Blue Danube touts synchronization as its secret sauce in 5G beamforming

Blue Danube Systems, a Mountain View, Calif., startup whose investors include AT&T (NYSE: T) and Sequoia Capital, is getting ready to hit the field with trials of its capacity-boosting antenna technology.

blue danube

 Blue Danube says its gear will fit
 within existing infrastructure.

The company has agreements with multiple OEMs and mobile operators for deployment scenarios. The company isn't saying, but given AT&T's investment in the company, it's a likely suspect for trials. The company says its technology can provide up to 10x improvement in capacity.

Given the explosion in mobile traffic demands, "what we're trying to do is find a way for the carriers to be able to support that kind of capacity" while avoiding the expense they would have in siting and putting in new towers, Blue Danube CEO Mark Pinto told FierceWirelessTech.

Blue Danube doesn't claim its solution should be the only solution – it's clearly part of a mix in today's HetNet systems, but "we think it is probably the most cost-effective" solution due to the capacity increase it provides using a carrier's existing footprint, he said. Called BeamCraft 500, Blue Danube's solution includes 96 active elements and radios with a total maximum output power of 160W; it's housed in a panel that measures 63 inches x 14 inches x 10 inches.  It works with existing LTE networks and will be part of 5G as well.

Blue Danube is focused initially on 1.7 to 2.3 GHz, which encompasses the AWS and PCS bands in the U.S. Typically, the lower bands are used for coverage and higher bands for capacity.

Almost everyone's 5G system has beamforming in it, Pinto noted, with ArrayComm, the company co-founded by cellular pioneer Marty Cooper, having been one of the more famous ones. But it's generally been expensive and complicated, including in military installations, Pinto said.

The product is based on the company's proprietary High Definition Active Antenna Systems (HDAAS) technology. "At the root of this is a technology implemented in our own chip that does high-speed synchronization," he said. "It turns out that to make these beams, what you have to do is program these antennas in such a way that you form these patterns," which is well understood within the industry.

But in practice, to actually implement a product that does that, "the antenna elements have to be highly synchronous," he said.

Here's the analogy he gives: If you were to go to a pond with 100 friends, each with their own pebble, in an attempt to make a big splash, everyone would have to throw their pebbles all at the same time. "If you don't, you're just going to get a mess on the water and no pattern." To make the pattern work, "you've got to throw it at the right time and the right place. The same is true here," he said. At gigahertz frequencies, "we've got to form these beams, and to do that, it means you have to synchronize all of the antenna elements within several degrees" at gigahertz speeds.

Pinto added that another key part of Blue Danube's technology is it's being done in the analog domain, so the synchronization is not digital. "We're actually doing this in an analog way that forms beams directly," he said. An implication of that is the technology works for both TDD and FDD systems. In addition, "we can move these beams super, super fast" -- faster than LTE can even notice them, he said.

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