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Ericsson in pre-5G projects with both Japanese leaders

Ericsson continues to push on with its pre-5G projects. It has introduced a 5G Radio Prototype, well ahead of any agreed standards, to allow operators to trial technologies in a live field environment. NTT Docomo of Japan is the first publicly announced user, as it chases its own ambitious 5G timing, planning to launch commercial services in time for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.

Ericsson said phase two of its 5G testbed program has significantly reduced the size of its prototypes to carry-on luggage proportions, weighing about 20 kilograms. The portable units feature various technologies that are highly likely to be core to 5G standards, and which are central to the pre-standard developments of the large vendors. These include next generation multiuser MIMO and beamforming.

This portable platform incorporates some of the developments which emerged from phase one of the program, which involved testing in the labs and in live indoor and outdoor environments.

Ericsson said the outdoor radio design incorporates 64 radio chains and 128 antenna elements in a pole- or wall-mounted form factor. MU-MIMO enables the device to support large numbers of users within the same spectrum and cell site sector, while beamforming is being evolved to support ever-higher frequency bands to boost capacity and energy efficiency.

The new prototypes can also integrate with Ericsson’s NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) applications to allow the RAN to be ‘sliced’ into many virtual networks, each of them supporting a different use case, provider or customer.

NTT Docomo is already using the testbed and will take it into the field in 2016. “We are pleased to take the next step toward testing in realistic network environment,” said Seizo Onoe, CTO of the leading Japanese MNO. “Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will be a great opportunity to propose many different use cases of 5G, which will be launched in 2020. We expect that this would lead to even further opportunities.”

The 3GPP may only have kicked off its work on 5G core standards last month, with its first specifications expected in 2017, but Ericsson already feels the time pressure to get key 5G components ready for market. “In order to be ready in such an aggressive time frame, it’s high time testing move into real world environments for practical application,” said Arun Bansal, head of the vendor’s Business Unit Radio. “It’s important for us to be able to contribute with hard data rather than just theoretical discussions.”

Ericsson is also working with NTT Docomo’s chief rival, KDDI, on another 5G project. The two companies have signed an agreement to cooperate on evaluating the performance and applicability of potential 5G technologies in RAN and core, and to examine 5G use cases, requirements and deployment scenarios.

Yoshiaki Uchida, head of KDDI’s Technology Sector, said in a statement: “Through our joint efforts with Ericsson we will study 5G technologies and take an important step toward bringing 5G capabilities to the market.”

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