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Multi-Antenna Technology Plays a Key Role in the New Paradigm of Mobile Network Deployment

by Guang Yang | 10月 11, 2021

Mobile industry facing a new normal

The COVID-19 pandemic and the growing 5G penetration are changing the behaviour of mobile broadband users. A sharp increase in the average mobile data consumption was observed in some countries during the lockdown period. The adoption of 5G pushes the growth of the average data consumption. OpenSignal’s latest insight finds “5G users are on average consuming up to 2.7x more mobile data than 4G users.” And more important, as pointed out by my colleague Nitesh Patel in his latest blog, “pandemic drives demand for mobile video conferencing, UGC and mobile live streaming.” These popular interactive apps and services, which generate large volumes of uplink data traffic, is having an impact on the profile of traffic on networks. According to Strategy Analytics’ AppOptix telemetry panel, since 2019 the share of data traffic uploaded by the average smartphone users has grown steadily from around a fifth of downloaded data traffic in 2019 to a quarter of downloaded traffic so far in 2021. The growing data consumption and the changing traffic profile require mobile operators to evolve their network deployment and optimization strategies accordingly.

On the other hand, while the average data consumption growing steadily, mobile data revenue fell below US$1 per GByte for the first time in Q4 2020. According to Strategy Analytics’ Wireless Operator Performance Benchmarking, global mobile operators’ revenue per GByte has fallen 88% over the last five years. Mobile operators must find new approaches to uplift the value of the networks and services. Strategy Analytics’ report Mobile Data Revenue per Gigabyte Falls Below US$1 as 5G Ramps Up points out the possible way: to offer the experience based value proposition, through either delivering more attractive price bundling options or offering speed-based price tiers.

Meanwhile, mobile operators also face a new task, i.e., to achieve the net zero emissions. In the 2015 Paris Agreement, it is agreed to keep the global average temperature rise this century as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this long-term temperature goal, 51 telecoms service providers worldwide, by August 2021, have committed to take action to reduce their emissions in line with climate science, according to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). A holistic approach is needed to achieve the net zero target. Telecom operators can strive in three dimensions to move toward the target, including to improve energy efficiency, to use renewable energy, and to help customers to reduce the carbon emissions. As Vodafone points out, “the best MWh is that which isn’t consumed.” Therefore, the first principle, among the dimensions of reducing carbon emissions, is that it is best to avoid energy consumption. Improving energy efficiency is the fundamental way to lower the energy consumption.

New Paradigm for Mobile Network Deployment

Facing the new normal, leading mobile operators are moving towards a new paradigm of mobile network deployment. Some key factors include:

  • Extending and fully utilizing spectrum portfolio

Leading mobile operators are extending their spectrum portfolio to include high-band spectrum for ultra-experience and high capacity. But the spectrum auction prices indicate that the mid and low band spectrum is still valuable for mobile operators to provide seamless mobile broadband experience.
blog MIMO 1

A “layer cake” model will become the consensus of leading operators to coordinate the multi-band spectrum portfolio and steer data traffic among the multiple bands efficiently.

  • Providing ubiquitous experience

Either the content bundling strategy or the speed-based pricing model relies on a consistent network experience. Operators must continuously improve the network performance to ensure a competitive network experience, particularly for the experience at indoor, cell edge or remote rural areas where it is often challenging to provide a good network performance.

In these cases, the medium-low band spectrum is more valuable, with the good radio propagation characteristics. Considering the available frequency bandwidth in medium-low bands is usually narrower than that in high bands, how to improve spectrum efficiency in the medium-low bands should be a key question for mobile operators to provide a consistent network experience.

  • Energy efficiency as a KPI of network design and operation

To reduce energy consumption, the mobile industry should make the energy efficiency as a core criterion of mobile network design and optimization, and the energy efficiency needs to be a key performance indicator of mobile operators’ business operations.

In a mobile network, the huge number of base stations cost a large amount of energy. Cellular base stations usually account for 60-70 percent of the total energy consumption of a mobile network. For example, Vodafone reports that the base station sites use 73% of total energy that Vodafone Group consumes.
blog MIMO 2

Therefore, managing the number of base station sites at a reasonable level plays a critical role in improving the overall energy efficiency of a mobile network.

Multi-Antenna Technology as a Basic Option of New Generation RAN

Multi-antenna technology is one of the key technologies in 5G radio access system, which can effectively improve the spectrum efficiency and extend the cell coverage. Almost all 5G base stations deployed at medium-high bands, such as 3.5GHz, 2.6GHz or mmWave band, have been equipped with massive MIMO. In the band of 3.5 GHz or 2.6 GHz, the typical massive MIMO configuration is 64T64R or 32T32R. In the sub-3 GHz FDD spectrum bands, constrained by the lack of channel reciprocity and the large physical size of antenna element, it is usually thought too challenging to deploy multi-antenna technologies. But the practices of mobile operators in China, Russia, Thailand, Malaysia, etc., have proven the value of multi-antenna technology in the sub-3 GHz FDD bands.

In July, China Mobile and China Broadcasting Networks jointly launched the 700MHz 5G deployment. All the 480 thousand base stations are equipped with 4T4R multi-antenna radio unit. Based on the good radio propagation of the 700MHz band and the 4T4R multi-antenna technology, China Broadcasting Networks achieves an extremely large cell coverage, with a 5G NR cell coverage up to 118 km. Compared with the traditional 2Tx radio unit, 4T4R can improve the experienced data rate at the cell edge area by 150%, according to Huawei. The extensive coverage and enhanced data experience can help mobile operators overcome the digital divide and provide customers a consistent experience across the entire network.   

In the 2.1 GHz 5G network of China Telecom and China Unicom, the operators also deploy advanced multi-antenna technologies. China Telecom deploys 8T8R radio units in the 2.1 GHz 5G network in Xia Men logistics center. Compared with the traditional 4T4R configuration, the cell coverage is increased by more than 4dB, and the cell capacity is increased by more than 70%. The single user experience is also improved by more than 30%. China Unicom’s 8T8R 2.1GHz 5G network deployments in Guangzhou, Dongguan, Weihai, etc. also prove the significant gain from the advanced multi-antenna technology.

The two operators have even started trialling 32T32R massive MIMO on their 2.1 GHz base stations. China Unicom trials 5G FDD Massive MIMO in Zhengzhou. The peak throughput of a single cell reached 3 Gbps in the 40 MHz bandwidth. China Telecom tested massive MIMO for 4G/5G dual mode base stations in Xi’An. The dual-mode FDD massive MIMO system can bring the ultimate experience to 5G users, while also maximizing the 4G user experience in high-load scenarios.

The multi-antenna technology not only can be used in the 5G system, but also can work with 4G network. Celcom in Malaysia has deployed Huawei’s Smart 8T8R solution to reduce network traffic congestion and deliver consistent network service and experience. The deployment has increased Celcom’s existing 4T4R network capacity by close to 80%, reducing network traffic congestions and delivering an enhanced user experience.    

The multi-antenna technology is also an effective solution for improving the network energy efficiency. According to the deployment experience in China, the 8T8R multi-antenna technology can help operators reduce the number of base stations by 30-40% for the same network coverage. In the case of Celcom in Malaysia, the operator achieves additional coverage gains through deploying Huawei’s PowerBoosting software in its 8T8R base stations. All the technologies can provide a significant saving of the overall network energy consumption, which will be crucial to achieving the net zero emissions target.

Therefore, the multi-antenna technology will play a key role in the new paradigm of mobile broadband network deployment and operation. As pointed out by Mr. Cao Ming, vice president of Huawei Wireless Network Business Unit, the multi-antenna technology can be a basic option, as the table below, when a mobile operator considers the technological options of the new generation radio access network.

Spectrum Band

Low Bands (sub-1 GHz)

Medium-Low Bands (sub-3 GHz)

Medium-High / High Bands (above 3 GHz)

Basic Option of Multi-Antenna Configuration

4T4R

8T8R or 32T32R

32T32R, 64T64R or Higher Order

  

 

 

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