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Vodafone: Beam-forming network technology a 'building block' of 5G

Wednesday, June 21st 2017 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Vodafone has started rolling out a mobile network technology described as one of the building blocks of 5G.

The operator has installed ‘Massive MIMO’ antenna panels, which use beam-forming technology to improve coverage and speeds, on two cell towers in Newbury.

It is the first time Massive MIMO has been deployed in Europe and is currently being rolled out to another “30 or so” sites.

It works by using multiple radio transmitters and receivers to forms “beams” of signal around individual users and to reach devices at the very edge of a cell’s reach.

Kye Prigg, Vodafone UK’s head of mobile networks, said: “This is huge. Massive MIMO is what 5G is going to be all about.

“This is [one of] the building blocks of 5G. This brings you massive amounts of sensitivity because you’ve got all these receivers but it also brings you very powerful beam forming.”

Mr Prigg said 5G services will use spectrum bands with huge amounts of bandwidth but that only cover a small area.

“As you go up into higher bands, Massive MIMO enables you to extend the cell coverage,” he said. “Otherwise you’d have this really expensive 5G base station operating at such a high frequency it’s like a wi-fi hotspot.”

Trials at Vodafone’s Newbury headquarters have also demonstrated the advantages for individual users.

'More power'

“What we’ve seen in the trials is everyone gets a much higher average throughput,” said Mr Prigg.

“With 16 to 20 terminals all running HD video at the same time, a normal base station would really slow everyone down because it’s a shared resource but with this – because you’re creating this beam forming of spectrum around each person, like a private cell around each person – each person is getting 20-30Mb of throughput.

“Because you can channel the energy, you can give more power to an individual user.”

Massive MIMO is in the early stages of deployment but will be installed in major cities, known hotspots and at big events.

Vodafone said Project Beacon, a mast-sharing initiative with O2 that will see around 18,500 sites upgraded to 4G, is now 79% complete.

It also unveiled a small mast called a ‘Mini Macro’, which houses all of the necessary transmission, power, radio equipment in one box and should be more appealing to planning committees as it’s only eight feet tall.

“We think it will revolutionise how we move forward with rural coverage and hotspot coverage,” said Mr Prigg.

There are currently two Mini Macros “live on the system”, including one at the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum in Cornwall.

Mr Prigg said the units cost about half what a full size base station does to deploy, but have the same amount of capacity.

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