Multibeam antennas are a critical component of the future of mobile connectivity

By Minya Gavrilovic, President & CTO at Galtronics

One challenge facing stadium operators and concert promoters is ensuring consistent high-speed connectivity for attendees. Large crowds often deplete all available radio resources, turning what should be an enjoyable experience into a frustrating one as network performance is diminished. Many solutions call for a distributed antenna system (DAS). While DAS offer capacity, installations can be difficult. A more viable solution for venue operators is multibeam antennas that minimize infrastructure near users, drive higher data speeds and increase capacity –providing an exceptional user experience.

What is a multibeam antenna?

Typical macro deployments divide 360 degrees into three sectors of 120 degrees, each covered by a 65-degree beamwidth antenna. This principle provides more capacity for all those users on the ground.

A multibeam antenna is effectively an amped-up version of that principle. It utilizes sectorization — a single antenna aperture that generates multiple beams in different directions. Additional beams increase the radio density, meaning more radio resources “per person” rather than more people per radio.

The multibeam solution divides a user-dense coverage area into multiple, smaller sectors, from 90 degrees to 120 degrees. Upon deployment, operators will select a coverage area, divide it into multiple beams and add radios into the mix. Multibeam antennas allow a traditional area covered by a macro antenna to cover more users in the same footprint by adding multiple beams where there was once one.

More radios “per user” results in increased spectral efficiency. Operators can now ensure their target area is covered adequately, allowing the higher capacity to deliver a superior end-user experience.

Current multibeam options

The idea of improving higher data throughput user capacity in venues isn’t new. Today, operators can deploy a couple of different multibeam options to increase performance – existing panel-based multibeam antennas and lens-based multibeam antennas.

Each option has pros and cons. Often, managers think that adding N additional radios will “N-fold” their wireless capacity. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t work out that way. The effectiveness of capacity increase is directly affected by antenna beam performance.

Lenses, commonly installed by venues, have seen widespread adoption in recent years. While lenses offer many positives, especially in terms of their performance, they tend to come with a high price tag and can be challenging to install.

Conversely, traditional panel-based multibeam antennas allow easy installation and offer service providers deployment alternatives to expensive lens-based solutions. However, beam performance issues with existing panel-based multibeams make some of their beams practically unusable.

Galtronics has solved the problems of legacy panel based multibeam antennas with its patent pending multibeam technology. These multibeam antennas differentiate themselves by maintaining the integrity of all the beams, thereby providing full coverage and capacity economically. They have been deployed by tier one carriers to solve high-capacity needs at major US airports, large concerts, and in large stadiums.

What are the best use cases for a multibeam antenna?

Multibeam antennas have a near-endless range of uses and are ideally suited for deployment in various high-traffic locations where customer density requires an uncompromised wireless solution.

They are often deployed at high-capacity outdoor venues, such as concerts, special events or seasonal events, for limited timeframes. The technology can also be used in many permanent locations, including busy airports or high-traffic urban settings.

Operators have multiple options for installing multibeam antennas. Consider an indoor arena. Venues can mount the antennas from the venue’s rafters over the seats in smaller “spot beams,” providing a high amount of radio resources over a smaller footprint.

Customers have also deployed multibeam antennas on mobile cell on wheels (COWs) and cell on light trucks (COLTs), allowing operators to cover the traffic density at large events in non-traditional venues.

Why is this good for 5G?

The move from LTE to 5G will result in higher data throughput requirements, which multibeam antennas can deliver as LTE and 5G broadband coverage increases.

Multibeam antennas offer multiple narrow beams for high order sectorization that allows increased data transmission.

While beamforming Massive MIMO radio units (MMU) also increase spectral efficiency to deal with the requirements of 5G, the number of beams an MMU can produce is finite and designing one that can generate the adequate number of beams required to support high-throughput performance over a dense number of uses is impractical and expensive.

Legacy wireless spectrum makes MMU more complex and impractical. In both those cases, multibeam antenna technology that has been effectively used in LTE can be the solution.

Improved multibeam technology offers optimal performance to legacy panel-based multibeam antennas, allowing deployment in areas where lens-based solutions were once the only option. Newer offerings overcome the legacy beam squint issues that made some beams previously unusable while retaining similar price tags and easy installation.

Challenging deployment scenarios require a new approach, and new technologies enable operators to increase the quality of the experience they deliver without breaking the budget.

The editorial staff had no role in this post's creation.