Vodafone claims Europe’s first live 64 element “massive MIMO” site

Also stakes 4.5G claims with news of 4x4 and carrier aggregation implementations, plus updates on Project Beacon RAN share.

Vodafone has said it is the first in Europe to operate 64 element MIMO on a live commercial cell site in Europe. The company has equipped two base station sites in Newbury with a 64 element panel from Huawei, which is running as an overlay on an Ericsson radio unit.

The rectangle below the longer panel antennas is the 64 element antenna from Huawei. Note also the GPS unit attached the pole to provide timing/synch for the TDD operation.

The 64 element antenna panel is operating in 20MHz of 2.6GHz TDD spectrum.

The pilot deployment has been providing increased throughputs to the 4,000 users of the Vodafone campus, with the idea being to provide an overall uplift to individual users, by providing dedicated “beams” to users through the site.  Kye Prigg, head of Mobile Networks for Vodafone UK, said a single sector has an aggregated throughput of 500-600Mbps, with individual users on a consistent and maintained 20-30Mbps, even with such high numbers of users connected to the site. In a three sector site, therefore, where three similar panels were mounted, the potential is for over Gbps overall throughput in a site.

Although this is a headline-grabbing deployment from Vodafone, the company was keen to stress is 4.5G credentials in rather more concrete terms. The operator said it was well on the way with three component carrier aggregation (a total 40MHz across 800/2100/2600MHz, 4×4 MIMO and 256QAM. It said it has 250 sites with 3cc CA,180 with 4×4 MIMO, 1,000 with 256 QAM enabled. Combine all three and you get a theoretical maximum of 477Mbps.

One point of note – Prigg said where Vodafone has instituted 4×4 MIMO it has seen an overall improvement of user throughput of around 30%. This is due to much better performance at the cell edge, a result of higher order MIMO. The operator is also looking at 8T8R MIMO in the near future.

Prigg said that the operator has plans to add in further spectrum at 1400MHz and 1800MHz, giving it a potential Gbps capability.

Perhaps stung by the amount of publicity EE achieved for its announcement of 4×4 MIMO + 3CC CA in Cardiff earlier this month, “EE has been talking about one site, we’ve been doing it.”

Project Beacon update

Prigg gave an update on Project Beacon, the active RAN sharing deployment with Telefonica, which he said is now 79% complete. The operator has been upgrading 400 sites a month, which entails a complete tranmission, power, and upgrade to multi-RAN radio.

It has also implemented technology such as Packet Switch handover, which moves a data user from 3G back to LTE if that user has previously moved out of LTE coverage. The operator is now carrying 76% of all data traffic over LTE, compared to 66% a year ago. Over 80% of its voice is now on 3G, and the operator has effected 2G-3G voice call handover, to move a user back to 3G if a call has fallen back to 2G.

There have also been a series of site-specific upgrades, including at mainline rail stations and Heathrow and Gatwick Airports. Gatwick, for example, has three carrier aggregation deployed.

Finally, the operator has developed a special enclosure with integrated antennas that it is calling Mini Macro. This is a scaled down enclosure that houses all passive and active equipment – power, backhaul, radio etc – in one unit, with a pole height limit of 8 metres. Although it could theoretically transmit up to a full 60W output power, in practice it is more likely to be around the 20W mark. The aim of the new enclosure is to ease planning difficulties, by removing the amount of associated streetworks that accompany most site builds, and limiting the height and intrusive aesthetics of aluminium towers.

Vodafone has made one deployment of the Mini Macro in Cornwall. One thing it may have to watch out for is that Nokia is using Mini Macro as a commercial name for a scaled down macro cell it has been marketing for the past year or so. Vodafone’s enclosure is not limited or tied to any particular radio vendor.