The significance of the 5G Uplink Booster to the new normal
The 5G race is now less about being first to market and more about achieving the best coverage and performance. And more important than ever, the radio uplink is the key to winning this race. Here’s a look at how the 5G Uplink Booster has become a hero of mobile networks, enabling extensive coverage by securing a strong radio signal at the cell edge where most radio signals typically degrade.
My seven-year-old son astonished me the other day when he asked me, “Mama, what does Uplink Booster mean?” It made me smile as I realized that with our “new normal” (homeschooling, a home office…), he’d been picking up on some of my latest work-related conversations. As I looked at him with delight, I asked myself how to explain this fascinating innovation in a way that a child of his age could understand. And as I was considering this, I also wondered how to explain why the uplink needs to be boosted in the first place. The interesting conversation that followed is what inspired this blog post.
What is behind the name 5G Uplink Booster?
Historically, most mobile network traffic has been on the downlink since users have long craved high data speeds to download their favorite videos. With the new normal, and the increase in video conferencing, we have seen uplink traffic increase by up to 40 percent, putting a significant strain on the uplink. That’s why we developed a 5G mid-band (sub 6GHz TDD) base station solution that boosts the uplink. Meet the 5G Uplink Booster, an unrecognized hero of mobile networks.
A well-thought-out design demystified
The 5G Uplink Booster was born in our radio lab. On the basis of their in-depth knowledge and experience, our engineers designed our 5G solution with the right architecture from the start. Getting the uplink right requires a highly tuned, customized solution that comprises a blend of hardware and software systems. These include: the integrated radio and antenna that sends and receives radio signals; the baseband processors; and the software algorithms that keep everything running with a high level of performance.
The main challenge in improving the uplink is the fact that the radio channel conditions of the user device which we want to strengthen are changing constantly and instantaneously. This is due to interference levels that vary significantly every millisecond. Couple this with fast-moving users who consume bursty web-based data applications, and the situation becomes highly complex. Add to this mix 5G massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antenna-integrated radios that transmit radio signals in beam-shaped patterns, and things become even more complicated. Controlling the direction and size of the radio beams serves to reduce interference and increase spectral efficiency, expanding 5G coverage and capacity. However, to achieve effective beam steering, once again the 5G base station needs to “know” the quality of the user’s radio signal at all times.
Our solution has been to move the uplink beamforming processing from the base station baseband unit to the 5G massive MIMO Antenna Integrated Radio, which is where the most accurate user information is available. This enables near real-time estimations of the user’s radio channel. To support channel estimation and beamforming processing, we ensure that the baseband units and software within the 5G base station are highly intelligent by running our software on the Ericsson Many-core Architecture (EMCA). EMCA is a unified architecture used for Ericsson’s entire Radio Access Network (RAN) portfolio, and it is based on purpose-built hardware using our own custom silicon containing hundreds of digital signal processors (DSPs) and accelerators. EMCA ensures the unparalleled performance of our product range, which includes multiple generations of hardware.
By moving the beamforming processing into the 5G Massive MIMO Antenna Integrated Radio, it is now no longer necessary to transport hundreds of Gbps of data between the baseband unit within the 5G base station and the 5G massive MIMO radio. On top of that, our solution relies on eCPRI (evolved Common Public Radio Interface) technology, which significantly reduces the baseband to radio transport requirements by 90 percent . With eCPRI, the signaling between the baseband and radio can be minimized without compromising the beamforming quality, which in turn enables a higher-quality uplink. This delivers a double win: performance is maximized and the service provider’s fronthaul implementation cost is minimized.
In addition to all of this, we run our software – our hero, the Uplink Booster – on top of EMCA and the massive MIMO antenna integrated radio system. The algorithms in the software drive the instantaneous channel estimation described. To give the uplink an extra boost, we also add full interference rejection combining (IRC). The IRC enables the radio system to focus on one user conversation at a time while suppressing the interference from the other user conversations further enhancing uplink performance.
As a result, we have built our innovative 5G Uplink Booster solution within our massive MIMO mid-band radios, which not only extends uplink coverage, but also improves uplink throughput and achieves higher spectral efficiency.
The benefits of extended uplink coverage
The magic numbers 10-90-10 help to illustrate the tremendous benefits delivered by the 5G Uplink Booster. The net effect of the software’s instantaneous channel estimation and full interference rejection is to extend the uplink application coverage by up to 10dB: a 90 percent increase with cell edge uplink speeds accelerated by up to a factor of 10.
Thanks to our key 5G Uplink Booster solution, a high-quality uplink enables better downlink coverage as well as an increase in overall 5G mid-band coverage – the enabler of a whole kaleidoscope of bright new business opportunities.
A happy seven-year-old
Though my son seemed totally absorbed by my explanation of the 5G Uplink Booster (which was much simpler than this blog post), I couldn’t help wondering if he was hoping that the product was a new rocket toy that he’d be able to launch from our front yard. Even though I can’t offer him a rocket to launch, I can give him the opportunity to video conference with his grandparents, friends and cousins any time he wants using my smartphone – and with the 5G Uplink Booster, he never has to worry about uplink performance. In fact, like most of us, he just expects the smartphone to work. Little does he know that the 5G Uplink Booster, an unsung hero of 5G performance, is quietly working its magic behind the scenes.