New antenna research could solve the small cell puzzle

11 December 2018


Small cell designs could be seen as something of a puzzle. This tiny infrastructure will be at the heart of 5G networks, but their designs and placements are important, as the frequency bands used for 5G will be short range and lose energy as they travel. To help counter that, NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) has come up with a method for selecting and evaluating optimal antenna designs.

This evaluation method could, according to the institute, both reduce costs and improve 5G wireless network capacity, making it both good for networks and good for the end user.

It’s a measurement-based method that would allow engineers and system designers to evaluate the best antenna beamwidths for the environments where they’ll be used.

An antenna beamwidth is the space where signals are transmitted and received, and not all beamwidths suit all situations – too wide and it could clash with other beams or other things in the environment, too narrow and if it’s not directed properly it might not transmit and receive signals where needed.

In general, NIST found that narrower is better in terms of signal interference and delays, but the orientation needs to be optimised, which NIST’s method can help with, thereby improving performance and wireless system design.

Covering all angles

But how do you do optimise an antenna when it’s not one-width-fits-all? NIST’s method involves taking measurements for a wide range of antenna beam angles and converting them into an omnidirectional antenna pattern that covers all angles equally.

That pattern can then be segmented into narrower beamwidths as needed and allows users to evaluate and model their likely performance.

Kate Remley, a NIST engineer, explained: “Our new method could reduce costs by enabling greater success with initial network design, eliminating much of the trial and error that is now required.

“The method also would foster the use of new base stations that transmit to several users either simultaneously or in rapid succession without one antenna beam interfering with another. This, in turn, would increase network capacity and reduce costs with higher reliability.”

We’re expecting to see antennas built with 5G in mind soon – not just in small cells and other infrastructure, but also in 5G phones, many of which will start arriving in 2019, along with the beginnings of 5G networks. So this method has seemingly arrived right in time to help ensure a smooth, optimised roll out.

Sub-Editor at

James is sub-editor at both and TechRadar. Also works as a researcher/ technical writer for and several other websites including TechRadar, T3, Smart TV Radar, with work on the web, in print and on TV.

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