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Debunking the myth that millimeter wavelengths aren’t viable for 5G

By August 31, 2021November 8th, 2021No Comments

One of the big reveals when the 5G standards were released was that it would expand the frequencies used by wireless carriers well into the millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum, orders of magnitude higher in frequency than the industry has ever used before. This spectral region has always been sparsely populated because of its challenging propagation characteristics, but for consumers it offers more than its lower-frequency counterparts: immense bandwidth and low latency, the metrics that make video, AR, VR, and all other real-time applications possible.

However, the difficulty in harnessing this performance has led some to pronounce that operating in this region will be ruinously expensive for service providers, requiring immense numbers of small-cell base stations to compensate for its inherent limitations (Figure 1). The latest to make this case was Mike Dano, editorial director, 5G and Mobile Strategies in his LightReading article “The age of mmWave sputters to a dusty death”.

Figure 1. 5G mmWave Challenges

There is some merit to some of his arguments, assuming that current network architectures are employed, but Movandi has demonstrated that the use of the mmWave can be achieved cost-effectively through the use of smart networked repeaters with cloud control and AI, low power consumption, beamforming, and other technologies. Not only does this approach simplify deployment, but it also improves the end-user experience, provides coverage virtually anywhere indoors, outdoors or while mobile, and can reduce capital expenditures and the total cost of ownership by more than 40%.

Changing the game

While 4G and its predecessors have traditionally expanded capacity and coverage primarily by adding more and more base stations, which historically have had limited capacity. 5G base stations have significantly more capacity but with mmWave limited range. The result has been that the mmWave base capacity is not fully utilized and service providers have needed to add many more expensive gNodeBs (gNB) then required. The Movandi approach changes this paradigm, reducing the number of very expensive next-generation gNB radios required while using more cost-effective smart repeaters to reach outdoors and indoors areas that are resistant to millimeter-wave signals. Movandi BeamXR powered smart repeaters with their flexible form factors and low power consumption can be placed virtually anywhere, from light poles to ceilings in office buildings and throughout stadiums and other large venues using simple mounting hardware.  For this reason, Verizon Wireless has already adopted Movandi powered smart repeaters and is beginning deployment nationwide.

The Movandi architecture is based on patented 5G mmWave chipsets, RF power amplifiers, MIMO antennas, BeamXR smart repeater modules, and BeamX algorithms and software. It provides mesh networking capability with redundant and dynamic routing and will soon provide control via cloud-based data centers with AI to balance and optimize network routing based on traffic and quality of connectivity. These innovations reduce the number of gNodeBs through load-balancing traffic across networks to provide continuous connectivity, even in moving vehicles.

BeamX software-defined beam networking (SDBN) mesh-networking capability expands coverage to difficult-to-reach locations and enhances the end-user experience while maintaining a high MIMO rank. The gNodeB signals are received by a Movandi BeamXR smart repeater donor unit and then meshed with up to four additional server units (more in the future) via wireless or wired fiber or coaxial cable. The donor units can be placed at locations with high MIMO rank to maximize signal-to-noise ratio and traffic capacity.

The solution also significantly reduces deployment complexity and ongoing maintenance, and as they have optimized form factors that consume little power, they can help solve the onerous problems associated with permitting and legal fees. In short, the low cost (about $3,000) of Movandi BeamXR powered smart repeaters lets wireless carriers expand and enhance millimeter-wave coverage to places where using traditional means would be far too expensive.

Independent expert assessment shows that mmWave coverage costs can be cut in half

Figure 2. Radio Equipment CAPEX comparison Source: Mobile Experts, Inc.

To determine how well the Movandi approach might work, Joe Madden, founder and chief analyst at Mobile Experts, analyzed whether mmWave repeaters can save money in a dense urban area and if they can save substantial deployment costs. As its baseline, the study examined a neighborhood in Dallas covering 1.4 square miles with a high density of sub-6 GHz traffic.

During the peak hour, this area currently generates about 31 Gb/s of traffic, but by January 2024, it is expected to nearly double to 61 Gb/s. After comparing three deployment scenarios, he concluded that rather than employing large numbers of gNodeB radios, a mesh of repeaters can be an effective way to satisfy both coverage and capacity.

Figure 3. Using repeaters can cut total cost in half Source: Mobile Experts, Inc.

The results of this work are contained in a white paper entitled “Repeaters cut 5G mmWave cost in half” and can be downloaded here.

What’s required is a new network design model in which smart repeaters, advanced software and algorithms, digital beamforming, and other techniques allow millimeter-wave signals to permeate RF-restrictive environments without dramatically increasing the number of small-cell base stations. This is precisely what Movandi has achieved with its patented mmWave silicon solutions and advanced software-based virtualized platform.

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