When service providers plan for the big changes 5G brings to their networks, massive MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output) antenna technology often tops the list. Massive MIMO uses “beamforming” to deliver big benefits for service providers and customers alike. By targeting radio signals precisely for each endpoint, massive MIMO 5G provides:
- Increased throughput
- Extended range
- Reduced interference
- More reliable connections
- Improved spectral efficiency
These benefits add up to better overall performance and a better experience for users. But massive MIMO also brings new challenges in the way service providers design and deploy their radio networks. Here are the top five considerations to keep in mind.
1. Massive MIMO is no longer optional.
Service providers have used MIMO technology in 4G/LTE networks for several years. Usually though, it was a simpler version with 4x4 or 8x8 antennas. With 5G, MIMO gets “massive,” up to 256x256. And, while MIMO was a “nice-to-have” technology in 4G networks, it is a core requirement for 5G.
2. Massive MIMO makes antenna deployments more complex and expensive.
To make beamforming possible, massive MIMO antennas have active components, unlike the passive antennas used in older radios. This adds several deployment challenges.
In general, more antennas equal better performance. But more antennas also require bigger arrays that draw more power. Some of the places service providers deploy radio links have very tight constraints, so finding the right solution means weighing tradeoffs. For in-building coverage, the performance gain is often worth it. For outdoor or street-level coverage, maybe not.
3. No one can tell you exactly how massive MIMO will perform in your network.
Service providers can’t just look at an antenna’s spec sheet anymore to know how it will perform. After all, no one has actually run a live 5G network before, and pre-launch testing is never exhaustive. Usually, it involves just two or three antenna types, using basic deployment schemes where all antennas share the same attributes.
In real-world networks—with thousands of sites, subscribers in different structures and elevations, all generating real traffic—things get a lot more complicated. An antenna that looks great in theoretical conditions may perform very differently than you expect.
4. You definitely want to get massive MIMO right the first time.
No one yet knows which 5G services and use cases will really take off, so service providers are understandably cautious about their network investments. It’s more important than ever to invest in the right equipment, for the right place in the network. The last thing you want to do is invest a significant sum into deploying certain antennas at certain sites, only to realize you’re not getting the performance you need. Rearchitecting to try to optimize after the fact gets very, very expensive.
5. Network suppliers have to address massive MIMO 5G challenges too.
Almost everything service providers have to deal with when it comes to massive MIMO applies to network vendors as well. After all, it’s the vendors that operators will lean on to know which antenna to use where. If vendors don’t have accurate answers, they can expect unhappy customers. And, if they’re the ones providing deployment services, they can expect high optimization and redeployment costs too.
At the same time, vendors face the same challenge as service providers. Their product testing is mostly in idealized environments as well, which don’t necessarily mirror what their antennas will be dealing with in real-world networks.
Successful massive MIMO 5G deployments require deeper insights.
Ultimately, massive MIMO will deliver big improvements in 5G network performance and efficiency. The question is how long it will take to get there, and how much pain and expense service providers will face on the way.
For all the reasons detailed here—the novelty of massive MIMO technology, the complexity of deployments, the huge number of choices and high costs if you get it wrong—smarter 5G site planning is now a critical requirement. Service providers (and the network vendors supplying them) need to accurately predict how antennas will perform in a given location in real-world scenarios. And, they need detailed metrics to compare how different antenna designs will fare in different situations.
Fortunately, there are powerful tools available to help them do just that. Infovista solutions like Planet® 5G radio planning and optimization, and TEMS™ network testing, can help service providers and network suppliers make more informed decisions. With deeper insights, they can make sure they’re directing their massive MIMO investments to the right solution, for the right place in the network.
Learn more about how Infovista can help you accelerate and optimize your 5G rollout.