Today’s mobile networks can deliver impressive peak speeds. Taken at face-value, network technology appears to be ahead of the curve, capable of meeting the speed requirements of any application or service customers use today or in the near future. However, while peak speeds are an indicator of network performance, it’s only one part of the equation. Capacity is equally important, and in some ways is a greater challenge.
Network capacity is the amount of data traffic that can be carried in a given time between the network and mobile devices and is highly dependent on the amount of spectrum available. Spectrum is a finite resource, which means that using more to increase capacity is often not an option.
However, demand for high-bandwidth services continues to grow quickly and the need for us to increase capacity within the limits of the spectrum available has never been greater. A new iteration of Multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology called Massive MIMO may be the answer.
MIMO is a technology used to multiply the capacity of a wireless connection without requiring more spectrum. A number of technologies, including Wi-Fi and LTE, have used MIMO techniques for years to achieve more capacity without the need to use more spectrum. However, Massive MIMO is able to focus the signal into a more precise set of layers making transmission more efficient. These layers can bring more capacity than current 4G systems with the same bandwidth and Massive MIMO is also capable of something called “full dimensional beamforming”, which means it can direct beams both horizontally and vertically.
Vodafone UK and Huawei have successfully conducted the first trial of Massive MIMO 2.6GHz TDD in Europe on Vodafone’s commercial network in Newbury, achieving great results in terms of spectrum efficiency and increases in network capacity. We continue to test the technology, but as the availability of compatible handsets increases, we believe Massive MIMO could benefit many of our customers, particularly in areas where there are a large number of devices, such as city centres, train stations, business districts and stadiums.