Massive MIMO network technology could mean unlimited mobile data capacity, research suggests

Massive MIMO, a networking technology used to boost 4G and 5G communications, can expand networking data capacity indefinitely despite earlier assumptions, according to new research.

Massive MIMO is an antenna technology that is seeing significant adoption due to its ability to enable superfast 5G networks and boost signal in areas of high-density population.

Researchers until now believed that there is an upper limit for how much data can be transferred, but Emil Björnson, associate professor at Linköping University, has demonstrated that there is no such limit.

“We can show that massive MIMO has unlimited capacity, both mathematically and with the aid of simulations,” he said.

The massive MIMO technology aroused the interest of 5G researchers at an early stage. However, during the past five to ten years the research community has agreed that there is an upper limit to how much data can be transferred wirelessly per second, given a certain bandwidth and within a certain area. The limiting factor has been a type of disturbance that arises when measuring how the wireless signals travel, known by researchers as “pilot contamination”.

By deploying more antennas and processing the signals that are transmitted and received from them in the right way, we can create a system in which there is no upper limit for how much data can be transferred.

MIMO is an acronym for “Multiple Input, Multiple Output” and the technology involves connecting hundreds of small antennas, each with a power of around 10mW, either in something that can resemble a large computer monitor or distributed across the façade of a building.

All the antennas send a few tens of signals with carefully determined delays. The delays are chosen so that the copies of a signal arrive at the intended receivers at exactly the same instant, but at slightly different times at all other receivers.

This gives a strong signal at the intended receiver and only a slight disturbance at all the others. Pilot contamination arises when the delays are to be estimated using signals known as “pilots”.

One hundred antennas each of 10mW gives a power of 1W, which is distributed among the users. This is considerably less than the 40W that current antennas use.

The low power is enough, since each signal is given in a specified direction. Massive MIMO thus provides a combination of low-output power, high-energy efficiency and superior capacity, since many receivers can receive signals at the same time. What the new calculations and simulations have shown is that the capacity is infinite.

“The consequence is that we can continue to deploy increasing numbers of antennas, as people consume ever increasing amounts of wireless data, and in this way satisfy the demand,” Björnson said.

5G networks caused a lot of commotion at MWC 2018 and are anticipated to launch at the end of this year. The new networks are slated to pave the way for a new era of connected cars, IoT and mobile broadband. 

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