Ericsson Offers Taste of 5G With 'Plug-In' Software Modules

Ericsson has developed network software modules that, it claims, will enable mobile operators to introduce 5G capabilities such as Massive MIMO (multiple input multiple output) to their current 4G networks as soon as 2017.

The vendor says its "5G plug-ins" will help operators evolve their networks and learn about 5G capabilities ahead of 2020, when standards-based commercial next-generation networks are expected to go live. The plug-ins will be available for tests later this year and become commercially available in 2017, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) says.

"5G Plug-ins are network software –- they are a way to deploy 5G technology concepts on today's networks, improving user experience, increasing network capacity and efficiency while preparing networks for 5G use cases and deployments," Antti Keintola, portfolio manager, business unit radio at Ericsson, tells Light Reading in an email.

The plug-ins, which grab a term popularized by software add-ons for digital music production systems like Pro-Tools, simulate a number of building block concepts of 5G that, in theory, will help to improve network efficiency and customer experience:

  • Massive MIMO Plug-In: "A combination of Single-User MIMO (SU-MIMO) and beamforming supported by advanced antennas with a large number of steerable ports," notes the vendor.

  • Multi-User MIMO Plug-In: This "transmits data to multiple user devices using the same time and frequency resources and coordinates beamforming.

  • RAN Virtualization Plug-In: "Improves network efficiency and performance by enabling Virtual Network Functions (VNF) to be centralized on a common platform supporting both 4G and 5G."

  • Intelligent Connectivity Plug-In: Where 5G and 4G coverage areas overlap, this enables the network to "intelligently route data based on application requirements and network resource availability, increasing the combined data throughput of 4G and 5G resources."

  • Latency Reduction Plug-In: This "shortens access procedures and modifies the frame structure to enable instant network access and more frequent transmissions. This in turn reduces time-to-content while enabling real-time communications for key 5G applications such as smart vehicles."

    Ericsson says it's already working with more than 20 mobile operators worldwide on various 5G use cases and, in some cases, even field trials. (See T-Mobile to Test 5G With Nokia, Ericsson , TeliaSonera, Ericsson Join 5G Early Movers, Ericsson Readies 5G Radio Prototypes for NTT Docomo Trials and SoftBank & Ericsson Plot 5G Trials in Japan.)

    — Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

  • herculesjohn 8/1/2016 | 3:53:22 AM
    5G services People are just now getting close to the latest 4G services and yet they need to learn a lot about it. How good it will be to start 5G services without knowing much about it? It would be better to write the best essay explaining all the pros and cons related with it compared to the 4G services. Hope it would come soon before the services begin.
    kq4ym 6/23/2016 | 4:30:21 PM
    Re: RAN 'Plug-Ins' It remains to be seen whether this is going to work. I wonder how much a "trial balloon" the announcment is, and whether the far off date might eventually be suspended for the final product?
    danielcawrey 6/16/2016 | 4:35:53 PM
    Re: RAN 'Plug-Ins' Interesting to see the plug-in model used for upgrading these networks. I assume that this was something Ericsson concluded would help them upgrade the network more efficiently and without a lot of friction. I hope they can pull this off. 
    20044Runner 6/16/2016 | 1:12:14 PM
    Plug-in SW Module Architecture Good opportunity if Ericsson also architects these modules to be hardware (aka vendor) agnostic and not just Ericsson proprietary.  If NFV is a strategic play, then an open LTE position would be advantageous.
    Gabriel Brown 6/16/2016 | 6:25:15 AM
    RAN 'Plug-Ins' Interesting announcement. The really significant aspect of this type of approach is that it moves the market to more of a continuous feature delivery model. Rather than hold back new capabilities to an "uber upgrade" available on a long release cycle, the intent is to offer modular upgrades on a rolling basis as they become available, and as the market context requires – for example, the Massive MIMO Plug-In may be deployed in downtown hotspots to relieve capacity pressures, while the Latency Reduction Plug-In could enable 4G to serve innovative use-cases, such as industrial control systems. 

    This doesn't magically turn a 4G network into 5G network, but it's good to see RAN vendors move in this direction.

    Ideally this would mean software upgrades – in this case the Ericsson Radio System launched in 2015 offers a capable hardware platform. However, if you add radio chains for massive MIMO you would need to deploy new hardware at the site as well.
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