US grows a new breed of scrappy wireless antenna startups

The radio antenna market may see some disruption by startups as the use of mmWave spectrum in the United States drives 5G innovation, according to a new report from ABI Research.

The U.S. does not have a native telecom infrastructure vendor to compete against the likes of Ericsson, Nokia or Huawei. But the country is home to a new breed of startups that are developing wireless antennas.

ABI Research identified several new startups and small companies that are innovating in the cellular and 5G antenna space, including Airrays, Anokiwave, Artemis, Fractal Antennas, Fractus Antennas, Gapwaves, Maja Systems, Metawave, Movandi, Pabellon, Pivotal Commware, and Satixfy.

The majority of these scrappy startups are based in the U.S., said Dimitris Mavrakis, research director at ABI Research. There’s a big chasm between these startups and the three telecom vendor behemoths, but the startups are driving some innovation.

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"This means that incumbent infrastructure vendors and antenna manufacturers may not be the key stakeholders for tomorrow's networks, or that merger and acquisition activity is imminent in the 5G antenna market," said Mavrakis.

These newer companies will compete against mid-sized incumbent antenna vendors including Ace Technologies, CommScope, Rosenberger, Amphenol, Radio Frequency Systems (RFS), Mobi and Tongyu Communication.

Mavrakis named Maja Systems, Metawave and Movandi as companies that have been developing antennas and chipsets for mmWave spectrum. “Many of them are starting to demo repeaters for mmWave, which solves the deployment problem in the US of needing so many towers,” said Mavrakis. “Instead of putting a tower in every neighborhood, they can put these active repeaters that connect to the tower, and it’s much cheaper.”

He also called out Artemis, a startup that has invented what it calls a pCell. Its radios transmit signals that deliberately interfere with each other, combining to synthesize tiny personal cells (pCells). Every mobile device then has its own pCell, each getting the full spectrum capacity. “They have a clever algorithm to combine the system and create your personal cell,” said Mavrakis.

ABI notes that the current research and development in new antenna technology in the U.S. is an exception to the past where most of this type of R&D happened in Europe and Asia.