& cplSiteName &

Next-Gen Challenges of LTE RF Design

Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
6/10/2013
50%
50%

With Long Term Evolution (LTE), you've got the whole world in your hand … or a global ecosystem, anyway. It's going to be a while before you can hold an LTE tablet or smartphone that will work nearly anywhere in the world the way its GSM or UMTS ancestors can.

That's the double-edged sword of LTE: Virtually the entire cellular world is migrating to it, which means enormous economies of scale over the long term. In the short term, operators and regulators are scrounging for every bit of available spectrum for LTE. The result is more than 40 potential bands, roughly 19 of which are currently in use.

Smartphone OEMs would love to have a small set of core LTE bands that they could build into their devices so they will work in most parts of the world. As explained in the new Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider, "LTE RF Design: Problems & Opportunities," this desire isn't so much because there's an enormous market for LTE devices that can roam globally. Instead, it's more so that OEMs can have as few SKUs (stock keeping units) as possible for each device model and still tap the widest possible market. Minimizing SKUs will become increasingly important as operators launch LTE in developing markets, where price sensitivity makes it financially difficult to have operator- or country-specific SKUs.

LTE also has the challenge of arriving in the middle of a trend toward ever-thinner smartphones and tablets. Those form factors make it difficult to find room for antennas not only for multiple LTE bands, but also for 3G/2.5G/2G fallback, Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi and GPS. "These devices can become a porcupine," says a Tier 1 U.S. operator executive.

By some estimates, the thin-is-in trend is reducing the space available for antennas and other radio frequency (RF) components by 25 percent per year. For device OEMs, the good news is that there's no shortage of vendors -- Ethertronics Inc., Qualcomm Inc. and SkyCross Inc. among them -- stepping up with antennas and other RF solutions designed to accommodate these and other LTE challenges. The trick is convincing OEMs that hardware such as active antennas are key for not only delivering regional or global LTE roaming, but also for the performance that users expect from 4G.

"They've gotten used to paying pennies for antennas," says one chipset vendor, referring to device OEMs. "To them, it's just a piece of stamped metal. These active antennas and tunable antennas, they consume power and take up more footprint and they cost more. So there's this hesitancy to go to a premium-priced component that they're used to paying pennies for."

What could change their minds? One thing is a reputation for poor performance. As it happens, this report was written just as some iPhone 4 owners were receiving US$15 checks as part of a class action settlement for "Antennagate" -- the mini scandal that erupted after initial buyers reported dropped calls and other signal-related problems based on how they held their iPhone. It's not a stretch to call Antennagate a wake-up moment for vendors and operators about how RF design directly affects everything from brand reputation to the bottom line.

LTE's RF challenges aren't limited to smartphones and tablets. Some chipset vendors predict that LTE-only RF modules (sans antennas) will drop to $20 in volume by the end of this year. That decline means OEMs of digital cameras and other CE devices, as well as commercial products such as video surveillance cameras, will increasingly want to add LTE to their products. Doing so will be easier said than done because those companies typically lack in-house RF design experience. As a result, there will be opportunities for antenna manufacturers and other RF vendors to provide those OEMs with LTE solutions that they can basically drop into their products, rather than taking on the cost and lead time of trying to develop those on their own.

RF systems are one more example of how LTE isn't a market where any vendor can parachute in and assume success. But for those that have what it takes, there's a lot of money to be made by solving all of those problems.

— Tim Kridel, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider


This report, "LTE RF Design: Problems & Opportunities," is available as part of an annual subscription (6 issues per year) to Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/4glte.

(0)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
More Blogs from Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Next week at BCE, we'll look at some of the ways machine learning and AI will help operators make the customer experience better, without driving up the cost of network operations.
The Aussie operator is trying to reinvent itself, and its network-as-a-service is a vital piece of the transformation puzzle.
Every network operators business case is different but what remains true is that combining the disciplines needed to get value from data requires a very collaborative organization.
Universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) systems are growing rapidly, paving the way for new opportunities, lowered costs and increased performance overall.
At BCE, find out how intent-based networking could be a boon to service providers' goals of simplifying their complex networks.
Featured Video
From The Founder
Light Reading founder Steve Saunders talks with VMware's Shekar Ayyar, who explains why cloud architectures are becoming more distributed, what that means for workloads, and why telcos can still be significant cloud services players.
Flash Poll
Upcoming Live Events
June 26, 2018, Nice, France
September 12, 2018, Los Angeles, CA
September 24-26, 2018, Westin Westminster, Denver
October 9, 2018, The Westin Times Square, New York
October 17, 2018, Chicago, Illinois
October 23, 2018, Georgia World Congress Centre, Atlanta, GA
November 7-8, 2018, London, United Kingdom
November 8, 2018, The Montcalm by Marble Arch, London
November 15, 2018, The Westin Times Square, New York
December 4-6, 2018, Lisbon, Portugal
All Upcoming Live Events
Hot Topics
Telus CTO: NFV Burden May Cripple Telcos
Iain Morris, News Editor, 5/14/2018
Verizon CEO Says LA Is Second 5G City
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 5/16/2018
TM Forum Sea-Change Overcomes That Sinking Feeling
Iain Morris, News Editor, 5/17/2018
Animals with Phones
Live Digital Audio

A CSP's digital transformation involves so much more than technology. Crucial – and often most challenging – is the cultural transformation that goes along with it. As Sigma's Chief Technology Officer, Catherine Michel has extensive experience with technology as she leads the company's entire product portfolio and strategy. But she's also no stranger to merging technology and culture, having taken a company — Tribold — from inception to acquisition (by Sigma in 2013), and she continues to advise service providers on how to drive their own transformations. This impressive female leader and vocal advocate for other women in the industry will join Women in Comms for a live radio show to discuss all things digital transformation, including the cultural transformation that goes along with it.

Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Partner Perspectives - content from our sponsors
Swisscom: Quick off the Blocks With 5G
By Gary Maidment, for Huawei
SAIL the Atlantic With CAMTEL
By Gary Maidment, for Huawei
What's in the Box?
By Huawei
Beginning With the End In Mind
By Kevin Taylor, for Huawei
All Partner Perspectives