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Startup Xcom looks to test advanced MIMO using open RAN

Xcom, the San Diego-based startup created by several former top-level Qualcomm executives, is hoping to test advanced MIMO technologies running on open RAN interfaces with equipment from Baicell in an indoor arena in Sacramento, California.

The details of Xcom's tests were included in a filing by the company to the FCC.

"We've developed a technology to significantly improve the spectral efficiency of systems that use sub6 [GHz] spectrum, and this particular filing relates to our being able to expand our trial system," explained Matt Grob, Xcom's CTO and Qualcomm's former CTO, in emailed responses to questions from Light Reading.

Specifically, the company said it's looking to test how its advanced MIMO technology an antenna design that has been widely touted as dramatically improving the overall capacity and performance of a wireless network compares with the existing LTE and Wi-Fi networks currently operating in the stadium. The company said its new prototype radios will be installed in the same locations as Wi-Fi hotspots, and can support a large number of users without causing interference. The company said its network will run in the newly freed 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum band.

The development is noteworthy as it provides one of the few public insights into Xcom's activities. The company was founded in 2018 by several high-profile Qualcomm executives, including former CEO Paul Jacobs, following Jacobs' failed attempt to raise money for a bid to take Qualcomm private.

Xcom last made waves roughly a year ago when it acquired M87, a Seattle-area networking startup led by former T-Mobile executive Cole Brodman. M87 was working on a technology that would allow standard cellphones to transmit communications from nearby users for example, a user deep in the heart of a building, outside of the range of a network connection, could bounce their signal off other nearby users via a mesh network design in order to connect to the Internet.

However, that's clearly not the technology Xcom is looking to test in its new effort in Sacramento. Xcom's Grob explained that the company is still testing device-to-device communications for 5G and potentially 6G networks, but that its MIMO tests involve technologies the company has been working on since its founding in 2018.

Importantly, Xcom's new tests would appear to put the company in the same sector as another startup, Blue Danube Systems, which has said it is also working on advanced MIMO technologies that use both artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) designs.

Finally, it's noteworthy that both Xcom and Blue Danube have pointed to their interest in open RAN technologies. Such technology has been touted by proponents as a way for operators to break up wireless networks into their individual components, thereby allowing new vendors to challenge established suppliers like Ericsson and Nokia. Doing so, according to those who support open RAN technologies, will lead to more innovation in the 5G industry by breaking the lock that large vendors retain over the connections between various network components, freeing operators to mix and match products by multiple suppliers.


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