4G/LTE is the fourth generation of broadband cellular technology that was released in 2009. It brought with it significant upgrades from the existing 3G network in terms of speeds and bandwidth. In 2010, its definition was expanded to include Long Term Evolution to further increase capacity and speed using a different radio interface together with core network improvements. Since its introduction, 4G/LTE has become well-established and widely available, with a strong track record for reliability and network stability. Currently, 4G/LTE works in parallel with 5G networks, each offering different features for specified applications.
4G/LTE exhibits realistic peak speeds of around 35 Mbps, latency at approximately 50ms, and a device density of 2000 devices per square kilometre. The cellular technology operates on a wideband network, ranging from 700 MHz to 2600 MHz frequency bands. Because of this, devices need multi-band LTE antennas in order to provide sufficient speeds on wide-coverage networks and meet certification requirements. Moreover, the availability of specific 4G/LTE frequency bands differs depending on the region and operator, requiring cross-region LTE antennas for devices that operate across multiple areas.
What are the types of 4G/LTE antennas?
Due to the multi-band antenna requirement for devices to meet certification on 4G/LTE, there are size challenges when it comes to compact designs. This is because embedded antennas have only one radiator, and require a conductive ground plane that functions as a second radiator.
The ground plane of an embedded antenna must be at least a quarter wavelength of their lowest frequency signal to function; if the ground plane is too short for the specific frequency band, the antenna will lose TRP (total radiated power) and efficiency. As wave frequency is inversely proportional to its wavelength, multi-band antennas require larger ground planes to efficiently function on the lower bands and meet certification. Because of this integration challenge, there are different types of 4G/LTE antennas offered to suit a range of device designs;
Surface-mounted antennas are the forerunners of miniature embedded chip antennas. They are mounted directly onto the host PCB of a device, and were the first form of embedded antenna to substitute its terminal and external counterparts. SMD chip antennas are simple to integrate with low part cost and compact size, as well as being suitable for high-volume manufacturing using pick-and-place machinery. However, as these antennas are placed alongside components on a PCB, they are susceptible to component noise and interference that can impact wireless performance.
Flexible printed circuit antennas are a form of embedded antenna that brings flexibility to device design. They have a unique adhesive strip that is also malleable, allowing them to be attached to the inside of a device housing. The ground plane for the antenna is on the strip itself, freeing up valuable PCB space for other components as well as avoiding component noise and interference. However, even though FPC antennas can be placed away from the PCB, RF interference can still affect wireless performance and requires specific amounts of clearance.
Ceramic chip antennas are amongst the smallest available, often exhibiting sub-millimetre dimensions. This is because they do not have their own ground plane like SMD antennas, and instead require dedicated ground plane space on the PCB itself. Ceramic antennas need to be integrated in the early stage of device design, as not only do they need ground plane space, but they often need to be at the centre of the PCB (where the most important processing chips usually are).
What type of 4G/LTE antenna is best for your device?
When it comes to 4G/LTE antenna integration and choice of type, there are three main factors that need to be taken into consideration regardless of industry or application:
Positioning and placement: For complex device designs with a multitude of internal components, interference and noise can become an issue for a range of antennas. In these cases, FPC low-profile LTE antennas can be placed away from noisy components without jeopardising performance and efficiency.
Performance and efficiency: Regardless of application (but especially in remote applications such as trackers and sensors), antenna efficiency and performance dictate the overall use of wireless devices. Depending on how crowded and the ground plane space available, SMD, FPC and ceramic high performance LTE antennas act as effective wireless solutions.
Size and form factor: For compact applications, antenna integration becomes a significant hurdle that many device designers can stumble over. They are constantly trying to manage PCB size, antenna radiation efficiency, cost/ease of manufacture, and component interference/noise. FPC and SMD 4G/LTE antennas can benefit different types of compact applications, the key is knowing the integration factors that lead to the right one for your device.
Discover the perfect 4G/LTE antennas solution with Antenova
At Antenova, we offer a range of integration guides, antenna solutions and a thorough integration hub to help you find the perfect 4G/LTE solution for your device. Better yet, our 4G/LTE antennas take all the factors of placement, performance and size into one easy to integrate package; all you need to do is pick out (and place) which one works best for your specific device. For guidance on how to arrive at the perfect wireless solution for 4G/LTE, contact a member of our team today.
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