T-Mobile confirms deployment of 4x2 MIMO to boost LTE network performance

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) is starting to deploy 4x2 MIMO antenna technology in its LTE network to enhance network performance at the cell edge and generally boost the customer experience, the carrier confirmed.

T-Mobile confirmed to GigaOM that it deploying the new antenna technology and while the carrier did not say where it is coming first, GigaOM has spotted such deployments so far in Chicago, Dallas and San Antonio, Texas. By moving to 4x2 MIMO, T-Mobile is doubling the number of antennas--and thus, data transmission paths--used in standard LTE deployments, which use 2x2 MIMO. MIMO sends data over two parallel transmission paths from cell towers to devices at the edge of the network.

The net effect of using 4x2 MIMO will be that customers at the cell edge will have a better chance at getting a strong LTE signal since there will be more signals sent to their devices. Additionally, as GigaOM noted, more antennas on towers mean that customers will also see a boost in their uplink transmissions.

"We do see the benefits 4x2 MIMO offers and will be deploying this in many cities in 2014 as part of our Wideband LTE rollout," Mark McDiarmid, T-Mobiles' vice president of radio network engineering, said in a statement to GigaOM. "All of T-Mobile's available devices currently support 4x2 MIMO and we'll ensure that new devices will as well. We believe this will be one of the first deployments by a top carrier network in the U.S."

Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) and Nokia (NYSE:NOK) Solutions and Networks are T-Mobile's two primary LTE network vendors, and so far the 4x2 MIMO deployments seem to be popping up in NSN's territory, but the technology is likely to spread.

T-Mobile has said it will expand its LTE network to encompass its entire 2G EDGE network by the middle of 2015. T-Mobile's LTE network currently covers 210 million POPs, and the company has previously said it plans to increase that to 230 million by mid-year and 250 million by the end of 2014.

T-Mobile has confirmed to FierceWireless that T-Mobile's native 2G EDGE network currently covers 284 million POPs. T-Mobile currently covers an additional 17 million people through roaming agreements with other EDGE carriers. By combining those numbers, T-Mobile covers roughly 301 million POPs, or around 96 percent of the U.S. population, with EDGE.

So, presumably, when T-Mobile's EDGE network upgrade is completed in mid-2015, T-Mobile will cover roughly 284 million people with LTE. However, a T-Mobile has declined to specify its exact 2015 LTE coverage target.

T-Mobile is not the only carrier testing out new antenna technology. A key part of Sprint's (NYSE: S) Spark tri-band LTE is taking advantage of radios that have capabilities for 8 Transmitters 8 Receivers (8T8R), and which Sprint has said will be a first deployment of its kind in North America. However, those radios are only going to start being widely deployed on Sprint's network around mid-year.

Sprint aims to use 8T8R radios to enhance its deployment of TD-LTE on its 2.5 GHz spectrum, improving network capacity. 8T8R makes use of beamforming, which is a more efficient method of sending signals in specific directions to improve data throughput and overall network reliability. The vendors that are rolling out Sprint Spark are Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU), Samsung and NSN.

For more:
- see this GigaOM article

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