Antennas are the wires of the wireless world. They are the last stop for a signal on its way from a transmitter and the point of entry for a signal coming home to a receiver. A wireless network can be built with the world’s latest high-performance radio technology and best fiber optic backbone, but the network will only perform as good as the antennas used to send and receive the signals from the radio. A poor quality, poor performing antenna will cripple overall performance and bring the high-performance radios to their knees. Without good antennas, wireless is just less.
But not all antennas are created equal. The right antenna can make the difference between a wireless system that delivers on expectations, and one that falls flat. When designing any wireless system, the antennas must be carefully chosen to fulfill system requirements and the demands of end users. Many additional factors must also be considered, from RF performance to installation requirements to site aesthetics to total cost of ownership.
In this report, we will examine a few different site antenna solutions, with a primary focus on small cell site antennas including cannister antennas and RF lens multi-beam antennas. Before we begin that discussion, we will examine the differences between macro cells and small cells and what those differences mean when selecting antennas.
Cell sites can be broadly categorized in two ways: macro cells, the conventional cells that encompass a relatively large area (on the order of miles); and small cells, a more recent approach to wireless coverage that encompasses a much tinier area (less than a mile). Small cells serve to make a given network denser, filling in the gaps between the larger macro cells to extend coverage or increase capacity. While all small cells accomplish this goal, there are many different categories of small cells depending on their specific function.
One common category of small cells is a distributed antenna system (DAS), which can refer more specifically to indoor and outdoor distributed antenna systems (iDAS and oDAS, respectively). These systems have become indispensable facets of our modern built environment. Distributed antenna systems are found in apartment buildings, offices, airports, train stations, stadiums, hotels, restaurants, and many more locations in order to add cellular capacity and ensure sufficient coverage for dense and populous hotspots. DAS solutions can be passive, active, analog, digital, or a hybrid of the three, and are designed specifically for a given space with known requirements.
Outside of iDAS and oDAS solutions, other categories of small cells complement macro cells more generally in order to densify a network. These types of small cells are often subdivided based on their size and target user, and common terms for these cells include microcell, metrocell, picocell, and femtocell, in descending order of area, power level, and number of users.
Small cells are becoming increasingly important as wireless frequencies increase—the millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies deployed in 5G and even higher frequencies slated for future standards cannot propagate as far as the lower frequency signals common in today’s standards, though they can dramatically improve data throughput. To take advantage of such signals, it is therefore necessary to increase the number of cell sites, with each one of these small cells being closer in proximity to the end user than a conventional macro cell.
Distance between cell sites aside, small cells have several important differences from macro cells that impact the choice of antennas. For one thing, small cell sites are often in residential areas, which means they are constrained in both size and aesthetics. The large and looming macro cell towers on the outskirts of a town are not quite as appealing in the middle of a suburb. For this reason, small cell sites are often designed to be unobtrusive, in some cases even disguised. Some of the clever ways that wireless operators disguise small cells are by building them into fake trees, church towers or steeples, and even small decorative streetlight poles. The unsuspecting resident is none the wiser but enjoys the benefits of a robust and dense wireless network. If you have ever seen a fake palm tree with antennas sticking out of it, you have seen one of these small cell sites.
Power is another difference between macro and small cells. Macro cells aim to send signals far and wide for a mile or more, while small cells by design are much more limited in range—from about a mile at the largest to a few tens of feet at the smallest. Thus, the transmit power at each cell site can differ greatly. Even among small cells, the power level can range from 20 watts in an outdoor DAS to less than a tenth of a watt in the smallest femtocell.
For both macro and small cells, it is important to ensure the right amount of coverage for the cell. Too short a range and a cell may not be fully covered; too long a range and you may interfere with a neighbouring cell. It is therefore crucial to understand an antenna’s propagation characteristics and ensure it covers the correct area.
Antennas must always contend with trade-offs between size, directionality, gain, interference, frequency, and other system characteristics. For both macro and small cells, these trade-offs must be optimized to provide clean, comprehensive coverage.
For one thing, it is important to ensure that antenna beam patterns are directed properly towards the cell. The antennas must encompass the entire cell while not overreaching and interfering with neighbouring cells. Electrical or mechanical beam tilt can ensure that the cell coverage is properly bounded, and techniques such as beam steering can provide further control over the radiation pattern when necessary. To cover the full cell area, there must be multiple independent beams, and the beam patterns must be clean with minimal side lobes, high isolation between beams, and offer industry leading sector power ratio, which is a measurement of wasted energy found inside lobes compared to the main coverage beam.
Cell site antennas must also account for the different frequencies and wireless services that may be required in a given cell. Cell providers may own and operate their own cell towers and antennas, or they may share towers with other operators, resulting in several different sets of antennas operating in different parts of the spectrum, both licensed and unlicensed. Frequency bands can encompass wireless standards such as Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G, and, increasingly, 5G. As wireless standards continue to evolve into 6G and further, cell site antenna coverage must keep up as well.
Another important factor to consider for site antennas is their structural integrity and installation requirements. Antennas high up on macro cell site towers may be exposed to strong winds and other damaging elements such as ice loading and constant vibration. Together with their radomes, antennas must be resistant to these environmental conditions while remaining light and accessible for installation and maintenance. Similarly, antennas should be concealed, when possible, especially in small cells and highly populated environments. The appearance of antennas should be customizable based on the surroundings or brand identity of the provider, who may wish to minimize visual impact or perhaps add a logo to their wireless infrastructure.
A popular type of antenna for small cell sites is called a canister antenna, named for its characteristic slim and cylindrical appearance. The singular name canister antenna is slightly misleading, as canister antennas actually package multiple antennas into a single container. In this way, canister antennas allow for sufficient wireless coverage and capacity while minimizing both visual appearance and installation requirements. Canister antennas are an ideal fit for small cell sites on light poles, power poles, roofs, and other existing urban infrastructure.
Since small cells are close together and often in noisy RF environments, it is important to ensure that canister antennas are not subject to high amounts of interference. To this end, always look for canister antennas with low passive intermodulation (PIM). Gammu Nu is a provider of site antenna solutions, including canister antennas, that are specifically designed to minimize both PIM and voltage standing wave ratio (VSWR) losses while maximizing gain and performance. Gammu Nu’s antennas are tested to provide PIM values less than 153 dBc and a VSWR below 1.3:1.
Gamma Nu’s canister antenna portfolio currently includes 14 distinct antennas across multiple frequency bands, with varying gain. The Pico or MESO canisters antennas can be customized per carrier for their specific frequency range/requirements.
The Pico antennas are as slim as (7.9 inches in diameter), small (as short as 23.6 inches in height), lightweight (starting at 12 pounds), and strong (with a rated survival wind speed of 150 miles per hour). The MESO canister antennas are 14 -16 inches in diameter, 0.6 meters – 4 meters in height, and strong (with a rated survival wind speed of 150 miles per hour). Some of the company’s canister antennas include RET (remote electrical tilting) device, allowing operators to remotely adjust down-tilt independently per sector.
Because canister antennas contain a full complement of radiating elements inside a slim and subtle housing, they are an easy and appealing solution for quick small cell deployments. They can provide 360-degree coverage for adding dedicated cell capacity to busy metropolitan locations such as airports, malls, plazas, and more. Small cell canister antennas can also provide an easy way to extend network coverage without requiring the cost and time needed to build a macro cell tower.
For larger cell cites demanding higher gain signals than those available from canister antennas, a type of technology called a radio frequency (RF) lens may be appropriate. Like a lens in a magnifying glass that bends optical light, an RF lens bends radio waves in such a way as to shape the desired antenna signal. A popular example is the so-called Luneburg lens, a sphere with variable dielectric properties specifically formulated to focus a planar wave to a single point—or, conversely, to collimate a point source into a directional wave front. Since the Luneburg lens is spherically symmetric, multiple antennas can be placed around the surface of such a lens to create multiple independent beams focused in different directions.
Antenna provider MatSing, the global leader in RF lens technology, provides multi-beam antennas for a variety of cell site applications. RF lenses can vary significantly in size, with the biggest lenses measuring as many as 5 meters across. Lenses of this size are not practical for the constrained spaces and low profiles of many small cells but are designed to provide exceptional multi-beam performance for high-capacity venues such as outdoor concerts, stadiums, arenas, and downtown urban cores. For a closer alternative to canister antennas, RF lens technology can be minimized to provide high performance and high-capacity multi-beam antennas in a smaller form factor.
RF lens multi-beam antennas such as those provided by MatSing offer several benefits for cell sites. The properties of the lenses allow for multiple independent beams with high isolation between them and low passive intermodulation (less than 153 dBc). As with canister antennas, RF multi-beam lens antennas enable coverage of multiple bands in one package. MatSing’s multi-beam antennas provide the world’s cleanest beam patterns and offer individual beam tilt adjustment, enabling wireless operators to focus the beam exactly where the coverage is needed. The antennas are light in weight and structurally strong, allowing for easy installation and operation in harsh conditions. However, unlike canister antennas, RF lens multi-beam antennas do not provide 360 degrees of coverage in a single package. MatSing’s multi-beam base station antennas, for example, provide 120 degrees per band across up to seven bands.
As 5G continues to gain prominence across the globe, the demand for small cells and the antennas that serve them will only increase. Not only is a smaller cell size better suited to the higher mmWave frequencies employed in 5G, but the comparatively easy rollout and lower cost of small cells compared to macro cells is becoming increasingly apparent. Small cells provide a convenient means of increasing cell capacity, filling gaps between macro cells, and expanding network coverage. To do so effectively, the proper antennas solutions must be deployed.
In this report, we have discussed several of the considerations for proper antenna solutions, from their performance characteristics to aesthetics. For small cells, canister antennas and RF lens multi-beam antennas are both high performing options that provide clean broadband coverage in a single unobtrusive package.
As wireless standards evolve from mmWave into even higher frequencies (the terahertz range is under serious consideration for 6G networks, for example), small cell antennas will be an even more important component of urban infrastructure and, without exaggeration, a crucial enabler of our everyday lives. Cell sites that anticipate this growing importance will be poised to succeed as wireless technology continues to progress.
Source: Gap Wireless
To obtain a PDF copy of the “Site Antenna Solutions Report,” click here.
H3C, an IT infrastructure product manufacturer with principal operations in Hangzhou, China, has selected Keysight Technologies for peripheral component interface express (PCIe) compliance validation and 5G small cell performance testing to capture opportunities in data compute and 5G markets, according to information from Keysight.
“H3C has served the Chinese data compute market with digital infrastructure products including servers, routers and switches for more than 30 years,” a statement from Keysight reads. “H3C is now expanding into 5G technology with small cell solutions. H3C selected Keysight’s comprehensive suite of 5G and high-speed digital test solutions to continuously verify compliance to the latest specifications defined by standard organizations and industry consortia such as PCI-SIG, 3GPP, O-RAN Alliance and IEEE.”
Digital transformation at the edge of the network requires efficient management of compute workloads, the statement reads. It said that the design complexity of high-speed serial data links in servers, routers and switches in data centers is increasing as data rates rise. The complexity creates a need for high-performance, software-driven PCIe transceiver test tools, according to Keysight. The company said that its Infinium UXR real-time oscilloscope, bit error ratio tester (BERT), precision waveform analyzers and optical transceiver test solutions enable H3C to verify PCIe transmitters and receivers used in data center and cloud computing platforms.
“H3C also uses Keysight’s user equipment (UE) emulation solution, UeSIM to validate the performance of a network infrastructure under real-world scenarios across the full protocol stack by emulating real network traffic over radio and O-RAN fronthaul interfaces,” the statement reads. ” UeSIM, part of Keysight’s open radio access network architect (KORA) portfolio, addresses emulation requirements from the edge of the radio access network (RAN) to the core of the network.”
Small cells for 5G are forecast to grow substantially over the next decade, growing to 45 million units by 2031, according to new research from IDTechEx,
The growth in these small cells will be due to the adoption rate of sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave (mmWave) globally as well as the growth in internet of things (IoT) for broadband and critical applications, 5G rollout for enterprises, urban and rural and remote purposes, and utilization rate of different types of small cells.
Small cells will help to bridge the gap allowing signals to travel indoors and to other areas without interruptions.
Small cells are divided into three types: femtocells, picocells and microcells. Because of their smaller size compared to base stations, they can be installed in areas where a larger station would be inaccessible. IDTechEx said small cells would play a key role in 5G to deploy an ultra-dense network to complement a macro network and boost capacity.
The full research can be found in IDTechEx’s 5G Small Cells 2021-2031: Technologies, Markets, Forecast report.
Dewey Beach’s Alex Pires is taking on Verizon in a class-action lawsuit filed June 21 seeking to remove five 5G poles on the beach and prevent the telecom giant from installing any more.
The lawsuit filed in Delaware Court of Chancery asks the court to expedite proceedings and issue a temporary restraining order against Verizon to stop it from erecting cell towers on sand dunes or the beach east of Route 1, and to take down the five already put up.
“I don’t think it’s healthy for our society when billion-dollar companies walk all over small towns like Dewey,” Pires said, who is joined on the complaint by his wife Diane Cooley, also an attorney, and Dewey Beach resident John Snow. “The least we can do is put up a fight.”
And fight they will.
The experienced litigator, who made a name for himself by suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture over discriminatory practices against Black farmers, and Cooley live on Dickinson Avenue less than a block away from a cell tower placed on Rodney Avenue; Snow lives on Bellevue Street about three blocks from the Rodney tower.
Three poles were installed without permits being obtained from Dewey Beach, while two other installations did not follow proper permitting requirements, the lawsuit states.
“Due process means everyone has to follow the law. Everyone has to apply for building permits,” Pires said. “Verizon should have applied for five permits and followed the rules. Instead, they cheated and applied for only two, and those two applications were incomplete and misleading.”
According to the lawsuit, Verizon could install up to eight more cell towers on the sand dunes.
Dewey officials have publicly denounced the poles, and have tried to regulate wireless facilities since 2020. In March, commissioners unanimously voted to amend the town’s agreement with the Delaware Department of Transportation, taking DelDOT out of the town’s permitting process except for rights of way on and adjacent to Routes 1 and 1A. Commissioners voted June 11 to hire a consultant to assist with wireless facilities and 5G pole placement application review.
The push for cell tower installations in the beach town has been years in the making, as cellphone giants have been marketing phones with 5G capability, creating a buzz for their products while promising better cellphone service. In 2017, Gov. John Carney passed his Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Investment Act, which authorized wireless providers to install poles on state rights-of-way to increase connectivity.
Route 1 Option
The lawsuit points to two cell tower permits along Route 1 as proof that Verizon could install its structures away from the beach.
“Instead of pursuing a cooperative process in which Verizon worked with the public and Dewey Beach to find more appropriate, less obstructive settings for the cell towers, Verizon chose to pressure the town employees and create obstructions on precious natural landscape that negatively affect Dewey Beach residents,” the lawsuit states.
Building permits were signed under duress over the objection of Dewey Beach’s acting town manager and mayor, the suit states.
Pires likens Dewey’s fight against Verizon to that of David and Goliath.
“Verizon has 132,000 employees and assets of $316 billion. Dewey Beach has 341 residents, 32 employees and no assets other than an old building, some equipment/cars and a rainy-day fund,” the suit states.
In Dewey Beach’s 100 years of existence, the suit states, it has never placed a permanent pole or structure on the beach. “The cell towers are eyesores, highly visible structures placed on an otherwise natural setting – one which residents of Dewey Beach expect to be preserved in accordance with the natural surroundings,” the suit states. “Moreover, the cell towers disrupt the enjoyment renters and visitors, who are paying for the enjoyment of unobstructed ocean views, expect when they vacation in Dewey Beach.”
Pires said Verizon should not be allowed to operate above the law, and neither should the state or any of its departments. “The state doesn’t own anything. The people who live in Delaware own the beaches,” he said.
No More Beach Towers
In an effort to prevent more beachfront cell towers being installed, the lawsuit asks the court for an injunction to prevent Verizon from erecting cell towers on Dewey Beach’s oceanside sand dunes. The suit also asks the court to make Verizon remove all the cell towers it has erected on the beach, and asks the court to expedite its decision on the matter.
“I think we, the residents, should win. I hope we win. But big corporations never admit their wrong. It’s going to be a battle. So my expectations are modest,” Pires said. “We may lose our lawsuit, but Verizon is going to get a bloody nose during the fight. Maybe more.”
Melissa Steele is a reporter with the Cape Gazette. Republished with permission from the Cape Gazette.
ExteNet Systems, a private owner and operator of converged communications infrastructure delivering advanced mobility and fiber connectivity, has closed its previously announced strategic investment by Manulife Investment Management. Manulife Investment Management’s commitment was sourced for the John Hancock Life Insurance Company (U.S.A.) balance sheet as well as third-party managed accounts. Manulife Investment Management joins existing major investors, Digital Colony and Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners, with this transaction. The investment provides the Manulife-led consortium approximately 30 percent ownership of ExteNet. ExteNet plans to use the capital infusion in ongoing 5G network densification as it continues to address advanced connectivity needs of its customers, including mobile network operators (MNOs), carriers, property owners and enterprises.
“Manulife Investment Management is an invaluable addition to ExteNet’s investor group as we continue to build and operate high-performance next-generation communications infrastructure nationwide,” said Marc Ganzi, executive chairman of ExteNet. “We look forward to working with the Manulife team to accelerate ExteNet’s next phase of growth and deliver tomorrow’s connectivity today.”
Brian McMullen, a partner at Stonepeak, said that in an increasingly connected society, ExteNet’s integrated portfolio of innovative, advanced connectivity solutions positions the company at the forefront of the ongoing 5G digital transformation. “Our partnership with Manulife Investment Management will allow us to extend our market leadership and capture the significant opportunities ahead,” he said.
Steve Blewitt, global head of private markets at Manulife Investment Management, said that with the robust 5G demand drivers for small cell and DAS networks, ExteNet is well-positioned to remain what he called the leading independent provider in that business. “Manulife is looking forward to working alongside ExteNet’s world-class team to deliver next generation communications infrastructure and services to create enhanced value for all our stakeholders,” he said.
Jim Hyde, president and CEO at ExteNet, said that the successful Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) and C-band spectrum auctions served as validation for the future of 5G wireless communications. He said that ExteNet’s technical leadership, customer-first and solution-focused approach sets it apart. Hyde indicated that he considers Manulife Investment Management to be a partner with ExteNet in building the next-generation communications infrastructure as the company continues to roll out its Fiber-First enterprise fiber services. He said that Fiber-First “ensures that the underlying infrastructure is robust, scalable and carrier-grade, to deliver advanced connectivity for businesses and communities across the United States.”
PJT Partners served as financial advisors to ExteNet and its investors. TAP Advisors served as financial advisors to Manulife Investment Management. Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett provided legal representation to ExteNet, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison represented Manulife Investment Management. Financial terms of the transaction are not being disclosed.