    • Tower mounts may change. All the weight from the radio heads will be shifted to the actual antenna mount. Whether it is a simple mast of the whole mount. The radio head weight will be gone from behind the antenna, and now it is going to be in the antenna. Weight distribution has changed from being evenly distributed to being concentrated on the antenna. Site engineering should be fun.
    • Possibly power upgrades will be needed which means potentially new rectifiers and battery upgrades and then utility upgrades. Remember that we were trying to get more power efficiency at the sites, this may be a set back for that effort. If you need a new rectifier, then maybe new or additional batteries and associated cables and hardware. Then the power from the utility to power said rectifiers.

OK, that should be good for now. I am putting together a full report, if you’re interested, reach out to Wade4wireless@gmail.com for more information.

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LTE MIMO Deployment Notes

I found a video that is interesting, if you are into massive MIMO, which is being proposed for outdoor work. I think this is interesting because Professor Dr. Wolfgang Utschick talks about how MIMO works. He gives a long and detail explanation (snooze). I listened to it because I really find it interesting. This is how I spend my Saturday mornings, seriously.

The video, https://youtu.be/zhncADqR9rg, goes into great detail about the complexities of how the MIMO works down to the signal level. This is a really smart guy giving a boring delivery, so I will break it down for you, if you listen to my podcast you may find it more interesting than the video. Let me tell you my version, lots of antennas = better signal propagation both ways, with better noise rejection and more throughput. Multiple signals going in and out simultaneously allows for the device and BTS to work better, clean up the noise and errors so that the customer can get some kick ass bandwidth. That is the name of the game. Then he talks about the multi user MIMO works y using the same signal. Then he sums it up by going over the beam forming properties of the antennas.

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What does this mean to you? Well deployment teams, it means that dog-tags_clearbackgrondthe RF designers will be working with multiple antenna systems. It means that the site designers and the site acquisition teams now have to work with MIMO antenna systems wither on a building or on an antenna or small cell or DAS. Yes, they will be deploying these for DAS. Don’t think it’s something new, look at what Wi-Fi has been doing for a few years, and they are big into MIMO. Now they want LTE to do more than 2 antennas, up to 8 or even 24. This will have to balance with practical installations to what your device, (smartphone) can support. They have to work together after all.

Let’s not forget the installation teams will be dealing with larger or heavier antennas and more cables on the tower. That’s right, bigger and heavier. What about the remote radio units, they were just starting to get smaller and now they will be bigger or they will add more. You will find out soon with 4T4R and 8T8R.

Then there is optimization, the drive teams will need to get new devices to test with. So this will add complexity not only to the system but the testing as well. Just like with carrier aggregation, the MIMO upgrades will make things more complicated.

What will the carriers say? Well, they are already deploying 4T4R, 4 dog-tags_clearbackgrondtransmit and 4 receive MIMO, and some are doing 8T8R. They are working their way to 16T16R. How cool is that? I believe they will push to do more if it is cost-effective. Some carriers saw this as a ploy for the OEMs and antenna companies to sell more equipment, until they saw the payback. Yes, the payback of efficiency and bandwidth. They are going to do all that they can to improve the pipe, like this and carrier aggregation. All ways to get the biggest bang out of the bandwidth they have.

To get the most out of this, they need to shrink coverage areas as well. So in doing this they may not really need to maximize MIMO. I think to find a balance between the cost for MIMO and the cost to deploy a site will maximize the investment. They want a reasonable coverage area based on loading. In the old days it was based on population but now in the world of data it’s a balance of population and usage. Now the carrier’s system is becoming more and more of a pipe. They know they can’t do it all, but they can provide quality coverage to the mobile masses. They have to do this within a budget.

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The goal is to make sure the user has a great quality of experience, (QoE), for the right budget. Of course it could be better but at what cost? The equipment and the services start to run up the CapEx and to maintain something like that may run up the OpEx although I am not sure how. The only thing I see is backhaul will be bigger, equipment maintenance, and maybe tower rental. There may be more that I am missing.

How does CapEx go up? Let me tell you the obvious, the hardware goes up. The antennas cost more, the radio heads cost more, chances are the BBU and the hybriflex cable costs more. It all adds up. They to install it, extra weight, extra testing, extra optimization, and all the little things all add up. It ain’t free! All those nickels and dimes add up to hundreds or thousands a site.

So when looking at the new LTE systems, now you see the complexity that is in a simple design. You also see that budgets play a part. Not every carrier can throw money at these issues but they will do what they can to serve the user and to have bragging rights. Going to LTE gives them bragging rights, doing VoLTE also really helps.

There is a long-term goal as well. If they can get the LTE system up and running then they can start to decommission 2G and 3G systems saving on maintenance and service 2 systems as well as freeing up that bandwidth for 4G. Get the old systems out, maintain the current system, and save money while increasing the QoE for the user. It all makes sense to me.

What about 5G? Well, from what I have been reading is that the 5G will be an extension of what they have now. I know that the carriers do not want to start swapping out gear so soon, especially in 2020 if they don’t have to. They want to just add-on to what they have or they want to do it all through software upgrades. Why spend the massive amounts of money if they don’t have to. After all, we went from 3G to 4G in a very short time. Why not use MIMO and other ways to improve the system? It all makes send to me to have the hardware ready for software updates. Let’s decommission the 3G system before we replace the 4G equipment.

I am hoping that 5G will change the IOT, meaning machine to machine where we can get real-time readings for our power meters, gas meters, and water meters. I know that they have this in some parts of the country but not where I live. Hell, they don’t even read the power meter every month so if I have something in my house that is sucking down power I don’t know about it for 2 months! Just venting here but I see great things happening soon. I know the utility companies are waiting for federal grants to move ahead, but come on! I can see my bank statements and credit card bills in real-time. Let’s get started on making the meter reading happen in real-time.

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