Huawei, China Unicom tout 5G indoor distributed Massive MIMO

China Unicom and Huawei announced the development of their joint 5G indoor distributed Massive MIMO solution, which applies 5G Massive MIMO technology indoors to significantly grow capacity.  

In the first year of 5G commercial deployment, China Unicom has successfully deployed 5G digital indoor systems in key scenarios across China's major cities.  

According to Huawei, new infrastructure requirements released by the Chinese government in March require 5G networks provide wider indoor coverage and stronger capabilities to accelerate applications in vertical industries and support the exploration of new business models. The verticals include telemedicine, distance education and online offices.  

The 5G Indoor Distributed Massive MIMO solution is developed based on Huawei's 5G LampSite Digital Indoor System (DIS). It introduces the Massive MIMO technology to LampSite to form distributed Massive MIMO antenna arrays supporting up to 64T64R ability.

Here’s how Huawei describes it: “Through dynamic coordination among multiple digital indoor head ends, the capacity on indoor networks becomes scalable, self-adapting to changes in data traffic. In addition, compared with the cell splitting approach, both interference and manual commissioning costs are significantly reduced, while also effectively increasing 5G indoor spectral efficiency." As a result, the networks support higher capacity.

U.S. outlook

In the U.S., the government has moved to ban Huawei as a security threat. Tier 2 and 3 carriers are in the midst of figuring out how to replace their Huawei equipment.

Massive MIMO has been a big part of the 5G strategy for Sprint, whose merger with T-Mobile closed on April 1. Sprint was able to deploy it using its 2.5 GHz spectrum and gear from Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung.

Verizon, which lacks mid-band spectrum, has indicated Massive MIMO is part of its future, but at an investment day event in February, Verizon CTO Kyle Malady didn’t go into any detail on that when discussing the ways in which its engineers are deploying new technologies.  

RELATED: Industry Voices—Pongratz: Massive MIMO moves to center court in Barcelona

Dell’Oro Group analyst Stefan Pongratz said it will likely take some time before the Massive MIMO business case makes sense beyond the early adopter segment for indoor applications.

“There is no doubt that the transceiver density will continue to grow over time for both outdoor and indoor systems,” he said via email. “But one of the key reasons the outdoor Massive MIMO business case has been so compelling for mid-band deployments is that it enables the operators to leverage their existing 4G macro grid without adding additional sites – the coverage component is a significant part of the business case.”

He added that the coverage component of the business case will not be as significant for indoor massive MIMO systems, meaning the indoor Massive MIMO business case will now need to rely more on the relative capacity upside. “And since 4T4R goes a long way indoors, it will likely take some time before the Massive MIMO business case make sense beyond the early adopter segment for indoor applications,” he said.

Chris Nicoll of ACG Research said he believes there’s a narrow market opportunity for Massive MIMO in indoor coverage, but that narrow opportunity is critical – think indoor private networks, particularly for shop floor automation and robotic control. That’s where Massive MIMO indoors provides the best performance for ultra-reliable low latency communication (URLLC) applications.

“The challenge is what will these M-MIMO antennas cost, even without having to potentially deal with severe environmental conditions? So far, 64x64 seems to be the sweet spot for outdoor M-MIMO with 128x128 in some dense Asian markets,” he said via email. “I think the sweet spot for indoor M-MIMO is more like 16x16 or 32x32,” which could benefit Ericsson/Kathrein, and lower price points could help drive the market.