JMA unveils plans for U.S. 5G manufacturing for indoor mmWave product

JMA announced Wednesday that it is going to build a 5G manufacturing plant in downtown Syracuse, New York, for what it believes will be the world’s first indoor 5G millimeter wave radio system.

The facility will use an existing building, which will be renovated as part of the $25 million investment. The company expects at least 100 new jobs will be created in manufacturing, testing and production support.

JMA, whose bread and butter was once in the distributed antenna space (DAS), has branched out into several areas, including vRAN, Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) solutions, onshore manufacturing of 4G/5G antennas and high-grade connectors. The company said it has invested more than $100 million in the Syracuse area over the last six years and it employs 500 locally. But it also operates development facilities in Chicago, Dallas, Austin and Richmond.

The investment is notable for several reasons, but in the "race to 5G," the company is emphasizing the importance of having 5G manufacturing in the United States. The company is going up against the usual suspects, including the big three—Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung—which all have a U.S. presence but their headquarters are overseas. It’s also competing with the likes of CommScope and Corning. 

Last year, JMA bought a small company called PHAZR, which was founded by Farooq Khan, who told Fierce Wireless at the time that his company’s goal from the beginning was to create a U.S.-based alternative to the big three infrastructure companies.

RELATED: JMA Wireless acquires 5G radio solutions provider Phazr

The millimeter wave product that PHAZR developed—which is going under various design developments—will be manufactured at the new Syracuse campus, where it will also showcase a 5G user experience center. The company has an aggressive plan to break ground in early 2020 and is shooting for an opening near the end of 2020 or early 2021, according to Greg Dial, who heads the company’s newly announced CUSP, a division focused on the edge.

“We’re really on the doorstep of completing what will be the world’s first 5G millimeter wave in-building radio solution,” he said. There will be a period of time where that radio is developed on U.S. soil but in other parts of the country until the facility is up and running. “But given the promise that we see with 5G millimeter wave in-building technology, we’re very bullish on that space,” he added, and they want to make sure it’s manufactured in JMA’s backyard. The company was involved in a similar development cycle a couple years ago with facilities in the Liverpool area.

RELATED: JMA Wireless challenges non-U.S. telecom vendors with its vRAN

Dial explained that the millimeter wave product isn’t just a receiver that’s going to bring the macro signal from outside. “It is directly generating the 5G millimeter wave signal indoors,” he said, which is different from a lot of early fixed wireless deployments.

“This is really bringing 5G millimeter wave, the last mile, to the user in a way that is not trying to do trick shots from bringing it in from outdoors,” he said, noting that it sets the stage for powering 5G use cases like factory automation and AR/VR.

RELATED: Editor’s Corner: Does the U.S. need its own Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei?

It’s compelling because today’s modern buildings have low-emissivity glass and other properties that make it difficult to get signals indoors. “The same physical properties that make it difficult to get that millimeter wave signal indoors is actually going to work in our favor once we have the radio physically inside,” he said.  

“We’re really excited what the test results that we’ve seen,” whether it be from a speed perspective or from a beam resiliency perspective.