Corning teams with Qualcomm for 5G mmWave indoors

The indoor 5G mmWave system will be commercially available in 2021. (Getty Images)

Corning is working with Qualcomm to bring millimeter wave 5G indoors for large enterprise locations with a new network system that aims to be cost-effective and not overly complicated for customers. 

While not the only ones, the Corning systems are expected to be one of the first created to deliver 5G New Radio nondstandalone capabilities indoors over millimeter wave spectrum. The company is targeting enterprise environments like offices, university campuses, hospitals, hotels and shopping centers, among others.

The indoor infrastructure setup uses Qualcomm technology including 5G small cell chipsets and software, its FSM100xx 5G RAN platform and Corning’s virtualized RAN architecture to manage those attached mmWave small cells.

The system will have limited availability at the end of this year, with full commercial availability in 2021, according to Michelle Engarto, VP of Wireless Product Line Management for Corning. This is going to be important, particularly for carriers who often talk about mmWave in outdoor settings, she said, noting there’s been much speculation about how quickly mmWave could come inside.

“There’s a lot of pressure from the industry in general, and customers at large, to make sure we have cost effective solutions that will be highly capable and sort of look and feel like what they’re use to for indoor cellular already,” Engarto noted.

If customers already have 4G supplied by Corning, it will “be very easy to overlay that with mmWave to upgrade it to 5G” and won’t look all that different from 4G radio nodes.

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Combining Corning’s indoor system expertise with Qualcomm’s technology and chipset prowess, Engarto said, the companies are working to deliver a system that’s specifically designed for the enterprise, cost-effective, and simple in a way that isn’t a technology burden on customers.

“We’re striving to make this as simple as possible to commission, approve, and install,” she said, adding that in earlier indoor small cell set-ups, Corning has been able to light systems up in days and the company is applying the same approach to the new mmWave nodes.

In terms of band support in the new system, Corning typically focuses on certain segments of spectrum as it rolls out new products. So multiple mmWave bands will eventually be supported, she explained, but become available at different times via software-configurable and software-upgradable radio nodes, rather than all on the same day. 

While this system is focused on mmWave, Corning’s indoor 5G portfolio will support a full range of sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave 5G bands. Qualcomm is Corning’s mmWave partner, but it’s teaming with Intel on the sub-6 GHz solutions.

RELATED: Corning, Intel team up for in-building 5G, leveraging vRAN

One challenge with millimeter wave deployments outdoors has come from the high-band spectrum’s propagation characteristics, which limits the range of signals and can easily be obstructed by things like walls and other objects. 

Engarto acknowledged that this is a challenging problem to solve with mmWave indoors as well, and it’s fairly complicated to get the technology to work really well indoors.

In terms of how the new Corning system helps overcome these issues, she pointed to Corning’s long history of designing indoor systems for large and small enterprises with distributed antenna systems (DAS), RF design and small cell experience. A deep understanding of how to design indoor networks depending on the space is also an important factor, she said, noting ensuring enterprises have the right network configuration is key.

Qualcomm’s technology, including concurrent beamforming, advanced scheduling and additional software features, help to directionally steer signals toward users.

“The magic is going to be in the software as well as some of the hardware bits that come in those nodes to make sure that we can find the users, get the signal to them loudly and make sure that we’re reaching all the people that we need to with 5G service,” Engarto said. “It’s a bit of design, it’s a bit of technology and it’s a lot of software that’s going to make it work.”