Reliance Jio, Vodafone & Airtel conducting pre-5G trials – ZTE

All three of India’s top mobile networks — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Reliance Jio — are currently conducting trials of a key 5G technology that makes use of a very high number of antennas to increase the capacity of the network, David An, the technology head of ZTE said today.

“Today we are very glad to announce we are going to do Massive MIMO trial with Airtel, Vodafone and RJio,” An said.

“ZTE is the only vendor to do pre-5G Massive MIMO trial with all the three major operators in India. We are bringing the latest technology to the Indian market to meet mobile broadband requirements,” he added.

ZTE, based in China, has an advantage in this technology as China was at the forefront of time-based division of radio signal technology, while countries like the US focused on frequency-based division.

However, TDD turned out to be more suitable for carrying heavy data workloads, and has been incorporated more heavily into the 5G roadmap — at least initially — compared to FDD or frequency division duplex.

MIMO, short for multiple in multiple out, refers to the use of more than one transmission point. While in 4G, the MIMO points are usually 2-4, in Massive MIMO, dozens or even hundreds of points can be employed by the network, thus reusing the same spectrum multiple times.

Airtel, for example, expects the capacity of its 2300 MHz network to increase 5-7 times with the deployment of the technology on its 4G network.

ZTE and Huawei are considered more advanced in developing the technology.

An said ZTE implemented Massive MIMO on a large scale last year in Japan and China.

“The essence of 5G technology is Massive MIMO, and at ZTE, we already started the commercial deployment in 2016,” he said.

The technology is likely to be deployed heavily in cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, which face issues of congestion, in coming days.

The deployments also suggest that unlike previous generation technologies, which had clear boundaries between them, the transition from 4G to 5G will be gradual, rather than abrupt. Operators are likely to deploy essential elements of 5G as soon as they become available, instead of waiting for several years to upgrade their LTE network at one go.

Part of the reason for the gradual approach is the increasing ‘programmability’ of base station electronics and the dependence of such equipment on the software. Unlike purely hardware based equipment, a software-based equipment — like a PC — can be given new capabilities by upgrading the software.