Qualcomm Goes the Distance With New Macro 5G RAN Platform
Qualcomm’s new 5G platform combines high-performance antennas with efficient small-cell designs to improve the range and cost of mmWave infrastructure.
Qualcomm recently announced its Compact Macro 5G RAN Platform, a platform that provides macro-level performance with the streamlined design of a small cell. This announcement comes amid 5G’s formative years, where high-performance devices can rapidly accelerate the proliferation of mmWave 5G.
The newly announced Compact Macro 5G RAN platform offers designers an ecosystem that can improve the range of mmWave small cells. Image used courtesy of Qualcomm
Although 5G is currently offered in numerous consumer devices, it is primarily limited to the low- and mid-band ranges. In its current state, mmWave systems introduce their own disadvantages, not the least of which are cost and system complexity.
To get a better understanding of Qualcomm’s most recent contribution to mmWave 5G, we will discuss the challenges that the Compact Macro 5G RAN Platform is designed to address alongside the platform’s performance as an efficient mmWave cell.
Roadblocks to mmWave 5G
Promising faster speeds and lower latency, 5G technology has long been considered the next big step for wireless communication. 5G's increased frequency provides more bandwidth and, therefore, higher throughput. Higher frequencies, however, mean a proportional decrease in range. As such, mmWave 5G base stations typically suffer from the lowest signal range of the 5G bands.
Small cells can compensate for the lower signal range of mmWave 5G by increasing the density of base stations. By increasing the number of cells in an area, it’s possible to establish a 5G network without increasing the range of any one base station. This has a major tradeoff: cost per coverage area.
Relative scales for various base stations. Since mmWave 5G has a reduced range, a network of small (micro) cells can be used to improve coverage. Image used courtesy of Qorvo
Increasing the number of cells in an area comes with a proportional increase in overall cost. This is compounded for mmWave 5G since the higher frequencies come with a higher design cost. As such, it is paramount that small cells can support as broad an area as possible to minimize the cost per coverage area and maximize the payoff from mmWave investments.
Macro Cell Performance and Small Cell Price
Qualcomm’s Compact Macro platform is designed to strike a balance for mmWave 5G. It provides the increased range of a macro cell antenna with the streamlined design of a small cell. Building off its previous innovations, Qualcomm has combined the cost-effectiveness of the FSM-based small cell chipset with a macro-grade antenna, providing designers with a valuable solution to widen the deployment of mmWave 5G.
The Compact Macro platform’s improved range is largely due to the use of a macro-grade antenna. This, combined with the small cell chipset, keeps costs low while improving coverage. Image used courtesy of Qualcomm
Qualcomm attributes this increased range primarily to its “macro-grade” antenna module. The Compact Macro platform boasts a whopping 256 antenna elements, allowing for an overall EIRP of 60 dBm and 1 GHz bandwidth. This boost in effective power provides coverage comparable to that of a macro-cell, all while keeping the consumed power and size of the system near that of a small cell. The Compact Macro platform is expected to start sampling in Q1 2023.
mmWave 5G at Any Scale
The Compact Macro is a step in the right direction for 5G designers to create expansive mmWave networks, offering increased flexibility and up to 50% cost per coverage area reduction. This improvement in cost efficiency may accelerate the widespread adoption of mmWave 5G in both public and private settings.
As more information becomes available, it will be interesting to see other metrics for the Compact Macro platform, such as MIMO capabilities or overall data throughput. The platform's improved range makes it a good candidate for extending the rollout of 5G infrastructure—potentially even city-wide networks targeting smart cities and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication for autonomous driving.