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LTE RF Design: Problems & Opportunities
This report was finalized just as some iPhone 4 owners were receiving $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 Apple and other device vendors, their suppliers and mobile operators in terms of showing how radio frequency (RF) design directly affects everything from brand reputation to the bottom line.

Antennagate was caused by detuning, where the position of the user's head, hand or both causes the antenna to operate outside the intended frequency range. Long Term Evolution (LTE) takes these and other RF challenges to another level. For example, until operators build out LTE coverage so it's on par with 3G/2G, LTE smartphones must have the antennas and other RF components necessary to fall back to those legacy networks to provide voice. If the smartphone is aimed at people who want to roam regionally or globally on LTE rather than legacy technologies, then it has to support additional bands: potentially up to 15. Between LTE's multiple input multiple output (MIMO) architecture and band fragmentation, 3G/2.5G/2G fallback, GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the antenna count can get out of hand.

All these challenges add up to major, emerging, long-term opportunities for antenna vendors and other RF companies to differentiate their products and compete on more than just price. For example, to accommodate band fragmentation and limited space, there's a nascent shift underway from passive antennas toward more sophisticated active antennas. Antennagate helps antenna vendors convince device original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that active designs' performance and reliability are worth the extra cost. That's why LTE RF design is something that investors shouldn't overlook when identifying ways to make money from the global migration to LTE.

Consumers and enterprises are upgrading to LTE because device vendors and operators have convinced them that it's blindingly fast compared to 3G. And it is. So when LTE fails to live up to that expectation, customers inundate operator call centers and social networks with questions and complaints. Antennas and other RF components are critical for meeting that expectation and avoiding the support costs, churn and brand hits that are the unwelcome alternatives.

Band fragmentation arguably is the biggest RF-related challenge when it comes to LTE. Products such as multiband antennas and Qualcomm's RF360 are less about being able to build a smartphone that can roam the world and more about device OEMs being able to stock as few SKUs as possible. The additional costs associated with region- or operator-specific SKUs are problematic as LTE expands into price-sensitive markets and demographics.

LTE RF Design: Problems & Opportunities identifies and analyzes key issues affecting the market for antennas and other RF components for LTE devices. It explores how vendors are responding to LTE's challenges with active antennas, tuning circuits and front-end products such as Qualcomm's RF360, which supports 40 bands. This report is based on interviews with a representative sample of RF vendors and mobile operators from around the world.

Sample research data from the report is shown in the excerpts below:
Table of Contents (4gltei0613_toc.pdf)
Among the vendors and operators interviewed for this report, the consensus is that band fragmentation creates LTE's biggest RF challenges. One reason for this situation is that in a rush to get to LTE to market to get or stay competitive, operators had to be creative spectrum-wise, including refarming 2G/3G spectrum and using whatever they could get their hands on. There are more than 40 bands worldwide approved for LTE. About 19 are currently in use. The following excerpt illustrates the spectrum breakdown by world region.
[click on the image above for the full excerpt]
Total pages: 11
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