BY J. SHARPE SMITH
With the deployment of the First Responders Broadband Network (FirstNet) beginning next year, the antenna industry is ramping up with production and the orders are beginning to roll in. OEMs, such as CommScope and Kathrein, have introduced families of base station antennas designed to support FirstNet site configurations, including 4X4 MIMO, in single and dual antenna configurations with multiple port counts and antenna lengths.
“There is a lot of interest in the market regarding FirstNet deployment,” Farid Firouzbakht, senior vice president, RF Products, CommScope, told AGL eDigest in a phone interview. “We already have a backlog of FirstNet orders from companies that are anticipating a ramp of activity building FirstNet in 2018.”
Kathrein has anticipated the FirstNet rollout and has been proactively stocking inventories during the past few months for AT&T.
“We have seen the first wave of orders over the past month and anticipate more in Q1 2018,” Capriccio Martin, vice president of marketing and product management of Kathrein, told AGL eDigest in a separate interview.
New Lines of Antennas
CommScope’s FirstNet antenna portfolio includes 12 models that operate in the D Band, featuring from six to 12 ports in four-, six- or eight-foot models. The choice of which antenna is appropriate will be a function of the different deployment strategies of each region, as well as the loading on each tower, Firouzbakht said. The OEM expects volumes of sales to differ for each model, with some of them serving niche applications.
“The kind of antenna they deploy may be a function of how crowded the tower is or whether the carrier wants to replace the existing antennas or if the want to add to the existing antennas. We designed so many variant of the antenna, because we need to cover the entire nation and there is no one size fits all strategy for every tower,” Firouzbakht said.
Kathrein’s line of 4×4 MIMO/FirstNet antenna offers four-port, eight-port, 10-port and 12-port units. Adding ports, especially in Band 14, requires additional space inside an antenna radome, which required the use of wider antennas for FirstNet or the use of a “two-antenna” solution, according to Martin.
“New intermodulation combinations were introduced with Band 14, so PIM [passive intermodulation] is a special consideration,” Martin said. “With the introduction of 4×4 MIMO into the LTE networks, a significant capacity/spectral efficiency benefit is realized along with close attention to mitigating PIM within an antenna solution.”
For AT&T, FirstNet and Beyond
CommScope’s custom-designed product, which needs to be integrated into the AT&T’s entire network of cell sites, was developed during the last 12 months in concert with the carrier.
“We have long standing relationships with the operators in North America,” said Firouzbakht. “We work with them as partners and advisors to develop specifications through design, prototyping and simulations. We are not guessing what AT&T will need. We have negotiated with the carrier on the different requirements.”
The new line of antennas will have applications and markets well beyond FirstNet, according to Martin.
“AT&T is paving the way in terms of the number of ports and bands needed in their markets for densification and FirstNet,” she said. “However, Kathrein antennas are not just for AT&T, there is worldwide demand for our broadbanded 4×4 MIMO 12-port solutions.”