Now you can plug 5G functionality into Ericsson-supplied cellcos

16 Jun 2016

ITEM: Good news for cellcos that have installed Ericsson radio equipment in the last year – Ericsson has announced its first batch of software upgrades to get cellcos started on the road to 5G.

Ericsson’s “5G Plug-Ins” are “software-based innovations” for the Ericsson Radio System product line that are specifically focused on capabilities that operators can leverage within current networks to facilitate 5G evolution. Cellcos can use the plug-ins to trial and implement 5G technology as early as this year, and evolve to 5G at their own pace.

The first five new plug-ins, unveiled on Thursday, support Massive MIMO, Multi-User MIMO, RAN virtualization (i.e. VNFs), latency reduction and "intelligent connectivity" (which enables the network to route data to either 4G or 5G access based on application requirements and network resource availability).

The 5G plug-ins are available for operator trials now and will be available for commercial networks starting next year.

Antti Keintola, portfolio manager for Ericsson’s Business Unit Radio, says that with the exception of the RAN virtualization plug-in (which will be supported on commercial-off-the-shelf hardware), the plug-ins only work on Ericsson gear – specifically, its Ericsson Radio System baseband, which has been available since mid-2015.

Keintola adds that while the 5G plug-ins are primarily software-driven, “some of them may include some hardware dependencies, eg. antennas.”

The plug-ins reflect Ericsson’s overall 5G strategy, which stipulates that while we will see development of new 5G RAN technologies, particularly for higher frequencies, they’ll complement rather than replace LTE. From the press release:

LTE will continue to expand and evolve, addressing both an increased number of subscribers and their growing demands for extreme app coverage for data and video, as well as new low power wide area (LPWA) applications for the Internet of Things (IoT). In 2019, LTE will be the dominant mobile access technology globally and will reach a total of 4.3 billion subscriptions by the end of 2021.

Ericsson’s Keintola tells that there are more plug-ins in the pipeline.

“As we continue to develop and commercialize 5G, we will continue to be on the lookout for 5G technology concepts that operators can deploy within today’s networks to prepare for 5G,” Keintola says. “As opportunities for new 5G Plug-Ins are identified, plans to deliver additional Plug-Ins will be communicated through subsequent product announcements.”

Ericsson says it is already working with more than 20 cellcos worldwide on 5G networking and use cases, including 5G field trials in Japan, South Korea, the US and Sweden. Its 5G radio prototypes have achieved peak downlink throughput rates exceeding 25 Gbps.

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