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Jun 20 2017

Look up. You’ll see a clearer path to 5G

opwitter: @DCD269

This new blog in our continuing series on Nokia AirScale Radio Access looks at some key considerations for the creation of an active antenna strategy and roll-out plan.

They are possibly the most visible part of a mobile network, yet they’re sometimes overlooked. With the ever-growing need to get more from spectrum assets, operators are likely to make them a much more prominent part of their capacity upgrade plans. We are, of course, talking about antennas and specifically the pending need for high-performance active antennas.

In the drive to increase throughput, the focus has been mainly on deploying more carrier aggregation and higher modulation schemes to use spectrum more effectively. The next step is to target the benefits that active antennas offer. This will mean the replacement of conventional passive antennas with active and adaptive antennas with Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) and massive MIMO technology.

In a nutshell, an active antenna integrates the radio and antenna components into one unit, which completely changes the site design into a single unit and in doing so, improves system efficiency. These antennas also feature MIMO, which can boost end-user throughput and increase that key asset, capacity. MIMO uses a number of parallel transmit and receive antennas to boost capacity, while massive MIMO extends the concept to large arrays with many elements. Adaptive antennas further increase performance dramatically by changing their radiating patterns in response to users’ needs and the signal environment. Such beamforming is a benefit of the higher frequencies that TD-LTE and future 5G networks will use.

Massive MIMO is a central technology of 5G and will enable operators to maximize the capacity of their new spectrum long into the future. A few operators have already deployed 4x4 MIMO on their LTE networks; the resulting benefits being clearly apparent to the operators themselves, as well as their subscribers using the growing number of smartphones capable of supporting the technology.

However, implementing a network strategy that integrates active antennas is not as simple as one that uses existing passive types. By following a carefully considered antenna strategy, operators can get the best and most appropriate deployment plan in place.

There are some key issues facing operators about the business strategy to follow, how to use existing sites and equipment, and what performance targets to set.

  1. What is the operator antenna strategy and current considerations for existing antennas?
  2. What is the overall strategy for 5G deployment? Deploying pre-standard 5G antennas now might enable a time-to-market advantage once the service becomes possible. However, this means incurring costs before they can be revenue bearing. The alternative is to wait for the standardization of 5G to eliminate any risk of having to replace non-upgradeable hardware.
  3. When is the best time to deploy, considering subscriber take up, availability of devices, market competition and pricing?
  4. How will these new antennas and their characteristics, such as beamforming, gain, azimuth steering and other new criteria affect radio planning?
  5. Do different coverage profiles call for new sites to be planned and acquired?
  6. Active antennas tend to look different to existing antennas. Is early engagement with municipalities needed to ensure new aesthetics comply with urban planning rules?
  7. Do an existing site’s systems, like back-up power, cabling and physical supports and backhaul need to be upgraded?
  8. What needs to be changed on sites targeted for co-existence of new antennas with legacy equipment?

The starting point for introducing active antennas is usually to run proof of concept and trial projects to better understand the technology’s capabilities and needs. What better way to do this than on existing technologies and bands?

Nokia is building on its wealth of experience of active antennas and has successfully deployed our Compact Active Antenna (CAA) in several live networks. Look out for news of this activity in a separate blog.

We have also successfully deployed  TD-LTE 2.6 GHz massive MIMO 3D beamforming for Sprint in the USA. Learn more about how Sprint increased the cell capacity of its dense-urban cell-sites by deploying  Nokia AirScale massive MIMO Adaptive Antenna in this video:

 

By getting the strategy in place and the necessary planning and preparation done now, operators will, at the right time, be able to implement active antennas more rapidly and be confident they will work from day one. For help in planning ahead for active antennas, contact Nokia Global Services.

Find out more about active antennas by visiting our webpage and also check out our quick guide to some terminology in this brochure. To learn more about massive MIMO technology, please visit this page.

Share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – or join the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks using #5G #IoT #UBB #AirScale

About Darrell Davies

Darrell is responsible for the imaginative marketing behind various WCDMA products at Nokia. Hardly surprising considering his background in radio telecommunications and marketing with some of the industry’s biggest players. The mere sight of technology fills his head with ideas of how it can be used for good and to make tech more human. To see some of the clever things that Nokia offers, including the stuff that Darrell’s responsible for click here.