Samsung builds out portfolio with new C-band radio, compact core

Samsung Networks
Samsung is positioning its compact core as a “one box” set-up to ease private network deployments. (Samsung Networks)

Samsung is gearing up for C-band spectrum availability in the U.S. with a new radio unit, and is also looking to support private networks with a compact core product built for enterprise.

U.S. operators will get a chance to purchase C-band spectrum in December when the FCC offers 280-megahertz between 3.7-3.98 GHz at auction. Verizon, in particular, is largely expected to bid aggressively as it looks to add key mid-band frequencies that the carrier currently lacks for 5G.  

Similar to mid-band frequencies’ often used “sweet spot” moniker for 5G (where they provide both high capacity, as well as reach for broader coverage – versus low and high-band spectrum that each shine in one of those aspects but are limited in the other), Samsung is looking to provide a happy medium within its initial C-band Massive MIMO radio unit.

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It’s meant to provide high-performance, including doubled output power of 200W and tripled bandwidth over previous platforms to support the full 280-megahertz available, finding a middle ground utilizing a 64T64R array that also delivers coverage in a relatively compact form-factor.

The radios are also convection-cooled, so they don’t have extra moving parts of fans or liquid-cooled systems that could add weight and complexity, according to Derek Johnston, head of marketing and business for Samsung’s Networks Division.

The new units will be available for trial before the end of the year and Johnston said they’re similar to the size and volume of recent CBRS units that Samsung is deploying in the U.S.

RELATED: Samsung’s CBRS Massive MIMO radio ready for all mobile operators

“If you look at it relative to an 8T8R antenna, an 8T8R looks like it’s the size of a giant canoe, and these units are about half the size of that in terms of their height, and maybe marginally wider,” Johnston told Fierce Wireless.  

When it comes to getting the best coverage and macro capacity out of C-band spectrum, Johnston noted that operators want to have as powerful of radio as possible while holding onto signal integrity and performance level. C-band doesn’t have as stringent power restrictions as the shared Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band in the U.S. and will be licensed on an exclusive basis.

Samsung worked to optimize its C-band unit from a tower design in what the vendor views as “the best fit from an overall network deployment objective perspective,” Johnston said.

In terms of increasing output power relative to previous Massive MIMO mid-band radios, “it’s critical for reaching customers and making that optimal cost-efficient radio design,” according to Johnston. “It’s really about trying to get the optimal RF propagation and distance covered.”

Along with introducing CBRS-capable radios in the U.S. (previously AT&T in 2018 tapped Samsung, along with Commscope, to supply its first 5G-ready CBRS), Samsung plans to leverage its extensive experience from deploying mid-band spectrum for 5G with South Korea’s three main mobile operators.

“We feel we have a significant and superior product here to support the operators with C-band,” Johnston said.

Like the U.S., South Korea was an early mover on 5G, and Korea has one of the largest 5G bases with 8.65 million subscribers at the end of August, though a recent local media report suggested the 5G wasn’t living up to expectations for all subscribers.  

As for how quickly the C-band units can be ready for operators to roll-out after spectrum is cleared, Johnston said it depends on the operator and the level of integration already in place if there’s an existing relationship.

RELATED: Samsung joins commercial 5G vRAN party

If a customer is trialing on a previous technology radio from Samsung, it could take a few short months to get units through lab tests and the like, Johnston noted.

He didn’t talk about specific carriers, but Verizon is the first that comes to mind. Not only is Verizon expected to show up big at the C-band auction, but it also has an ongoing relationship with Samsung as a 5G supplier, including a $6.6 billion network deal announced last month. Verizon also plans to deploy Samsung’s 5G millimeter wave small cells to expand indoor reach.

T-Mobile is the standout among U.S. carriers, as the only one that hasn’t picked Samsung as a 5G supplier yet. Both AT&T and U.S. Cellular also count Samsung as a 5G vendor, alongside Ericsson and Nokia, and Sprint used the vendor for its initial 5G deployment.

Eye on enterprise with compact core

Samsung also announced a Compact Core for private 4G and 5G networks for enterprises.

Private networks have gained interest in the U.S. as ways for enterprises to increase security and reliability, among other benefits.  

Samsung is positioning its cloud-native compact core as a “one box” set-up, using single-server hardware in a product that contains all of the core network functions and management systems for private networks. It will be available globally by the end of 2020.

The aim is to make it easier for enterprises by requiring less technical knowledge and enabling quicker deployments. It can operate as a 4G Evolved Packet Core (EPC), 5G Non-standalone (NSA) or 5G standalone (SA) core, without needing to replace hardware elements.

RELATED: Exploring CBRS for industrials with Anterix, Cradlepoint, Nokia — Special Report

The industry has some work to do on clarifying the various go-to-market models for enterprise and private networks, according to Johnston, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all. As of now Samsung sees a variety of options, including approaches both directly with enterprises and with network operators.

The core, for example, could be used for existing network operators that want to deploy a discrete private network as a standalone, on-premise for enterprise and operate it as a managed service. Alternatively, if an enterprise wants to deploy its own network and take on a systems integrator to manage, they could do that as well.

Major vendors and carriers have been exploring different approaches to deliver private networks for enterprise.

Nokia, for example, has been more vocal about serving enterprises directly, and already counts more than 180 private network deployments. That said, about half of its engagements are through operator partners. Verizon is offering private network solutions to international enterprise customers using Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud tools.

AT&T recently said it will offer private network solutions tapping Ericsson and Nokia products for CBRS solutions.  

RELATED: AT&T teams with Ericsson for private wireless networks on CBRS spectrum

In Japan, mobile operator KDDI is collaborating with Samsung to verify and assess 5G network solutions for businesses.

Samsung also has a vRAN portfolio that can work with carrier’s mobile edge compute assets, Johnston noted, and can leverage the vendor’s partnerships with the likes of Red Hat and Microsoft.

On Tuesday, Samsung announced it’s teaming up with VMware on cloud-native 5G functions.

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