Bristol University and BT collaborate on ‘massive’ MIMO trials for 5G wireless

Created March 10, 2017
Applications and Research

The quest for highly efficient 5G wireless connectivity has been given a boost thanks to a collaboration between a team of 5G engineers from the Universities of Bristol (UK) and Lund (Sweden), National Instruments, and BT.

The research team has conducted field trials of a massive MIMO system at the BT Labs in Adastral Park, Suffolk. The trials were conducted in a large indoor hall mimicking a stadium environment and outdoors within the Adastral Park campus.

The goals were to test massive MIMO spatial multiplexing indoors and improve the understanding of massive MIMO radio channels under mobile conditions with untethered devices. While carrying out these field experiments, the team obtained “promising” results indicating that this technology could offer spectrum efficiency figures in excess of the 100 bits/s/Hz mark, improving upon the capacity of today’s long term evolution (LTE) systems by ten times.

It is expected that techniques such as massive MIMO, which offers full spatial multiplexing – where multiple data streams are transmitted at the same time and on the same radio channel – will become a crucial part of future 5G networks; the next generation of mobile technology.

The research team, comprising five PhD students from Bristol’s EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Communications and a researcher from Lund University, under the leadership of Professor Mark Beach, worked with the BT research team, led by Ian Mings, to assess the performance of a 128 element Massive MIMO system operating at 3.5 GHz at BT’s Adastral Park campus.

The system was also shown to support the simultaneous transmission of 24 user streams operating with 64QAM on the same radio channel with all modems synchronising over-the-air. It is believed that this is the first time such an experiment has been conducted with truly un-tethered devices, from which the team were able to infer a spectrum efficiency of just less than 100bit/s/Hz and a sum rate capacity of circa two Gbits/s in this single 20MHz wide channel.

In addition to the indoor trials, a series of outdoor experiments were conducted with the array at a height of around 20 meters. This enabled far field array characterisation, multi-element handset performance as well as experiments to improve the understanding of the massive MIMO radio channel under mobile conditions to be carried out.

Positive collaboration
Mark Beach, Professor of Radio Systems Engineering in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Manager of the EPSRC CDT in Communications, explained: “We are delighted to be collaborating with BT.

“Massive MIMO is a key technology for 5G and the research team’s achievements last year with massive MIMO arrays, which are cellular base stations with more than 100 antennas, demonstrates that this technology could deliver ultra-fast data rates to high densities of smart phones and tablets.”

Professor Tim Whitley, Managing Director, Research & Innovation at BT, added, “The BT Labs have a long history of pioneering wireless research, and with the acquisition of EE, we’re excited to once again be at the forefront of mobile technology development.

“Massive MIMO has the potential to significantly boost available data rates in future 5G mobile networks, and we’re pleased to be able to explore that potential with leading academics in the field at the University of Bristol.”

The experimental system uses the same flexible SDR platform from NI that leading wireless researchers in industry and academia are using to define 5G. To achieve accurate, real-time performance, the researchers took full advantage of the system’s FPGAs using LabVIEW Communications System Design and the recently announced NI MIMO Application Framework.

The state-of-the-art platform was made possible thanks to hardware provided by Bristol Is Open, a joint venture between the University and Bristol City Council that aims to make Bristol the first open programmable city in the world.

Matthew Peach

This article was written
by Matthew Peach

Matthew Peach is a freelance technology journalist specialising in photonics and communications. He has previously worked for several business-to-business publishers, editing a range of high-tech magazines and websites.