Ericsson sees positive reaction to its 5G New Radio

Ericsson network 5G
Ericsson's network slicing demo at its booth during CTIA Super Mobility 2016.

While the standards for 5G are still being written, Ericsson said it’s received a lot of positive feedback from operators after announcing that it is commercializing the world’s first 5G New Radio (NR) for massive MIMO, with the first deployments to come in 2017. Ericsson is working with more than 20 mobile operators worldwide on 5G networking and use cases.

“We’ve gotten a lot of very positive feedback from large operators,” Glenn Laxdal, CTO and head of strategy for North America at Ericsson, told FierceWirelessTech on the sidelines of the CTIA Super Mobility 2016 trade show.

All the operators are pushing the envelope in moving to 5G, and the next step in 5G is really moving out of the lab trials and into some early market trials to start testing out the capabilities. “This year the starter’s gun went off on 5G, so everyone is very focused on 5G,” said Laxdal.

While it’s not surprising that Ericsson would say its equipment is being well-received, Laxdal was candid when asked about the impact of Hans Vestberg’s abrupt departure as CEO in July. Vestberg, who had been with the company 28 years, was ousted less than a week after the company posted a 26 percent year-over-year drop in net sales during the second quarter. CFO Jan Frykhammar took on the role of interim CEO until the search for a permanent successor is completed. Frykhammar and Vestberg worked closely together over the years.

Laxdal acknowledged that there are always repercussions when something like that happens. Vestberg had developed a lot of close relationships with customers over the years. But while Frykhammar is interim CEO, he is the CEO and it’s business as usual, Laxdal said. The company’s strategy remains intact and no fundamental changes occurred in the rest of the leadership team.

Echoing statements made by rival Nokia, Laxdal noted the way 5G is being implemented is not the same as earlier wireless technology migrations. Whereas 3G was designed to replace 2G and 4G was supposed to replace 3G, “we’re designing 5G not to be a replacement for 4G,” he said. 5G and 4G will work together for the foreseeable future and they’re designed to always inter-network together. That’s by design and a principle agreed to by the vendor community and the operator community that drives the 3GPP standards body.

Today’s radios typically have two transmit and two receive antennas on an antenna panel, referred to as 2x2 MIMO, and some have four transmit elements, which are called 4x4 MIMO. But that will expand as the industry moves forward, and Ericsson demonstrated at its booth a 5G NR ready radio that has 64 transmit antenna elements and 64 receive antenna elements.

“I can go from 4x4 antenna elements to 64x64 antenna elements, and that gives me massive processing power and it gives me the ability to do massive MIMO, and massive MIMO is really just a lot of antenna elements used in conjunction with one another to improve my capacity and also to improve my coverage,” he explained.

Ericsson also showed off the concept of beamforming, which takes a lot of antenna elements and combines them in a very clever way to be able to concentrate the coverage or the range of that beam. The combination of 64x64 antenna elements provides the opportunity to do a lot of things in the radio, so when the radio is introduced in mid-2017, it’s going to be for 4G, with the radio being software upgradeable to 5G.

The first bands in the U.S. to sport 5G are likely the 28 and 37-39 GHz bands, and 5G is optimized to work in those bands. The advantage of going up to those higher bands is the wavelength is small – it shrinks down to millimeter wavelength. That means a lot of antenna elements can be packed in a small space, he said. With larger wavelengths, like 700 MHz, the antenna elements have to be farther apart from one another and fewer antenna elements can be put on the antenna panel.

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