Massive MIMO – new frontier in network technology

With Optus completing successful MIMO trials over its live netwrk in Sydney last month, Massive MIMO has become the new buzzword in telecom circles. Every operator now wants to implement this new technology and improve data speeds for customers. Massive MIMO must be conquered before 5G can be launched – creating the concept of the 4.5G data network. Optus trials recorded download speeds of over 800 Mbps using massive MIMO, but this technology is about more than just better data rates.

 

What is Massive MIMO?

Multiple-Input-Multiple-Output (MIMO) is essentially having multiple antennae at both the receiving and transmitting end of technology devices. This new generation of antennae can have 32-128 bit transmit and receive systems – meaning that multiple beams of data can be sent using the same frequency at the same time, massively increasing the capacity of the network. Technically, massive MIMO will be aimed in the higher frequency spectrum bands (2100 MHz) and will allow beams to be shaped both horizontally and vertically, maximising broadband efficiency.

How are customers benefitted?

End users (that is you and me) may not notice anything exceptionally different once massive MIMO gets rolled out. The reason being, that while Massive MIMO does increase speed, the technology aims to essentially strengthen network capacity. Consumption statistics reveal that mobile data usage is growing by 60% every year. If underlying network capabilities don’t match up, we could experience slow speeds even with a 5G network.

Think of it this way, if everyone is getting more faster cars, but the highway is choked up due to excess traffic, then no one can drive faster, even if they have the speed capabilities. The availability of a faster car is going to increase car usage and the likelihood of congestion increases with better car technology. Hence, it makes sense to broaden the highway before giving access to fast cars to everyone. Massive MIMO broadens the mobile data highway before those 5G cars come in and it does so exponentially (think 4 lanes becoming 64 lanes)

The aim of the massive MIMO roll out is to ensure that all customers enjoy the same browsing experience, even with data consumption increasing by 50% to 70% every year. It can also evolve to support 5G, making it a worthwhile long-term investment for telcos. Massive MIMO can bring three to five times cell capacity and spectrum efficiency for supporting increased traffic demand in an operator’s mobile network – a sound technology evolution strategy for any company!

 

Vodafone and massive MIMO – What to expect?

Vodafone has announced that it will begin trials for massive MIMO in early 2018 and aims to have beta products out by Q4 2018. It has partnered with Chinese networking giant Huawei to assist in this venture and has also completed free trials on its live network in Cronulla, Sydney. Vodafone recorded speeds of 717 Mbps as it served eight different beams to eight different devices and increased its network capacity by fourfold.

Considering that Vodafone was one of the earliest to complete 5G trials in Australia (October last year), it makes sense that it would push for massive MIMO, especially in the context of its current throughput. AussieOutages has recorded 41% complaints about Vodafone mobile data, and Vodafone’s reputation regarding mobile data availability and coverage is already quite shaky. Massive MIMO is likely to give its networks a much-needed boost!

Vodafone customers can watch out for:

  • Better network availability by the end of 2018.
  • Increased network capacity in CBDs and inner suburbs of highly populated areas.
  • New product packages making use of Massive MIMO, packaged as 4.5G.
  • Initial 4.5G roll out in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. (Vodafone has currently identified 100 potential areas in these three cities)
  • More 4.5G compatible smartphones arriving in the market in 2018. All phones are not compatible, so you may need a device upgrade if you want to enjoy the benefits.

Telstra and Massive MIMO – What to expect?

Late last year, Telstra partnered with Ericcson for 5G lab trials in which it employed massive MIMO and beam forming technology to achieve speeds of 18-22GBps. Telstra has also joined hands with Ericcson and Qualcomm for a 5G radio trial end of this year, which implements the 3GPP specification (technology specs for 5G) and includes massive MIMO and beam formation testing. Telstra is putting an effort to make sure that the technology can scale up to meet Australian needs – vast distances, sparse population and native flora like Gumtrees that interfere with radio waves.

Telstra wants to be ready for a live 5G roll out at the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast, mid next year and has been significantly beefing up its network capacity, not just through massive MIMO but also through innovation across every layer of their underlying network. Some of these include optic fibre cabling, an Ethernet evolution, 4G enhancements, media-optimised networks, software-defined networking, network function virtualisation, and services orchestration.

Considering that Telstra has lost a significant chunk of its revenue to NBN, the launch of its new mobile broadband Belong and its IOT (Internet Of Things) Network Cat-M1 are important projects for the struggling company. Belong aims to capture the low-cost mobile data market and Cat M1 wishes to boost IOT uptake by specialising in IOT supporting features. Both these networks run off Telstra’s basic 4GX network and are primed for 4.5G.

Telstra customers can watch out for:

  • More affordable plans as an answer to TPG’s entry in the market next year.
  • Better network availability and coverage than ever before.
  • Increased capacity available in Queensland (Brisbane/Gold coast) by mid next year.
  • Increased investment in 4G and 4GX before 5G rollout in 2020
  • 5G availability even in rural regions on Telstra’s networks by 2020-2021.

 

Sources:

 

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.