NR refers to the new air interface that will come with 5G, although 5G will also apparently encompass an evolution of LTE – very long term evolution if you like. The new air interface will be characterized by the use of massive MIMO and multi-user MIMO alongside beamforming, which uses multiple focused radio beams rather than the scattergun broadcast model currently used by transmitters.
The key piece of kit to bring all this 5G goodness to a network near you is the AIR 6468, which despite the name isn’t so much a training shoe as a radio box that has the 64 transmit and 64 receive antennas needed to enable the aforementioned MIMO fun. It will also support the 5G plugins launched earlier this year as well as Ericsson’s Cloud RAN architecture.
“The first commercial 5G networks will be coming from Ericsson next year and we’re also bringing a host of LTE products that address key requirements of 5G in today’s networks,” said Steve Shevell, Head of Product Marketing for Ericsson Radio System and Indoor, in an interview with Telecoms.com.
At a time when new lofty 5G claims are being made on a daily basis we asked Shevell how Ericsson can justify its claim, especially since the standard isn’t even finalized yet. “We’re claiming first based on the fact that we’re saying with this launch that the infrastructure required to constitute a 5G launch is going to be in place that provides a software upgrade path for operators to get to 5G,” he said. “We haven’t heard those words expressed that way before so that’s the basis of our ‘first’ claim.”
But 5G doesn’t exist yet! “We’ve been extremely active in the standardizations activities and we’re confident that the 5G NR standardization process has come far enough that we’ve started the design for the deployment of the Air 6468 hardware for deployment in the middle of next year,” said Shevell. “Our intention is to provide that 5G infrastructure to our customers so that they can start seeding their network with this capability.”
So it looks like any company that is involved in the 5G standardization process – which is pretty much the whole telecoms industry – feels it has enough insight to confidently pre-empt the final rubber stamp. But isn’t this bad for continuity, message coherence, etc?
“We believe that standardization is good for the industry because it ensures the largest possible ecosystem but we also think early 5G initiatives are ultimately going to accelerate the introduction of this global 5G ecosystem,” said Shevell. “So I think the two things can work fairly synergistically; one is a strong gas pedal to move quickly, but in order for 5G to really flourish a worldwide ecosystem needs to be in place in order to drive scale across the industry.”
There are also a bunch of other white boxes being launched, the details of which are described in the Ericsson announcement as follows:
While we’re copying and pasting from the Ericsson announcement, here’s some operator comment.
“Massive-MIMO, also known as 3D MIMO, is an important milestone in China Mobile’s technology roadmap from 4G to 5G,” said Huang Yuhong, Deputy Head of the China Mobile Research Institute. “We are very happy that Ericsson’s new radio product is coming to market soon to meet our needs and enable us to integrate 5G technologies into our existing networks.”
“On the road to 5G, we will continue to invest in LTE advancements that will become part of our 5G networks,” said Daniel Staub, Head of Joint Mobile Group at Swisscom. “For us, it is key that Ericsson has chosen to focus on advances that will support us in this evolution. These enhancements will further improve the customer experience.”
“As we accelerate toward 5G, it’s beneficial to have a flexible radio platform that can be deployed not only for LTE, but also versions of future 5G NR standards,” said Tom Keathley, SVP, Wireless Network Architecture and Design at AT&T
In effect Ericsson is offering to future proof networks with a set of equipment that it says will just require a software update to switch on 5G, as and when the operator and the broader industry is ready. The kit won’t actually be deployed until next year, however, so this is definitely a soft launch, apparently pushed forward to enable the ‘first’ claim. It certainly won’t be the last.