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Why are antennas key for maximizing network impact in North America?

In the dynamic landscape of telecommunications driven by 5G technology, data traffic is experiencing exponential growth alongside the emergence of demanding new applications. This surge in traffic emphasizes the critical importance of factors like uplink throughput, performance, and overall efficiency. To understand and harness the full potential of these advancements, exploring the pivotal role of antennas becomes essential. Discover how antennas play a key role in maximizing network impact and positioning North America at the forefront of the 5G revolution.

Head of MA North America EAS

Antenna on network site infront of urban city of Los Angeles

Head of MA North America EAS

Head of MA North America EAS

Being at the forefront of cutting-edge technology is nothing new for North America – and 5G is no exception. The region led the world in 5G subscription penetration in 2023, reaching an estimated 61 percent of the population – equating to 260 million subscriptions. What’s more, according to our latest Ericsson Mobility Report, this figure is expected to reach about 430 million by 2029, accounting for 92 percent of mobile subscriptions. These new subscribers – attracted by unlimited data plans, improved coverage and capacity and innovative new use cases – are predicted to drive monthly data usage to increase to about 66 GB per smartphone – an annual growth rate of approximately 17 percent.

Mobile data traffic outlook per smartphone, North America (green) vs global average (black).

It's clear that demand for new and emerging services – and on telecom infrastructure – is growing at unprecedented rates. What’s more, as demanding use cases such as mobile gaming, extended reality, Internet of Things and video-based applications continue to increase, so too will data traffic, with uplink traffic in particular reaching never-before-seen levels – a transformative shift from the historic prioritization of download speeds. Requirements on networks are not only growing, they’re also changing.

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I’ve spent decades working with wireless technologies, from superconductors to telecom base station antennas. And across those years, there’s always been one thing that kept me excited and engaged – the very same thing that will help us meet the needs and expectations of tomorrow’s users and markets. Constant innovation.

The real question facing North American CSPs then is: how can we leverage innovation and modernize our networks for maximum impact, achieving the best performance and efficiency to meet the needs of the future, while also reducing operational costs to gain a strong return on investment?

Ericsson has been investing in North America since 1902, and in that time CSPs of all sizes have put their trust in us to meet their needs for advanced, secure and high-performance networks. We’ve also built a reputation as global technology leaders when it comes to network infrastructure and innovation. With this background, we are well-equipped to help North American CSPs leverage their position at the forefront of 5G, and build a strong, future-proof strategy to address the challenges facing them and their networks – a central part of which centers around antennas.

Why Ericsson Antenna System?

The space race and those resulting iconic first steps on the moon (together with their broadcasting), was one of America’s crowning technological achievements, impacting global history. But if we were to repeat that mission now, leveraging all the high-tech AI-powered systems, automation and connectivity capabilities we have today, would we use the same manually controlled components we used in Apollo 11? Of course not. While they might still be operational, our expectations and technology have vastly improved since then, and the performance, speed and safety of the ship would be limited by that physical infrastructure. 

Similarly, modernizing your network without considering the types of antennas needed can limit the improvements and capabilities that you can achieve. As we discussed in a recent post, purpose-built antennas form the gateway to higher-performing, energy efficient networks. They are a crucial foundation – the portal that creates the link between the user and the network, enabling higher-performing and more energy-efficient networks. By modernizing elements of your network without paying attention to base station antennas, you might end up with the equivalent of a ship that takes you twice as long to reach the moon – or doesn’t get there at all. And in the competitive telecom landscape, that’s a race you don’t want to lose.

Let’s look at some of the main reasons why antennas have such a crucial role to play in meeting the needs of the North American market, both for today and in the future.

1. Innovation and production: in America, for America

When CSPs modernize their network and antennas with Ericsson, they're not just preparing their infrastructure for what lies ahead – they're also supporting North American industry and the local economy. We've invested heavily in manufacturing and development facilities in North America, generating employment while gaining unique benefits to pass on to our customers. With local facilities, we can ensure not only excellent quality, ease of installation and customer service, but also greater agility and a shorter time to market, enhanced network security, long-term resilience and improved security across critical supply chains.

Our production site in Mexico specializes in manufacturing advanced antenna solutions for our customers, while development and technological advancement is supported by our cutting-edge Antenna Research and Development Center in Texas. The center is a vital research and testing hub, enabling the innovation that will make the networks of tomorrow possible.

There we develop antennas for all deployment scenarios for North American customers, and also run rigorous tests in state-of-the-art test chambers including a new MVG Near-field Range chamber, with the capability to more than double our antenna development output. The center is mainly responsible for passive antenna design, antenna maintenance programs and the introduction of new products.

MVG nearfield sperical chamber in our US test facility

One of the state-of-the-art measurement chambers at our Antenna Research and Development Center in Texas.

Beyond antennas, projects such as the new industry-defining collaboration with AT&T (which includes Ericsson Antenna System as a vital foundation) also utilize our recently expanded 5G Smart Factory in Lewisville, Texas for additional infrastructure production. The facility complies with the “Build America, Buy America” infrastructure laws Act, meaning its products will be proudly labeled as “Made in the USA”.

2. Enhancing network performance and operations

By considering antenna choices early-on in the network design phase, CSPs can maximize the performance and enhance coverage, capacity and throughput. No network looks the same, so it’s vital that antenna systems are flexible and purpose-built (or updated) to meet their specific needs. The right placement and antenna selection can enable better passive intermodulation (PIM) performance and reduced interference, improving overall network performance. Benchmark tests in Europe, US and Asia have proved this, and just last year we achieved a 57 percent higher uplink throughput – which, as mentioned earlier, is critical for today’s bandwidth-hungry applications, video calls and uploads to the cloud, as well as emerging gaming and XR applications.

To get the most out of their investments, CSPs also need to look beyond the up-front costs to include long-term cost offsets over the life cycle of the technology. With Ericsson Antenna System, for example, you can outweigh outlay costs with benefits such as lower operational expenses, market-leading 7.5 percent higher efficiency (MB/kWh) and – in addition to the 57 percent higher uplink mentioned previously – capabilities such as 12 percent higher downlink user throughputs and a 20 percent improvement to wind load thanks to our vortex generator technology – all in a smaller, lighter footprint.

3. Greater efficiency and increased sustainability

Sustainability and energy efficiency aren’t just nice-to-have features, they are imperative for breaking the energy curve and enabling net-zero. Energy efficiency is key for this, and by leveraging antenna innovation, CSPs can support sustainability goals while getting the most out of both their resources and spectrum. By deploying antennas tailored to specific use cases and environments, for example, spectral efficiency can be optimized, network capacity increased and power consumption minimized.

A key concept here is ensuring the energy consumed by the antennas is directly related to delivering coverage precisely, in a desired site. This is how improved beam efficiency can enable higher uplink performance and lower energy consumption by the network. For example, with the innovation of transparent radiators, Ericsson Antenna System provides a high degree of design flexibility for multi-column antennas, leading to sharper radiation patterns and improved side lobe suppression enabling the highest beam efficiency of up to 85 percent.

Ultimately, a robust antenna strategy can help reduce the energy consumption of already existing coverage (or increase coverage and reach more devices for the same energy consumption) while improving throughput and reducing inter-cell interference. With efficiency-optimizing technology, our cutting-edge antennas also achieved 29 percent energy savings for a leading CSP in Europe last year – and, given twenty percent of a CSPs operating costs come from energy bills, this can have a considerable business impact on the total cost of operations.

Partnering for environmental responsibility

As a supplier, Ericsson are also actively working to contribute to US and global sustainability goals, by reducing our local carbon footprint, ensuring ethical sourcing of raw materials and using sustainable production and packaging materials to lower our environmental impact. With our newly launched antenna platform we accomplish up to 49 percent of embodied carbon reduction compared to it's predecessor. Our North American factory has in 2023 overachieved on the target of reducing CO2 emissions by 30 percent year on year.

Disposal and management of e-waste is also an important consideration when conducting modernization of telecom infrastructure. With the global Ericsson Product Take-Back Program, the environmental impact associated with the disposal of decommissioned electrical equipment can be minimized. By handling obsolete hardware under the highest international industry standards through the collection, decommissioning, transportation, and recycling of materials, the program creates a circular economy that turns wastes into resources, with more than 98 percent of the material content being recycled – and not ending up as landfill waste.

Build today for the challenges of tomorrow

Modernizing and future-proofing our networks and infrastructure to ensure we’re ready for the challenges of tomorrow isn’t a process done in one day. As mentioned earlier, flexible, scalable and enduring solutions (and antennas) are key for future-proof networks. As no two networks look the same, solutions that are purpose-built to meet your needs are key to unlocking the most value from 5G. But for CSPs in this competitive landscape, the time is now to start planning and bringing your network infrastructure – and antennas – into the next generation, ready for the coming years of telecom innovation.

By then, we’ll be using those new capabilities to experience mobility, speeds and access to technologies that we wouldn’t even think possible today and reach all-new horizons. Who knows where the next giant leap in innovation will bring us – perhaps looking once more to the stars for inspiration. Regardless, it’s bound to be a fascinating journey.

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