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The role of antenna quality in small cell and 5G deployments

Mobile network operators are densifying their network infrastructure to both meet ever-increasing data demands and to lay the groundwork for 5G.

While the importance of fiber, spectrum availability and ease of siting are often discussed in network equipment deployments, one overlooked factor is the impact that antenna quality has on the efficiency, effectiveness and total cost of ownership of such deployments.

Here are three ways that antenna quality impacts small cell deployment:

Quality antennas have fewer impairments and failures, reducing TCO. 

The worst-case scenario for antennas is complete failure, which means they must be replaced. That can delay site turn-up or require a site visit. Antenna design and manufacturing company Kathrein estimates that for a cellular network with 40,000 antennas, a 2% failure rate will cost the MNO nearly $1 million per year in site visits costs.

Short of failure, antenna quality also impacts how consistently and well an antenna performs — which directly influences user experience. Low-quality components or insufficient attention to passive intermodulation (PIM) during design and testing can mean that an antenna doesn’t perform according to the expectations of network planners, resulting in poor coverage, blocked or dropped calls or impacts to throughput, according to Dr. David Kokotoff, senior sales engineer at antenna design and manufacturing company Kathrein.

Kokotoff said that besides the extensive controlled mechanical and environmental testing in the lab, Kathrein has a number of sites around the world where it tests its antennas in challenging environmental conditions. These sites keep equipment in the field to observe what happens over years of exposure to the elements: in salt-exposed environments near the sea and in hot and humid conditions. The extensive, long-term testing, he said, contributes to improving overall reliability and keeping Kathrein’s antenna failure rate at less than 0.05%.

As antenna complexity increases, so does the importance of quality. 

Kokotoff noted that with MNOs needing support for both low- and mid-band spectrum as well as support for carrier aggregation and multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO), License-Assisted Access and CBRS spectrum, the number of ports has increased: eight, ten or more ports are commonly requested. Supporting multiple bands in a small-volume base station while achieving the desired performance is no small feat, especially when proper isolation must be maintained. Rigorous PIM testing and high-quality compatible component selection also becomes important to ensure consistent antenna performance in the complex urban RF environments where small cells are most needed.

Thoughtful design features can make installation and management easier. 

Remote electrical tilt is a feature more commonly associated with macro site antennas, but Kokotoff said that Kathrein has recently introduced RET to its small cell antennas. MNOs used to think that they could avoid small cell interference through site selection, he said, but optimal sites are not always available or affordable. Features such as RET can offer MNOs the ability to tweak their small cells’ coverage and get what they need from the sites that they can most easily access.

Antenna design also needs to account for the real-world challenges of installation. Many models of light poles, for instance, have a wide base but a thin pole that make it difficult to fit all the necessary cables that need to run to the multi-port equipment placed at the top. Kathrein has tackled this via the use of diplexers internal to the antenna to minimize cable runs.

Since small cells need to be placed close to end users, aesthetics of the equipment and the ability to creatively place antennas also come into play. Kathrein has focused its efforts on “out of sight, out of mind” design for small cells, including building-corner and side-mounted options and even antennas that can be placed underground to provide street-level coverage.

Learn more about Kathrein’s antenna portfolio.

Kathrein USA Meets Austin, Texas

It has been a busy start of the year for Kathrein USA with the Verizon IBTUF Event and the Kathrein USA Quarterly Sales Meeting both taking place in awesome Austin Texas, the “Live Music Capital of the World”  –  nice change of pace from the usual Las Vegas craziness for tradeshows.  The two events also had a common theme:  How to Meet the Challenge of Growing Mobile Data Usage by Supplying Strategic Solutions (such as Kathrein USA’s antenna and filter products).

Kathrein USA’s Inaugural IBTUF 

It was Kathrein USA’s first time attending IBTUF (In Building Technical Users Forum), and the tenth IBTUF hosted by Verizon Wireless.  It was an unqualified success, as this Verizon specific show had exhibits and technical presentations on par with the best industry tradeshows. 

The Kathrein booth was not the only one featuring Kathrein antennas- ConcealFab, located down the hall, also featured Kathrein antennas with the ConcealFab enclosures designed for Passive Intermodulation (PIM) performance and mechanical integrity – a great fit for Kathrein’s antennas and filters.   

There were numerous discussion opportunities among vendors around the best way to combine complementary products for Verizon’s  densification initiatives.  As an example, CablCon provided an immediate “consultation’ for new jumpers with 4.3-10 DIN connectors that Kathrein needed for a Verizon trial in Detroit the following week. 

KUSA booth at IBTUF

Kathrein USA’s booth at IBTUF

Of all of the IBTUF presentations, a favorite was “Spectrum – Where are We? Where are we Headed?” with Scott Townley, Fellow, Network Technology, RF Technology Planning, Verizon.  Scott gave indications of future directions of the Verizon network and what Verizon vendors need to do to meet those needs.  Starting with the fact that mobile data usage will increase fivefold over the next five years, Scott showed the need for network densification to properly handle this increasing data demand.

Scott went on to reveal the “densest square mile” in various cities requiring network densification – Western US cities that many in the audience believed to be quite spread out, such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Seattle and Denver. According to Scott Townley, “Microcell is happening” almost everywhere (not just in the biggest cities).  Kathrein’s new small cell antennas and filter solutions fit nicely with this widespread need for network densification.

Scott Townley presentation for IBTUF

Scott Townley- Spectrum Presentation: IBTUF

 

RF solution providers, such as Kathrein USA, were very interested in Tom Bell’s (Anritsu) presentation that made a clear case for the importance of improving PIM, as more carriers are added at each site as network densification occurs.   Tom pointed out additional challenges, such as Intermodulation products derived from the new FirstNet spectrum, that will be added for public safety considerations in future network designs.  Again, Kathrein is leading the way with PIM performance by constantly improving manufacturing techniques and using components like the 4.3-10 DIN connector (all of which Kathrein tests extensively in the lab and in the field before deploying).  To view a video explaining how Kathrein solves PIM issues with the 4.3-10 connector, click here.

Austin- The Perfect Place for a Quarterly Sales Meeting

After IBTUF, Kathrein USA remained in Austin to kick off 2016 with our Annual Sales Meeting.  This continued the theme of Kathrein USA supporting the wireless industry with new products to provide solutions for increased mobile traffic needs in the coming years.  Kathrein’s innovative Product Roadmap, with new small cell antennas alongside existing macro and higher port size antennas, fits the bill for the densification of networks.    

The Sales Meeting included the Executive team, Regional Sales Managers, Marketing, Technical Support, Sales Engineering and Customer Service; employees from all over the United States and Rosenheim, Germany.  One of the most anticipated sessions was Stefan Kohl’s Kathrein Product Roadmap.  Mr. Kohl,  Kathrein Germany’s Head of Sales for Mobile Communications, laid out an exciting plan for new solutions and updates to existing solutions. 

Stefan Kohl at KUSA sales meeting

Stefan Kohl, Head of Sales-Mobile Communications, Kathrein

For the Small Cell and oDAS antenna products, there are many new developments for existing antenna designs.  Kathrein’s lineup of Slim Pole antennas, Smart Pipe antennas, “Super” Canister antennas, F-Panel antennas and the new Kathrein Street Connect antenna all have product enhancements in 2016.  The classic Canister antenna is now going into production with extended high band frequencies to extend performance to 2690 MHz.  There are also plans to extend the Slim Pole and Smart Pipe antennas to the lower frequency bands.  The latest Kathrein Street Connect antenna system provides a great solution for difficult zoning situations and will be deployed in the United States this year after successful trials in Switzerland.  The current version of these antennas can be viewed in the Kathrein Catalog.  Kathrein has also continued research and development on their line of Filter products to support and supplement the antenna products. 

Concurrently, Kathrein development proceeds full steam ahead with its roster of macro cell antennas featuring 8-port, 10-port and 12-port antennas, as well as improvements to existing antennas (e.g. starting preparation for the 600 MHz auction).   Kathrein macro cell antennas, with increasing numbers of ports, allow for increased network data requirements in their own way by increasing the spectrum possibilities and carrier aggregation. Again, Kathrein Filter products play an important role in providing a complete system solution. 

At Kathrein USA, the motto is “Work Hard, Play Hard”, so after a full day of informative presentations and meetings, the team enjoyed an evening of “Top Golf”, regardless of their golfing ability. 

KUSA employees at Austin capital building

KUSA Executives, Sales, Engineering, and Marketing teams at the Texas State Capital in Austin

top golf montage

Ron Zielke, KUSA CFO and longtime employee takes his golf seriously, Cisco Ortiz, Sales Engineer and newest KUSA employee, not so much. Scott Nagel, Content Marketing Manager, perfecting his Dr. Jekyl jelly filled donut.

 

 

Both the Verizon Wireless IBTUF and the Kathrein USA Communications Sales Meeting highlighted the importance of Kathrein providing new antenna and filter solutions for the ever increasing mobile data demand in 2016 and beyond.