Sprint and Ericsson revealed results at Mobile World Congress Americas this week of the first United States field tests for 2.5 GHz Massive MIMO, as the companies gear up for commercial deployment in 2018.

The tests were conducted in Seattle, and Plano, Texas, utilizing Sprint’s spectrum and Ericsson’s 64 transmit, 64 receive (64T64R) radios. Massive MIMO radios are capable of increasing Sprint’s network capacity by up to 10 times, the carrier said. 

“Massive MIMO is a game changer for adding capacity to our network and taking LTE Plus to the next level,” Sprint CTO John Saw commented. “This technology is a tremendous competitive advantage for Sprint, enabling us to maximize our deep 2.5 GHz spectrum holdings. Massive MIMO will be key to meeting our customers’ growing demand for unlimited data, as well as offering Gigabit LTE and 5G services.”

For the test in downtown Seattle, 100 people using Samsung Galaxy S7 phones ran simultaneous file downloads on a timed-test on all networks. Massive MIMO tests on Sprint’s LTE Plus network in the area increased capacity about four times compared to an 8T8R antenna. Sprint said the testing revealed a 100 percent success rate on the Massive MIMO-powered Sprint network, a figure that was substantially higher compared to other networks.

Sprint and Ericsson also tested the latter’s 64T64R Massive MIMO radios in Plano, Texas, where results reached peak speeds of more than 300 Mbps using a single 20 MHz channel of 2.5 GHz spectrum.

Ericsson provided the radio network infrastructure and backhaul equipment for both field trials, including the 5G-ready AIR6468 radio, and the MINI-LINK 6352 R2 microwave radios. The microwave radios can deliver up to 10 Gbps of backhaul, future proofing the network for 5G, the companies said.

Sprint plans commercial deployments of Massive MIMO in cities across the U.S. beginning in 2018. Massive MIMO is also expected to power Gigabit LTE services and will be a key element as Sprint works to densify and optimize its network ahead of 5G.

Sprint has said it’s aiming to deploy commercial 5G services and devices in late 2019, and has long asserted that 2.5 GHz will be the low band coverage spectrum in a 5G world.

“In our mind 2.5 (GHz) is going to be to 5G what 800 (MHz) is to the 4G world. And so when you think about it in those terms, building a high capacity network has to start by putting as much high frequency spectrum on air as you possibly can,” Sprint CFO Tarek Robbiati said at an investor conference in September. “In the world of 5G, you need to have high frequency spectrum … We are building a network for the future.”

Ericsson, like most vendors, is also looking ahead to 5G.

“Ericsson and Sprint have been collaborating on new technologies and continually evolving Sprint’s LTE network, laying the foundation for 5G,” Nishant Batra, head of network infrastructure at Ericsson, commented. “Our next-generation 5G-ready TDD 64T64R Massive MIMO radio (AIR6468) will help maximize spectral efficiency of Sprint’s 2.5 GHz network. It will also provide a cost-efficient way to support their customers’ growing appetite for increased capacity and high-speed data services. This will be the industry’s first live eCPRI installation, which allows for several deployment and performance advantages to operators in the 5G era.”

Arun Bhikshesvaran, head of strategy development for Ericsson North America, told Wireless Week that Ericsson’s view going into the show this week is that 5G is coming, ready or not, and it’s better to choose ready.

At the show Ericsson is also showcasing a new radio product that supports Massive MIMO and will help operators bridge 4G to 5G, as well as three new small cell solutions.