On top of this, investment in other geographies, such as Africa and the Middle East, has been a priority for operators at a time of increased macroeconomic pressure. Buying spectrum remains the biggest expense.
Are European operators being left behind?
No. Over the next 18 months operators in Europe will flesh out their LTE strategies and I’m confident they will not be left behind.
Which operators do you regard as being pioneers in the LTE field in Europe?
I would say T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange and Telefonica all have clear, well-defined LTE strategies.
What do operators need to focus on, particularly?
Operators need to keep both existing 2/3G legacy customers and future 4G customers happy. Ensuring that new technology can be integrated across all these systems is key. LTE requires a clean, clear signal so getting that right is important and we have been focusing on evolving antenna technology to help with this.
We have concentrated on putting more intelligence into antennas. They have traditionally been a passive technology, but there was a theory they could be made active. We have recently concluded a trial in the US that proves the theory.
What is an active antenna?
In an active antenna the radio is integrated into the antenna and the radio functionality is distributed across the antenna elements. This digital architecture reduces the need for certain cell site equipment, which can reduce energy consumption, site maintenance and leasing costs.
What was the trial exactly?
A wireless US network operator installed the active antenna, which we have developed alongside Ubidyne, as part of a multi-site LTE field trial. It measured key performance indicators such as signal-to-noise levels and uplink and downlink throughput rates.
What results came out of it?
Overall, the active antenna system achieved the same high-performance LTE throughput levels as traditional passive antennas. In addition, we think operators can double capacity and increase reliability.
In terms of capacity, the ability to implement vertical sectorization shows significant promise. As for reliability, the ability to tilt uplink and downlink elevation patterns allows for increased throughput, while a self-healing feature helps to address concerns around system availability.
What about costs – are there any savings to be made as a result of moving to active antenna?
We believe operators can make opex savings. Currently, if your radio fails your site is down, but the technology within active antennas means it can keep going if, for example, one element fails.