Massive MIMO key for C-band, as Samsung debuts radio portfolio

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Dell’Oro estimates global Massive MIMO RAN investments topped $10 billion in 2020. (Getty Images)

Dell'Oro analyst Stefan Pongratz tipped massive MIMO to play a key role in mid-band deployments, as Samsung unveiled a radio portfolio designed to support U.S. rollouts of C-Band (3.7-3.98 GHz) spectrum.

Samsung's lineup includes a Massive MIMO radio unit, which incorporates 3D beamforming and support for the full 280-megahertz range of C-band auctioned by the Federal Communications Commission. Thousands of units have already been shipped to the U.S., according to Samsung.

While the first 100-megahertz of C-band won’t be ready until later this year, Verizon just yesterday said C-band equipment installations are underway with both Ericsson and Samsung. Both are providing Massive MIMO solutions.

Pongratz, VP at Dell’Oro Group, helped explain why Massive MIMO is key to upper mid-band (such as C-band) deployments.

RELATED: Verizon deploys C-band gear from Ericsson, Samsung for its 5G network

“One of the main reasons Massive MIMO has become the de-facto technology for the upper mid-band is the fact that the technology not only improves the capacity but it also improves the range, meaning operators can realize nearly equivalent outdoor coverage with the upper mid-band and the 2 GHz spectrum without deploying additional sites,” Pongratz told Fierce.

Dell’Oro estimates global Massive MIMO RAN investments topped $10 billion in 2020.

“With RAN accounting for 10% to 15% of the overall capex plus site opex, operators will do anything they can to leverage existing sites as much as possible,” Pongratz said. “So the technology will also play a pivotal role outside of urban areas in locations with greater ISDs [inter site distance] to minimize the incremental site requirements.”

Verizon and AT&T won 60 MHz and 40 MHz, respectively, of the earliest available C-band blocks. Verizon’s deployment plans initially call for turning up spectrum at existing macro sites focused on 46 markets. Rural fill-ins, small cells and in-building are part of the picture down the line.

RELATED: Samsung touts 30% boost for Massive MIMO with beamforming accuracy

Samsung’s C-band portfolio includes a forthcoming compact 8T8R radio focused on rural and other deployment scenarios, available in 2021. With micro (or small cell) units and indoor solutions, including support for places like public venues that have existing distributed antenna (DAS) systems, expected in early 2022. 

Virtualization

Samsung has been collaborating to help Verizon architecture its mobile network and drive more virtualization in the RAN.

Turning up sites fast and cost-effectively has been a focus both as carriers compete on 5G and after billions were spent on spectrum at the C-band auction. It’s one area of the areas where virtualization can provide benefits compared to a purpose-built vendor-specific baseband approach, Samsung Head of Marketing and Business Development Derek Johnston told Fierce.

Along with radio and antenna assets that must be added to a site, there’s usually manual work that takes place at the base of the tower related to vendor-specific baseband units. That's something he categorized as a “much more high-touch exercise.”

“With virtualization you can eliminate that step in that particular labor piece,” he said.

For example, things like orchestration and tuning can be done remotely.

RELATED: vRAN performance a match for legacy approach, Verizon VP says

“All of that can be done in kind of fast fashion as opposed to a single site, then adjust, another site and adjust” and so on. While the promise of virtualization and cost savings has been discussed in the industry for some time, he said, “it’s one of the salient examples of where it can come into play and save on field deployment resources.”

When it comes to vRAN and potential cost savings, Pongrantz told Fierce that the shift from non-vRAN to vRAN has become more about scaling, efficiency, flexibility, and automation.

“Operators are not necessarily expecting to save money right away but they are weighing the pros and the cons with vRAN,” he said via email. “And they will continue to monitor the tradeoffs and clearly it helps if the performance per power gap between custom and GPPs continue to narrow. “