Ericsson’s addition of FD-LTE is keeping it competitive: analyst

Baltimore (Pixabay)
FDD Massive MIMO is part of a trial with T-Mobile in Maryland.

Ericsson’s introduction of a new massive MIMO radio unit that supports frequency division duplex (FDD) is one way to help operators prepare for 5G, but it’s also a way for Ericsson to keep up with its rivals.

The new radio product, called the AIR 3246, will enable operators, especially in metropolitan areas, to bring 5G to subscribers using today’s midband spectrum and boost capacity in LTE networks, according to Ericsson.

Although Ericsson previously announced three Massive MIMO solutions, they all supported time division duplex (TDD) or TD-LTE. This marks Ericsson’s first Massive MIMO gear for FDD or FD-LTE, and it was especially important for Ericsson to do this because multiple rivals—including Huawei, Samsung and ZTE—had already announced the addition of FD-LTE support to the existing TD-LTE support in their Massive MIMO portfolios, according to Ed Gubbins, senior analyst at Global Telecom Technology & Software. “So Ericsson had to keep up with those competitors,” he said.

Of course, 5G will need to support both TD-LTE—which is especially prevalent in China—and FD-LTE—which dominates most of the world’s LTE networks. Interestingly, Massive MIMO’s beamforming technology is more efficient in TD-LTE because the unpaired spectrum in TD-LTE allows easier dynamic feedback between user device and network, but operators will need Massive MIMO to support both TD-LTE and FD-LTE, Gubbins said.

FDD Massive MIMO is part of a trial with T-Mobile US on three sites in Baltimore, representing the first time that standardized Massive MIMO will be used to carry commercial LTE traffic using mid-band FDD spectrum, the Swedish vendor said. Massive MIMO on FDD can increase network capacity up to three times and bring up to five times better user throughput, boosting performance for end users.

T-Mobile, the big winner of 600 MHz spectrum in the most recent incentive auction, has said it plans to dedicate part of its 600 MHz spectrum to LTE and then part to 5G nationwide. (In addition to 600 MHz, T-Mobile has 200 MHz of spectrum in the 28/39 GHz bands.)

“T-Mobile’s racing forward at breakneck pace with Ericsson’s next-gen tech that advances LTE today and paves the way for 5G tomorrow,” T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said in Ericsson’s press release. “While the carriers scramble to prop up networks caving under the weight of unlimited, the Un-carrier’s rolling out advanced technologies to massively increase network capacity and data throughput for customers. Translation – we’re making America’s best unlimited network even better!”

Gubbins cautioned that it will take time for devices to come to market that will allow operators to fully take advantage of the benefits of Massive MIMO.

T-Mobile just rolled out 4x4 MIMO (not Massive MIMO) last year. So near-term deployment of this stuff is not likely to be very widespread—more likely it will be applied locally to particular hotspots at first, he said.

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Ericsson said the AIR 3246 will be commercially available in the second quarter of 2018.

Last month, Ericsson was granted FCC permission to demonstrate FD-MIMO and MU-MIMO capability using the Air 6468 radio at its Mobile World Congress Americas (MWCA) booth in San Francisco next week. It also obtained permission to demonstrate 3.5 GHz technology and 5G at 28 GHz at MWCA.