5G Gets a “Massive” Boost Thanks to NXP’s New mMIMO RF Power Transistors

April 01, 2022 by Lianne Frith

By adding a new series of RF power discrete solutions, NXP now offers the "largest RF GaN (gallium nitride) portfolio" for massive multiple input, multiple output (mMIMO) 5G radios.

As the need for more 5G components ramps up, this week, NXP has announced new RF power solutions for 32T32R active antenna systems. 

These products aim to fill out NXP's RF GaN portfolio for mMIMO 5G radios, increasing its MIMO coverage beyond ultra-dense urban areas. By combining 32 antennas instead of 64, coverage can be cost-effectively maintained while still delivering massive MIMO's high-end 5G experience. 


An image rendering of NXP's newest family of RF power transistors for mMIMO

An image rendering of NXP's newest family of RF power transistors for mMIMO. Image used courtesy of NXP


In this article, we'll give a brief overview of NXP's latest solution, the requirements mMIMO systems, how GaN comes into play, and then take a look at NXP's latest RF solutions to understand what they are doing and have done with mMIMO technology.


NXP's RF Solutions for 32T32R Antenna Systems

NXP's new series of RF power discrete solutions for 32T32R active antenna systems use its latest proprietary gallium nitride (GaN) technology. 

The new series adds to the company's existing portfolio of discrete GaN power amplifier solutions for 64T64R radios. Covering all cellular frequency bands from 2.3 to 4.0 GHz, NXP now claims to offer the largest RF GaN portfolio for mMIMO 5G radios.


Example deployment scenarios for64T64R, 32T32R, and 12T16R MIMO arrays

Example deployment scenarios for64T64R, 32T32R, and 12T16R MIMO arrays. Image used courtesy of Ericsson


NXP states that these solutions can deliver double the power in the same package as its 64T64R solutions and are designed for 10 W average power at the antenna, targeting 320 W radio units, with up to 58% of drain efficiency, and leverage NXP's highly linearizable RF GaN technology. 

Overall, this new family is believed to be a smaller and lighter overall 5G connectivity solution that designers can scale rapidly across frequency and power levels.


What Are the Building Blocks of Massive MIMO?

In general, mMIMO is built upon three key concepts

  • Spatial diversity
  • Spatial multiplexing
  • Beamforming

These concepts focus on the fact that radio signals are filtered by the environment between transmitter and receiver, with reflections from buildings and other obstacles resulting in several signal paths. 

By having multiple receive antennas, each receives a slightly different version of a signal, which can then be mathematically combined to improve the quality of the transmitted signal.


A high-level diagram to represent the basic operation principle of MIMO.

A high-level diagram to represent the basic operation principle of MIMO. Image used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Claudeb


Meanwhile, beamforming uses advanced antenna technologies to focus wireless signals in specific directions. In unison with mMIMO, this technique could reduce interference between beams and enables the deployment of larger antenna arrays. 

The radio signal is also transmitted over multiple antennas to increase reliability and the capacity of the radio link due to the multiple transition paths. 


GaN in RF Solutions

As 5G systems operate at much higher frequencies than previous cellular network generations, mMIMO systems need to be more efficient, highly integrated, and smaller while still achieving greater capability and performance. 

Ultimately, the density of RF solutions required per antenna has exponentially increased, but it is fundamental to maintain the same box size and reduce power consumption. GaN power transistors can be one potential solution to meet these conflicting requirements. 

When it comes to telecom infrastructure, every point of efficiency counts. Using GaN in multi-chip modules, NXP claims to have increased its lineup efficiency by 8%. 

The company has also created further performance improvements by combining LDMOS and GaN in a single device to deliver 400 MHz of bandwidth. The new solutions are believed to enable RF engineers to reduce the size and weight of radio units, lowering the cost of deploying 5G. 


NXP Targets GaN and Massive MIMO

NXP has worked in secure connectivity solutions for embedded applications for over 60 years, with a combined experience and expertise in RF power and high-volume manufacturing. 

In 2020, NXP opened its 150 mm (6-inch) RF GaN fab in Chandler, Arizona, a fab dedicated to 5G RF power amplifiers. The state-of-the-art fab was based on NXP's early GaN innovation and designed to scale to 6G and beyond. 

The facility now serves as an innovation hub facilitating collaboration between the fab and NXP's R&D team. The result is the ability to more rapidly develop, validate and protect inventions and future generations of GaN devices. 


NXP’s high volume GaN manufacturing facility in Arizona

NXP’s high-volume GaN manufacturing facility in Arizona. Image used courtesy of NXP


Last year there was a similar move by NXP to grow the investment in its GaN fab in Arizona and further build its 5G portfolio. In June 2021, the company announced the integration of GaN technology into its multi-chip module platform. 

NXP was the first company to announce RF solutions for 5G massive MIMO, combining the high efficiency of GaN with the compactness of multi-chip modules.


Facilitating Further Global 5G Adoption

As 5G continues to grow, it has the potential to transform entire industries and economies. By offering such comprehensive cellular infrastructure portfolios focused on driving the 5G-connected world, NXP is uniquely positioned to keep facilitating 5G adoption. 

Additionally, with more 5G adoption, more mMIMO solutions, and RF power discrete solutions for 32T32R active antenna systems will keep popping up to enable carriers to provide more bandwidth to more customers.