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Seven tenets of a modern antenna strategy and why it matters more than you think

Designing a modern 5G mobile network that performs when called upon is not rocket science. It’s much more complex than that. 

Value Proposition Marketing Director

Modern antenna site in rural area

Value Proposition Marketing Director

Value Proposition Marketing Director

Knowing where and when to densify or extend coverage and with which spectral assets to meet varying traffic load conditions will make or break your ability to serve this decade’s advanced 5G use cases.

All the while, ambitions for network expansion must be weighed carefully against cost of investment, as well as strict deployment considerations, site energy consumption and site footprint.

It’s like an extreme game of chess. One that’s played out multi-dimensionally, where your opponent’s material continuously change rank and position at will.

So, what’s the secret?

It’s widely known that spectrally efficient radio technologies such as multi-band carrier aggregation, spectrum sharing, and Massive MIMO play a pivotal role in unlocking required 5G coverage and capacity peak rate. However, there is another hero in this story, one whose impact is decisive in delivering cost- and energy-efficient 5G performance buildout. 

Step forward, the antenna system. As one of the most performance-defining parts of the modern network, antenna systems make a measurable impact on network quality, energy consumption, site footprint and overall total cost of ownership (TCO). So, like chess, strategy is everything.

Here are the seven strategic tenets that will be key to sustaining an efficient and performant antenna rollout for 5G and beyond.

Ericsson: pioneering the latest innovation in antenna systems

As a world leader in antenna solutions, Ericsson is committed to developing antenna solutions that are more performant, more energy-efficient, more compact, and more resistant to performance degradation. We are driving an antenna evolution that will not only sustain network demands for 5G, but also future 6G systems.

Tenet 1: ‘Invisible’ innovation unlocks uncompromising multi-band performance

The takeaway: The latest game-changing ‘invisible radiator’ technology on multi-band solutions will be key to meeting this coming generation’s performance and network efficiency demands, delivering beam efficiency gains of up to 85 percent.

Multi-band antennas bring a wealth of benefits, such as lower and more optimal site footprint and improved deployment versatility to name a few. However, historically, multi-band antenna performance has always been conditioned on compromise, owing to limitations within radio frequency pattern design. Until now, that is.

Confused? Think of a single-band antenna deployment. Naturally, each radiator is configured to deliver optimal radiation pattern in that given radio frequency range. However, the introduction of multi-band solutions, with several radiators and antenna configurations mounted within a single radome, also opened new design co-dependencies and some compromise when it came to radiator positioning and band design.

This year, Ericsson launches its first multi-band solution that leverages game-changing ‘invisible radiator’ technology, removing previous performance-inhibiting limitations on multi-band solutions and enabling optimal band design on all radio frequencies. The result? Multi-band beam efficiency has improved by a game-changing 85 percent. Efficiency gains on this level will be key to meeting constrained demands on network efficiency and operational expenses in coming 5G and 6G years.

The impact of beam efficiency on 5G experience

Beam efficiency, calculated as the ratio of the power radiated into the target cell against the total radiated power, is decisive in determining 5G user experience – enabling improved network SINR (signal to interference and noise ratio) and higher user throughput.

High antenna gain is complemented by features such as vertical and horizontal beamwidths and low side lobe levels to ensure that most of the antenna’s energy focuses on the intended coverage areas.

Through market-leading beam efficiency and side lobe suppression, Ericsson’s antenna solutions are designed to improve network SINR and enable higher throughputs – allowing users to experience the full power of 5G.

Tenet 2: Energy-saving antenna systems are not just critical for emissions targets, but decisive for network- and business performance

The takeaway: Low-loss multi-band antenna systems play a key role in reducing network carbon emissions, while facilitating continued network densification and expansion. They also contribute significantly to reduced site energy costs.

Today’s service providers face a series of critical emissions reduction challenges that will define the future of their business.

When it comes to network build-out, ‘business as usual’ is no longer viable. Yet 5G networks need to be scaled, densified, and expanded continuously to meet evolving coverage and capacity demands, and deliver business growth. Service providers can break this chain by taking a new resource- and energy-efficient approach to network planning, deployment, and operations.

That means significantly improving site energy efficiency. At Ericsson, we are on track to reduce the energy consumption of a typical new site by approximately 40 percent within the next couple of years. With additional savings from renewable energy alternatives, site CO2 emissions can be cut by as much as 70 percent on previous generations.

Today’s multi-band antenna solutions are key to delivering not only impactful radio hardware energy savings (with maintained performance levels) but also sizable energy cost reductions.

13 thousand tonnes of CO2 emissions can be saved through Ericsson’s latest multiband antenna solutions when extrapolated across four thousand sites over a five-year period, for example. That’s the equivalent of approximately 14.9 million EUR in energy cost savings (based on a price index of 0.2840 EUR / kWh) – savings that will become a key measure of both business- and network performance in this next decade.

Ericsson’s latest energy-saving antenna systems can cut the energy consumption of each site by more than 2600 kWh each year – the equivalent of driving 1400km in an electric vehicle. For context, imagine driving from New York City to Boston and back – twice.


Total network energy consumption animation

Above: 5G network deployments must break the traditional ‘energy curve’ associated to historic generational rollouts.


Tenet 3: The right antenna performance remains a crucial differentiator for network quality

The takeaway: Designing a high-performing antenna is much like designing an aircraft – where computational fluid dynamics and harsh environmental testing combine to take structural-, mechanical-, and electrical performance to new heights.

The rise of AI and network compute will have a pivotal impact on network quality this decade, creating a mesh of highly automated and intuitive network software services. However, as it always has, hardware performance remains a key factor in determining your network’s quality, energy efficiency, and long-term resilience against harsh conditions in the field.

By continually improving the electrical and mechanical performance of each antenna generation, we are redefining the baseline for field failure rate, as well as raising throughput, extending gain, and adding valuable months and years to the performance lifecycle.

Superior technical performance is achieved through a combination of factors. For example, reducing the number of components, removing PIM sensitive parts, and improving radome design based on computational fluid dynamic simulations.

What is passive intermodulation (PIM) and how does it impact network performance?

Passive intermodulation (PIM) performance is a key metric that defines the antenna’s ability to deliver effective signaling with minimal distortion and interference between radio frequency bands, i.e. uplink and downlink channels.

This occurs when signals are transmitted through non-linear elements in the antenna, a common feature in aging antenna systems with deteriorating mechanical performance. Such interference can limit the available capacity in neighboring uplink frequencies, thereby creating lag and a poor user experience.

With the most robust PIM performance in the industry, Ericsson’s antenna systems deliver as many as several dBc of additional uplink capacity ensuring a sustained and improved user experience.

To be sure that high performance is maintained in the field, we put each antenna through a series of harsh test across our many state-of-the-art testing centers. Here, each antenna is tested against hard-wearing parameters such as temperature, humidity, wind load, durability, water and dust ingress, sunlight and UV rays, salt mist, toxic gases, as well as other elements.

This unique approach has been integral to the development of our latest antenna generation, including wind load optimization technologies such as Ericsson’s vortex generators – actively improving wind load by as much as 20 percent and enabling service providers to upgrade existing sites without additional infrastructure reinforcement. You can find out more about vortex generators on our antenna wind load page.

Ericsson antennas were the first in the industry to improve wind load by up to 20% with vortex generator technology. Furthermore, upcoming platforms will have further wind load optimizations built into in the radome, driven by state-of-the-art simulation methods and 360º wind tunnel measurements.

Tenet 4: The long-term value proposition of antenna systems outweighs outlay cost factors

The takeaway: A leading antenna strategy should focus on more than just CAPEX investment, but on long-term value factors such as longevity of performance, energy savings, deployment possibilities, low failure rate, and many others.

The many impact factors brought by next-generation antenna systems across many fronts have changed the overall value proposition across a typical several-year investment cycle.

As such, return on investment should be seen through the lens of your wider long term business- and network strategy, factoring in both capital- (CAPEX) and operating expenses (OPEX) including energy savings and site rental costs, as well as other increasingly important value enablers such as performance factors dependent on each site, embedded carbon footprint, time to market, supply resilience, low failure rate, reduced wind load, and deployment-related possibilities including size, weight and the visual impact of the hardware.

As just one example, cost per capacity has become a commonly used metric for measuring antenna- and radio cost efficiency, balancing initial CAPEX investment against a range of performance factors leveraged over the entire investment cycle. Thinking long term is the key to securing both performance and business growth in this coming decade.

Ericsson’s antenna solutions  are proven in the field to deliver lower operational expenses compared to other market alternatives, according to a recent cost comparison at a major European CSP.

Tenet 5: Multi-layer services are key to unleashing full 5G experience

The takeaway: Multi-layer 5G is needed to unleash the full 5G experience. Service providers can achieve the required spectral efficiency as well as site resource and space savings through integrated and interleaved antenna technologies, including the vital Massive MIMO.

Spectrum is the most valuable asset for a service provider and is ultimately responsible for determining 5G network capacity and user experience. The combination of low-, mid- and high-band 5G is the end-goal of any 5G network evolution and will be key to securing long-term 5G market penetration across a broader set of use cases. And where there is a need to maximize spectrum investment, there is a need for antenna strategy.

5G TDD (time division duplex) mid-band deployments will serve as the backbone of nationwide deployments, with low-band FDD (frequency division duplex) and high-band TDD (time division duplex) delivering critical wide-area coverage and high-density capacity support where necessary.

Across many 5G markets today, service providers and in some cases, regulators, still have much work to do to get this balance right. According to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, 5G mid-band is only deployed in around 25 percent of 4G sites globally, with mid-band population coverage as low as 7 percent in some key markets.

The deployment of active antenna systems across existing sites will be key to delivering that step change in 5G performance, reducing peak utilization of existing 5G sites and addressing the exponential growth of data traffic with minimal densification through spectrally efficient Massive MIMO technologies.

To put that into context, mobile data is expected to grow more than three-fold in just five years. This means that the addition of new bands and new spectrally efficient network functionality, such as Massive MIMO, on existing sites will be vital to sustaining a high benchmark for network performance in the years to come, particularly when it comes to uplink-heavy use cases with high mobility and positioning criteria.

Passive antennas vs. active antennas: what’s the difference?

Traditional passive antennas are exactly as the name suggests: a mechanical network component that receives and transmits electromagnetic radio waves without any in-built active processing parts, such as signal processing capabilities. Passive antennas are commonly deployed as wide-area low-band antenna solutions, offering extended bandwidth coverage.

Active antennas, on the other hand, offer integrated processing capabilities that are used to enhance signal reception and diversity (i.e. through beamforming), improve spectral efficiency (i.e. through Massive MIMO), and mitigate interference and multipath propagation.  

Tenet 6: Compact antennas are transforming site design

The takeaway: Reducing the size of antenna equipment really does make a difference when it comes to adding coverage and capacity to both existing sites and new dense urban hotspots. In many cases this will require a new approach to site deployment, with novel solutions playing a starring role.

Compact multi-band antenna solutions – with significant weight savings and up to twice the load capacity gain – cannot be understated in the race to evolve 5G networks. As well as unlocking crucial coverage and capacity gains across today’s existing sites, they are also enabling new business-critical deployment opportunities across high-density urban sites, the network’s make-or-break zone that typically carries up to 1000 times more traffic than any other network site.

Getting these deployments right will require a novel approach to radio and antenna design. Such examples include Ericsson’s low-visibility street radio solutions featuring the world’s smallest 4T4R street antenna-integrated radio, and Ericsson’s compact sub-terrain antennas deployed recently in Japan’s first underground 5G base stations. These solutions are ideal for deployment in streets, shopping areas and whenever site permission for outdoor antennas cannot be obtained in dense urban scenarios.    

Easy and low-footprint deployments will be key to winning 5G performance

Ericsson’s highly integrated Interleaved AIR solutions cover all deployment scenarios as well as new frequency bands like mid-band TDD, combining both antenna-integrated radios and multiband passive antenna technology in one enclosure.

Speed, performance and scale will be key to winning the 5G race, and Ericsson antenna systems deliver just that through easy 5G mid-band upgrade on existing sites with zero footprint, higher low-band gain, and up to 7x improved mobile broadband capacity than existing multi-band antennas.  

Tenet 7: Advanced signaling performance can unlock next-level coverage and capacity

The takeaway: Multi-antenna technologies such as beamforming, null forming and spatial multiplexing are essential components to deliver optimal 5G coverage and capacity, however service providers must get the trade off right.

Over the past decade, the performance gains made by antenna systems have kept pace with advancements on the radio side, such as key advances within signal processing capabilities. This includes dynamic beam steering that is integral to 5G coverage, capacity and network quality of service (QoS) – supported through features such as:

  • beamforming, extending coverage for TDD mid-band deployments through signal amplification and spectral efficiency.
  • null forming, reducing signal interference and resulting in higher signal to interference noise ratio (SINR).
  • spatial multiplexing techniques, allowing for multiple uplink and downlink data streams to be multiplexed for high spectral efficiency and network capacity.

Massive MIMO features such as these are crucial for optimizing 5G network performance, however due consideration must be given to channel requirements and trade-offs to ensure optimal coverage, capacity, and energy efficiency across each cell.

What’s your next move?

Much like an intricate game of chess played out in multiple dimensions, the success of a modern 5G mobile network hinges on a well-thought-out antenna strategy. The opponent in this multi-dimensional game constantly shifts, demanding adaptability and precision.

Just as strategy is paramount in chess, the seven strategic tenets outlined here are crucial for sustaining an efficient and performant antenna rollout for 5G and beyond. Ericsson, a leader in antenna solutions, is at the forefront of this strategic evolution, pioneering innovative technologies that enable a more efficient and cost-effective 5G performance buildout.


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