PARTNER FEATURE: In August, 2019, ABI Research, one of the world’s leading global tech market advisory firms, released its 2018 research report regarding global base station antennas – 5G Antenna Innovations. As mobile network technologies evolve from 3G to 4G, and then to 5G, mobile data traffic increases exponentially. According to ABI Research’s report, by the end of 2018, the total number of mobile users worldwide reached 8.5 billion, and a total of approximate 201 exabytes of traffic (1 exabyte = 1018 bytes) were created. It is estimated that by 2023, the global mobile user base will reach 9.4 billion and mobile data traffic will reach 1.5 zettabytes (1 zettabyte = 1021 bytes), which is an increase of approximately 7.5 times. How will mobile networks manage to deal with such a large capacity demand?
In radio access networks, mobile service providers increase throughput by using sector splitting, beamforming, and high-order MIMO, among other technologies. Base station antennas must continuously evolve to support new technologies in delivering maximum throughput. As we usher in a new era, base station antennas will support multi-band, multi-port, multi-beam, massive MIMO, and remote scenario-specific beam adjustment. New models, including active antennas and hybrid active-passive antennas, will also be introduced.
- Multi-band & multi-port: more bands and channels over a single antenna
The coexistence of 4G and 5G networks in the era of 5G puts mobile service providers under increasing pressure with regard to site space constraints and load-bearing limits. 5G networks must support all bands of 2G, 3G, and 4G over one antenna to give way to Massive MIMO. Component carrier aggregation (CCA), dual connectivity between LTE and 5G, and fallback in NSA to support 4G and 3G require multi-band antennas.
These new trends lead to continuously growing multi-band/multi-port antenna shipments. According to ABI Research, six-port or beyond antennas account for more than 56% of global FDD passive antenna shipments, and this figure is still increasing year-on-year. Multi-band antennas have already become the industry’s mainstream model.
- Multi-beam: multi-sector hybrid networking over a single antenna for optimal capacity
For mobile service providers that have limited spectrum but face pressing capacity demands, multi-beam antennas offer an ideal option to enhance network coverage and increase capacity while retaining the same antenna space. Currently, dual-beam antennas have been widely deployed around the world, helping alleviate network congestion and facilitate capacity expansion.
- Active antennas: simplified antenna space for higher efficiency and performance
Active antennas integrate RF units and antennas, making fiber-optic cables the only media to connect antennas, RF units, and baseband units. This simplifies antenna installation, saves space, and decreases on cable loss and power loss arising from the use of passive antennas. Compared to their passive counterparts, active antennas support high-order Massive MIMO and enable higher sector-level throughput, despite being more costly.
- Hybrid active-passive antennas: higher performance, smaller wind load, simplified massive MIMO deployment
Hybrid active-passive antennas are integrated assemblies of Massive MIMO units with passive antennas. This design allows electronic components and RF units to be shared, presenting an effective way to simplify Massive MIMO deployment, lessen the impact of site acquisition, and shorten the time to market for 5G services. This integration is conducive to curtailing wind load and overcoming site load-bearing limits.
- Massive MIMO and 3D beamforming: improved channel capacity and reliability
Massive MIMO uses 3D beamforming to adjust antenna beam shapes, making radio power more concentrated on target terminals under the target antenna coverage. This significantly increases spectral efficiency and sector-level throughput. Massive MIMO is an essential 5G technology due to its strong performance. As mobile networks transition to 5G, Massive MIMO is expected to deliver network capacity that is 100 times more than that of current LTE-A and LTE-A Pro solutions.
- Remote scenario-specific beam adjustment: reduced neighboring cell interference, more accurate coverage
The increasing popularity of high-order modulation and MIMO in LTE and 5G RANs will make high SINR more essential. Remote scenario-specific beam adjustment reduces interference between sectors to maximize SINR while raising spectral efficiency and network performance. While complying with the AISG specifications, remote scenario-specific beam adjustment facilitates engineering parameter optimization and beam directivity control by avoiding site visits and tower climbing and saves networks from downtime maintenance. It supports diverse diagnosis of key parameters, including power strength and connector quality.