Ericsson says it has beefed up its 5G portfolio with the addition of a new radio product that will support communications over paired spectrum bands.
The AIR 3246 will allow customers to run 4G and 5G new radio communications over frequency division duplex (FDD) technology, which uses one spectrum channel for uplink communications and a separate one for the downlink.
Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) had previously begun offering a radio product compatible with time division duplex (TDD) technology, whereby a single channel is used for both the uplink and the downlink.
Today's move is important because most of the world's operators already make use of FDD rather than TDD technology to support 2G, 3G and 4G services.
The AIR 3246 also supports massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology -- a system that boosts performance by adding many more antennas to both transmitter and receiver devices.
The launch comes several months before the 3GPP standards group is due to freeze the 5G new radio specifications at the end of this year. (See 3GPP Approves Plans to Fast Track 5G NR.)
Previously, the 3GPP had not planned to lock down these specifications until mid-2018, but the acceleration of the process -- which was backed by many of the world's biggest vendors and service providers -- has allowed equipment suppliers to speed up their own 5G product development.
The current expectation is that the very first standardized 5G services will appear in the market in 2019. Before the 3GPP changed its deadlines, the most ambitious operators were plotting service launches in 2020.
The AIR 3246 is expected to go on sale in the second quarter of 2018, when analysts will begin to scrutinize Ericsson's earnings for indications of its impact on sales.
Having been hit badly by a market downturn and fierce competition from Chinese rivals, Ericsson is trying to seize the initiative on 5G and position itself for a leadership role in that market as commercial services take shape.
Operators will be able to use the AIR 3246 to support their 4G offerings, moving to 5G technology as and when the standard appears, according to Ericsson.
"The new radio will enable operators to enhance 4G capacity for their subscribers today and be ready for 5G tomorrow, using the same hardware," said Fredrik Jejdling, Ericsson's head of business area networks, in a company statement. "We also complement the products with a set of network services, simplifying the journey to 5G for our customers."
By selling 5G-upgradeable equipment, Ericsson essentially hopes to get ahead of competitors like Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and seal its relationships with operators before standardized 5G technology becomes a reality.
But in the final months of 2017 there are likely to be a spate of similar announcements from the other players, which also regard 5G as a potential growth opportunity.
Ericsson also revealed that it has been carrying out trials of massive MIMO based on FDD communications with T-Mobile US Inc. in Baltimore, Md.
It reckons massive MIMO could increase network capacity by up to three times and make a fivefold improvement to user throughput.
Typically bullish remarks from T-Mobile in Ericsson's press release suggest the US mobile operator will be an early customer for the AIR 3246.
"T-Mobile's racing forward at breakneck pace with Ericsson's next-gen tech that advances LTE today and paves the way for 5G tomorrow," said Neville Ray, T-Mobile's chief technology officer.
— Iain Morris, , , News Editor, Light Reading