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Understanding Massive MIMO Technology

Nov 2, 2021 | Manufacturing, Research

The fervor surrounding 5G and modern Wi-Fi 6 standards may seem rather unusual. We certainly didn’t have the same quantity of discussion when we leapt from 3G to 4G, or when Wi-Fi 5 (ac) was introduced. It’s reached a point where we’re inundated with misinformation and conspiracy theories. What’s so special about these new wireless communication methods? The key ingredient that separates them from their predecessors is known as Massive MIMO, and it’s poised to change connectivity forever.
Massive MIMO Technology

Understanding Massive MIMO Technology

What Is MIMO?

Before we can get into the “massive” part of this new technology, we need to step back and take a look at MIMO itself. MIMO stands for “multiple input, multiple output”. You may have already seen this acronym on consumer products like Wi-Fi routers or new laptops. MIMO makes wireless data transfers faster and also allows for more devices to connect and transmit data simultaneously. So, how does it work? Let’s take your standard Wi-Fi router as an example.

An older router that ran on the b or g standard (retroactively known as Wi-Fi 2 or 3) could only transmit data on one radio frequency at a time. The 2.4ghz standard used since then is still active today. But within that 2.4ghz band are several channels, similar to how a FM radio operates within a specific set of frequencies but can be tuned to precise channels. Imagine if you could use multiple bands or channels at once.

Multiple Bands Equals More Bandwidth

That’s precisely what started to happen with the Wireless n standard, the fourth iteration of Wi-Fi. Routers began to include another band, the 5ghz band, to allow for more access to the router. Devices could connect to either band, essentially doubling potential bandwidth. MIMO takes that one step further. It uses even more antennas to transmit data across multiple channels within the same band.  

The most basic MIMO routers feature four antennas, with some boasting a dozen. This means even more devices can access the router and enjoy its full capacity. If a user device has multiple antennas, it can connect to multiple channels to transmit data even faster. Next time you drive by a cellular antenna, take a look up top and count the antennas. Odds are you’ll see several.

What Makes Massive MIMO Different?

Adding antennas adds cost and makes transmitting and receiving equipment take up more space. Massive MIMO solves that problem by adding even more channels at higher frequencies. High frequency radio waves have a shorter wavelength, meaning that the antenna can be smaller. This makes it possible for devices to pack in dozens of antennas, each with their own dedicated channel. An ever-increasing number of devices can connect and still receive high bandwidth.

Another change that makes MIMO even more massive is the use of beamforming. Old antennas broadcasted in a broad circle pattern. Modern MIMO, instead, focuses each channel in a specific direction to blanket a targeted area where users are expected to be. Other MIMO devices can relay signals, and these signals can be combined and compared using a technique called spatial diversity. So even if you aren’t in the direct path of a particular beam, you’ll have a strong connection.

Potential Applications for Industry

Why does MIMO matter for you? The technology is often associated with the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is essentially a concept that says we will have more and more devices connected to the internet. These devices could be sensors for your industrial equipment to detect failures before they happen. Imagine sensors scattered across a field to measure soil quality for crops. Perhaps a wind farm will have multiple components of multiple turbines reporting data to a central unit.

Without MIMO technology, you couldn’t reliably poll that many devices for their data in real time. Your wireless router simply can’t communicate with them all at once. Now, it’s possible. This opens up the potential to tap into a wealth of data, which can be used to improve uptime, productivity, and ultimately your bottom line.

What Do You Need to Implement MIMO?

There are several MIMO standards on the market today, so it’s important to evaluate your use case and physical environment before you go shopping for new hardware. At SAAB RDS, we know how to implement MIMO and put it to use for your business. Contact SAAB RDS to schedule an appointment so we can help you take the next leap forward in wireless connectivity.

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