MWC 2019 in Barcelona last week boasted massive booths with no shortage of interesting 5G technology and demos on display, but one of the coolest things I saw wasn’t a new smartphone or a virtual reality experience.
Instead, it was a small strip of tape on display at a (comparatively) modest stand in Ericsson’s expansive booth, where the vendor’s R&D team showed off an innovative concept to make 5G deployments – particularly for indoor coverage— easy, flexible, and virtually unseen.
To be clear, it’s still a vision concept – but Ericsson showed tiny antenna elements and printed circuit boards attached to the tape strips that could be hidden or camouflaged behind wallpaper, under carpet, behind plastic housing for a power outlet, or a variety of other areas.
With high-band frequencies comes high bandwidth, but also the issue of easily blocked signals. To improve coverage, in a building for example, Ericsson researchers thought about hiding hundreds of antenna elements in surrounding rooms to provide radio signals with a free path and lower the likelihood of blocking, Ericsson researcher Pål Frenger explained.
But if each of those need a unique cable it turns into what Frenger called “the spaghetti monster,” so instead they started thinking about tape.
Frenger said the flexibility the medium offers is not only in where the strips could be deployed, but also the flexibility of deploying different frequencies. The work is theoretical still, but Frenger showed off a strip of where a 3.5 GHz antenna is connected to the integrated circuit called the antenna processing unit, with tiny crosses separately representing the size needed for a 28 GHz or 60 GHz antennas on top of the integrated circuit.
The point is to have non-intrusive deployment that is invisible but still conserves quality, he noted. The team has a saying that “this is going to be the largest base station deployment that nobody can see,” Frenger told me.
A vast number of small cells are needed for high-band coverage, and aesthetics have played a role in some communities’ pushback against new sites needed for network upgrades. It also would clearly pose an issue for indoor 5G coverage. So Ericsson’s work is a very neat approach to getting the benefits of 5G coverage all over indoors (or outdoors in venues like stadiums) without intrusive equipment.
At one point Frenger unrolled a piece of red carpet on to the floor with the antenna strips attached and joked, “Network roll out made easy.”