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Five benefits of antenna evolution helping to shape the future of networks

  • Antennas may be passive infrastructure, but with precision engineering, they’re evolving to take on a more active role – one with real impact on the network.
  • Learn more about this antenna evolution and how it’s benefiting network performance and operations to help meet the demands of tomorrow.

Frode Dyrdal, Head of Ericsson Antenna System (EAS) for Market Areas Europe & LATAM

Five benefits of antenna evolution helping to shape the future of networks

Frode Dyrdal, Head of Ericsson Antenna System (EAS) for Market Areas Europe & LATAM

Frode Dyrdal, Head of Ericsson Antenna System (EAS) for Market Areas Europe & LATAM

Since the start of my career back in Norway, I was drawn to the telecom industry – or rather, to its potential to fundamentally change people’s lives for the better. As the years passed and my work took me across Africa, to India, the Middle East and beyond, I was able to witness the impacts first-hand.

These technologies weren’t only allowing people to communicate with one another. Telecom, and wireless connectivity in particular, was giving people access to clean drinking water. It was reducing the need for urbanization, making vital services, information and opportunities available – even to those in more remote areas outside of cities. 

Though I didn’t know it then, one of the key components making these transformative changes possible would later become the focus of my work at Ericsson – antennas.

Passive antennas with an active impact

Acting as the gateways to high-performing, energy-efficient networks, antennas are a pivotal piece of infrastructure connecting people and devices. But as a largely passive piece of equipment, their broader impact has often been seen as limited. In recent years, however, Ericsson Antenna System (EAS) have been hard at work conducting market-leading research and using precision engineering to elevate antennas to have a much more active impact that can be strategically leveraged for enormous network benefits.  

Antenna evolution is now elevating this ‘passive’ component to join the other vital network elements – the radio and its hardware and software, in a place where all can be used strategically together to benefit the network as a whole. For us, it’s the final piece in the puzzle of innovative end-to-end connectivity solutions that make the magic happen when it comes to network performance and operations.  

So, what are the technological innovations behind this evolution? And how are they helping communication service providers (CSPs) in Europe and Latin America (LATAM) meet ever-changing network and business demands? We’ll answer these questions – but first, we need to understand the context and ecosystems at play.

Insight into the reality for CSPs in a tough market

There’s no denying the current market is challenging for CSPs. The economic situation is driving up energy bills and leaving limited resources for reinvestment in infrastructure. Old antennas are numerous in networks, which can impact efficiency and increase operating expenses, while CSPs are also dealing with seven or eight bands, increasing the complexity of their networks. At the same time, network demands are also growing – and changing. 

Despite 5G uptake having been rather slow in LATAM and Central and Eastern Europe, our June 2024 Ericsson Mobility Report predicts rapid growth in 5G subscriptions in the coming years, to around 50 percent by 2029. Even in Western Europe, which is further advanced in its uptake, 5G subscriptions are set to grow significantly, reaching 86 percent in the same period. 

This growth is expected to bring with it a significant increase in traffic – and a shift toward uplink traffic demands in particular. Not only are many 5G applications more data hungry. Younger emerging users also have shown a tendency to stream – and particularly to share – video much more than prior generations, who continue to utilize more downlink traffic. 

As a result, CSPs need to be strategic and ensure a strong return on any investment. They must carefully assess how solutions can help them improve key areas such as network performance, efficiency (and energy efficiency to help offset high prices), total cost of ownership (TCO) and the flexibility to address future antenna and network needs. While perhaps not a leading decision-making element for many CSPs, sustainability is still on the agenda, with many CSPs committed to net zero goals within the next decade. 

For CSPs in Europe, priorities currently center on getting the most traffic out of every investment, as well as end user performance and quality – two factors they are (rightly) unwilling to risk jeopardizing. LATAM, on the other hand, are still experiencing a high roll-out pace. There the focus is on having the right antennas, in the right place, at the right time, and optimizing tower infrastructure.

Antenna evolution helping meet network demands

Now we understand the context of these regions a little better, let’s dive in to the antenna evolution – and how different precise engineering innovations are helping them address their challenges and meet their needs. 

1. Mechanical and physical innovations

Early innovations in antennas mostly focused on physical design and form factor. What shape, size and weight is it? How much wind load does it have? Can it fit on the mast? We’ve achieved market-leading advancements in these areas, including our vortex generator technology. This specifically engineered outer casing (or radome), resulted in up to 60 percent wind load improvement – an industry first. In addition, we have reduced weight by 24 percent, making it the lightest antenna in the industry.

Reducing the weight and footprint size also means more complex antennas can be used on the same basic infrastructure. Whether it’s on a tower, a rooftop or a wall site, smaller and lighter components enable you to squeeze more bands and capacity into the same amount of space. But the innovation doesn’t stop there. 
Further optimization is already being supported with state-of-the-art simulations including 360º wind load analysis. This enables CSPs to make informed decisions and effectively balance wind load, physical infrastructure and performance requirements, maximizing efficiency and reducing TCO. 

2. Performance and capacity

From innovations in physical design, our antenna evolution (and innovation) moved on to performance. Next-generation high performing antennas can really affect how your network runs and performs – from the ease and cost of installation to the efficiency of your radios or the capacity of your traffic throughput. In fact, a recent benchmark report demonstrated EAS performed significantly better than the closest competitor in the crucial mid band frequencies.

As mentioned earlier, mobile data traffic demands – and uplink traffic in particular – are set to increase with 5G subscriptions in both Europe and LATAM. In the same benchmarking, EAS delivered 7.5 percent more traffic volume per kWh than the best performing competitor, as well as 12 percent better downlink throughput and an impressive 57 percent better uplink throughput. These benefits are from the ‘passive’ antenna alone, in addition to the advantages an advanced radio network can provide – and a significant improvement when it comes to efficiency and meeting future demands.

3. Beam efficiency

Another key technology driving improvements in performance, but also in efficiency and power reduction, is beam efficiency. Ensuring the energy being radiated from the antenna is targeted where you want the coverage is a vital way to avoid unnecessary waste. Previously, antenna patterns were only created as a two-dimensional cross-section, providing a very limited perspective. This is why, at EAS, we invested in the technology needed for a full three-dimensional view.  
This meant we could see where all the energy was going in the radio sector, define a target ‘window’ where coverage was needed, then review how much of the energy was reaching the window – the beam efficiency. It’s valuable information, for a number of reasons. If energy is being sent up into the sky, it would be wasted, given there are no subscribers, while energy being emitted to the side could cause interference with neighboring cells. 

The more precisely you target these beams, the better your performance and efficiency, and the lower your operating expenses. Test results have measured EAS beam efficiency at up to 85 percent. But what does that translate to? A simulation from our brand-new technology paper on antenna efficiency revealed that, in dense urban scenarios, an 11 percent improvement in beam efficiency could result in an 18 percent downlink and 21 percent uplink improvement in user throughput.

4. Noise and interference reduction

Another technological advancement in antennas helping improve uplink capabilities is improved Passive Intermodulation (PIM). For the radio to clearly pick up signals – especially weak ones – from mobile phones, it’s crucial to maintain a low noise floor and minimize interference. Our enhanced PIM drives uplink through the antenna in a way that creates basically no noise, increasing capacity to allow more uplink traffic in the sector. 

Both the PIM and beam efficiency improvements came about by leveraging our unique position at Ericsson – being part of a wider team with broad knowledge and experience in telecom networks, products and services. This provided a deep understanding of how the chain works end-to-end; from the baseband, to the radio, and so on. Working together to consider all the potential pitfalls and opportunities, we innovated new ways of precision engineering our solutions to make a positive impact on the network.

5. Sustainability and energy efficiency

Naturally, the performance advantages we mentioned earlier can help make networks more efficient, but those with an eye on sustainability (or their power bills) have even more to gain. As well as the 7.5 percent higher traffic volume per kWh than the closest competitor mentioned earlier, the benchmark report also showed radio output power was reduced by 29 percent, with real savings of more than 4716 kWh/year per site. In addition, our revolutionary honeycomb structure delivers a 49 percent lower embodied carbon footprint, due to a lighter structure and fully recyclable radome. 

Learn more about our world-first honeycomb antenna design system.

So, what’s next? Well, the evolution of antennas doesn’t end here.

Smart antenna choices: band utilization and future-proofing

When it comes to antennas, the needs of tomorrow are key – as are the innovations that provide CSPs the flexibility and versatility to have their antennas and networks grow with them. The lifespan of antennas is usually around 10-12 years in the mast, and replacing them can be demanding. With traffic needs growing and uplink throughput an emerging priority, it’s vital CSPs plan ahead to ensure these demands – and future needs – will be catered to. 

This means buying an antenna with the right kind of frequency bands to support your network evolution going forward – one that enables you to define where you need a lot of carrier aggregation, and deliver it. To maximize efficiency, it’s important to have a good match for the coverage you need, as well as the capability for beam efficiency. Otherwise, you’ll be caught out later when you need to utilize all the frequency bands you invested in. Make future-proof choices that give you the flexibility to specify which frequency band can be utilized for what type of traffic when the need arises. 

Of course, all of these factors will depend on your own network and needs – if you’re uncertain, we are always willing to share our expertise and guide you in the right direction.

Next stop: transforming industry and bringing networks to life

As we look ahead to the future, exciting new use cases where antenna technologies are set to make a real impact are already on the horizon. Securing reliable ground-to-air coverage in the digital airspace for the growing drone market, for example. Or enabling the transformation of Europe’s railways with a purpose-built antenna for the new Future Railway Mobile Communication Systems (FRMCS) 5G standard. 

This antenna evolution will continue – potentially into programmable antennas that can be optimized to give even more coverage, better performance and greater capacity. They may even be aware, using the antenna and transmission and receiving functionalities like a radar to ‘see’ the network and sense what's happening around it, opening up whole new use cases.

The opportunities for transformative change with antennas will only continue to multiply as we continue to roll out 5G and advance on the path toward 6G. And with cutting-edge research still going on in EAS, there are sure to be many more groundbreaking innovations to share in the months and years. What I can say for certain is – watch this space!

Learn more

Find out more about what Ericsson Antenna System has to offer.

Read the full benchmark study evaluation of Ericsson Antenna Systems.

Watch the Ericsson and GSMA joint webinar on empowering networks for enhanced energy efficiency, performance and cost in the 5G era.

Download our technology paper on the determination of wind loads.

Discover the seven tenets of a modern antenna strategy.

Learn how 5G mid band coverage can be extended with Ericsson Uplink Booster.

Step into the future, with Ericsson’s vision for antenna systems in the era of 6G.

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