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Ericsson makes its mid-band 5G move

Swedish kit vendor Ericsson has expanded its massive MIMO offering with new products designed to make better use of mid-band spectrum.

Specifically we’re talking about three new radios and six new RAN Compute products, which Ericsson claims will enable operators to make better use of all the mid-band (around 3.5 GHz) spectrum they’ve been overpaying for over the past couple of years. There are the usual tick-boxes concerning weight and energy efficiency, but the killer feature is a throughput boost of up to 50%.

“After the first rollouts of 5G networks, now is the time to scale up 5G by leveraging Massive MIMO to a much larger extent,” said Per Narvinger, Head of Product Area Networks, at Ericsson. “With our new portfolio, communications service providers can speed up their mid-band deployments efficiently with superior performance for their users, while reducing energy consumption.”

The reason we’re banging on about higher frequency spectrum now is, essentially, because of technologies such as massive MIMO and beamforming. Mid-band spectrum has inferior propagation characteristics – range and penetration – but there’s more of it. Massive MIMO makes use of that extra spectrum real estate, while beamforming is designed to help with the propagation challenges.

We had a chat with Dr Sibel Tombaz, Head of 5G High & Mid-Band and Active Antenna Systems at Ericsson, and she framed this launch as “The enabler for the next phase of 5G.” While the rollout of 5G is well underway in most developed economies, not many people can actually access it, let alone get the promised bandwidth boost. For example (we note) T-Mobile US has shown that 5G over limited spectrum is effectively 4G.

Dr Tombaz explained that the new radio products are specifically designed for urban, suburban and rural uses, respectively. Presumably building penetration is a higher priority in urban environments, while outright range is what you want in rural settings. So this is all about enabling operators to use mid-band spectrum to bring 5G to more of their subscribers.

The Ericsson release also featured the following comment from Ed Gubbins of GlobalData: “This portfolio launch comes at an opportune moment, as carriers turn their attention to capitalizing on mid-band 5G spectrum. Ericsson’s Massive MIMO radios are an industry standout in terms of compact form factors and lightweight designs, which should help operators overcome deployment challenges. In addition, the stability and strength of Ericsson’s custom silicon strategy also sets them apart.”

One other interesting aspect of this launch is what it says about the OpenRAN situation. Ericsson doesn’t explicitly address the matter but it does stress the superior performance and efficiency of these solutions. Continuing to demonstrate the advantages of integrated RAN products, as opposed to the piecemeal approach of OpenRAN, is clearly the best way for the incumbent kit vendors to defend themselves from this existential threat.

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