Verizon, Samsung fire up 5G vRAN trial with Massive MIMO on C-band

Verizon continues to put Samsung virtualized radio access network (vRAN) gear to the test in preparation for C-band deployments, successfully completing a fully virtualized 5G data session using a C-band Massive MIMO radio in live network trials.

Trials were conducted on C-band spectrum over Verizon’s live network in Texas, Connecticut and Massachusetts, under special temporary authority (STA) from the Federal Communications Commission. The 5G data session is a first, according to Samsung. 

Verizon won 180-megahertz of C-band spectrum at auction this year, 60-megahertz of which is expected to be cleared and ready near the end of 2021. The first batch covers 46 partial economic areas (PEAs) and the carrier plans to cover 100 million people with 5G service using C-band in the first quarter of 2022. By the end of 2023 it will expand to more than 175 million people, with a target of 250 million after 2024.

Both Samsung and Ericsson are 5G vendors for Verizon (Ericsson just secured a 5-year $8.3 billion 5G contract, it’s largest-ever) and have started deploying C-band gear.  

Verizon is already using Samsung’s vRAN platform with a virtualized distributed unit (vDU) in its commercial 5G network, which was the first large-scale vRAN deployment for the South Korean supplier. The recent trials used Samsung’s vRAN platform with its own software stack alongside C-band 64T64R Massive MIMO radios, as well as Verizon’s virtualized core. Samsung said its recently debuted C-band Massive MIMO radio supports operation with its virtualized BBU (baseband unit) today, and that the solution will be ready to go live in commercial U.S. networks once the first 100-megahertz portion of C-band is cleared. 

Some in the industry have questioned vRAN performance matching up to that of legacy networks. The C-band trials achieved speeds that matched traditional hardware-based equipment, but Bill Stone, Verizon VP of Technology Development and Planning, said it’s more about showing programmability than speed.

RELATED: There are vRAN challenges to overcome — Industry Voices: Madden

“While we were glad to see speeds on par with traditional hardware-based equipment, this trial is really about our efforts to optimize overall performance using advanced technology for our customers as we roll out our 5G on C-band,” Stone told Fierce. “The most impactful benefit of virtualization is the programmability virtualization offers to ensure we are able to provide the resources 5G use cases need.  We were able to demonstrate that level of programmability in this trial.”

He also said nothing more should be read into locations of the trials other than they’re where Verizon was able to secure STAs from the FCC. The FCC last week granted 5,676 C-band licenses to Auction 107 winners and Stone said there aren’t any changes to what Verizon’s previously announced.

RELATED: Verizon casts wide net with C-band tests as it preps for launch

“We are on track to execute on the C-band plan we rolled out in March,” Stone said via email. “The spectrum clearing is going at pace, our teams are working in the field to complete the tower work that is needed, and our trial optimizing antenna work, virtualization, aggregation and more continue successfully in earnest.”

C-band in the U.S. falls in the 3.7-3.98 GHz range. It’s a higher mid-band range than T-Mobile’s 2.5 GHz (which now covers 165 million people), but still seen as a sweet spot for 5G – capable of delivering greater coverage than high-band millimeter wave and more capacity than lower band spectrum.

RELATED: Verizon hits 4.3 Gbps in C-band, mmWave trial

Virtualization is a key component of Verizon’s 5G network build, with the carrier citing flexibility, ability to deliver services faster, and improved scalability and cost efficiency. Verizon also said it helps lay the foundation to put network and cloud infrastructure closer to the customer, which is needed for mobile edge computing and in the future leading to single-digit millisecond latency.

For Samsung, the trials showcased that its vRAN can support performance with the vendor’s C-band Massive MIMO radio. Debuted in April, the radios support dynamic beamforming, single-user MIMO (SU-MIMO) and multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO), and dual connectivity and carrier aggregation.

The units also support the full 280-megahertz of C-band auctioned by the FCC.

Using massive MIMO antenna arrays, which have a large number of transmitters, means more potential paths for a signal to travel between a user device and cell tower, the partners noted. Beamforming helps direct signals more precisely to users for more consistent speeds and less interference.

RELATED: Massive MIMO key for C-band, as Samsung debuts radio portfolio

Earlier this year, Dell’Oro analyst and VP Stefan Pongratz told Fierce that improved capacity and range are part of why massive MIMO is the go-to technology for upper mid-band 5G, “meaning operators can realize nearly equivalent outdoor coverage with the upper mid-band and the 2 GHz spectrum without deploying additional sites.”

Verizon’s plans call for overlaying its existing 4G LTE grid with C-band focused on the initial 46 markets, as rural fill-ins, small cells and indoor coverage are prioritized later. Deployment is on track for 7,000 to 8,000 new sites for C-band this year.

“Incorporating full, cloud-native virtualization, Massive MIMO and beamforming into our network design and deployment will result in so much more than our customers merely seeing a 5G icon on their devices. This is 5G service optimized for peak performance,” said Adam Koeppe, SVP of Technology Planning at Verizon, in a statement.