LTE antenna issues getting a second look in networks, smartphones

It can be easy to dismiss the importance of the antenna, whether used in a mobile network or smartphone. But researchers and vendors are increasingly recognizing the fact that antenna issues can directly impact the customer experience and, ultimately, a mobile operator's success.

Denmark-based Strand Consult says there is a move afoot to differentiate infrastructure equipment with better antenna technologies, which were previously just bundled and commoditized within base stations. "Given consumers' increasing demand for improved coverage, operators will likely be more critical about the quality of the radio and antenna technologies deployed in their networks and select their solutions accordingly," said the company in a research note.

Strand noted that dropped calls and a slower rate of data delivery are common problems for older antenna technologies when they are used to transmit on 1800 MHz or higher frequency bands using 3G and LTE standards. "Improving the quality of base station antenna technology to capture and deliver signals can improve overall mobile coverage experience," the company said.

Strand cited a new entrant in the base-station antenna arena: CellMax, which claims to have base station antenna technology capable of slashing signal loss compared to traditional antennas, resulting in better coverage.

"We will likely see the classic infrastructure providers such as Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC), Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), ZTE and Huawei make base station antenna technology a priority in [the] future and a competitive dimension by which they offer solutions to operators," Strand added.

The consultancy has also addressed coverage problems resulting from the performance of antennas within smartphones. The firm noted that the European Union and a number of European countries are considering whether phone manufacturers need to provide disclosures to inform consumers how their smartphones will perform in relation to networks.

One startup trying to build a business by solving such issues is Cavendish Kinetics, whose first-generation MEMS products are RF tuners designed to overcome LTE smartphone antenna performance challenges.

The company contends the increasing gap between theoretical and actual LTE performance levels is due to several factors. One problem is the fact that devices must support growing numbers of operating modes and frequency bands. Another is that larger screen displays create a ground plane that blocks signals from internal antennas. Additionally, thinner form factors further constrain the antenna volume available in smartphones.

Company President Dennis Yost recently announced that Cavendish is working with integrated circuit manufacturer TowerJazz so Cavendish can "supply many tens of millions of devices per month to support the large and rapidly growing LTE mobile device market."

Cavendish added that its upcoming MEMS products will address LTE-advanced RF front-end components such as power amplifiers, filters and switches to enable next-generation LTE carrier-aggregation and Wi-Fi co-existence. The company is headquartered in San Jose, Calif., and has an R&D facility in the Netherlands.

For more:
- see this Strand research note
- see this Cavendish Kinetics release

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