Altair Engineering: Assembly the challenges of 5G antenna design and radio protection

The adoption of 5G communications networks promises to be a boon for telecommunications companies around the world, but it won’t be without its challenges.

The expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the proliferation of connected devices will almost certainly lead to a massive increase in the demand for mobile data. New uses such as networked automobiles and machine-to-machine communication will increase this demand. Lower latency (5G response times are unlikely to be more than a millisecond) opens the door for connected devices in time-sensitive areas like healthcare and smart utilities. Faster speeds result in higher data rates for users, potentially ten times faster than 4G capabilities when using the 3.5 GHz frequency bands for area service and the 26-28 GHz bands for high data rate hotspots. It is estimated that improved connectivity will enable a greater number of connections at the same time, up to a million per square kilometer.

How will antenna manufacturers, wireless device manufacturers, automotive manufacturers and suppliers, and wireless operators meet these challenges?

Challenges in the design of 5G antennas

As wireless technology evolved from 1G to 4G, the frequency steps were primarily evolutionary – no major technological changes or discontinuities were required. The changes required for the antenna were also evolutionary – antenna technology was migrated from an external to an internal antenna. The band requirements have changed from single-band to dual-band, multi-band to multi-antenna, and antenna diversity to MIMO (multiple input and multiple output) implementations. However, 5G implementations provide for an up to tenfold increase in frequencies for some applications.

This is a dramatic change from previous technologies that will present both significant challenges and new opportunities. For example, beam shaping and beam control (using antenna arrangements) are possible, since individual antennas can be much smaller at higher frequencies. At these high frequencies, the wavelength (lambda) is around 1 cm, making the device a multi-lambda platform. This implies that the placement of the antenna is becoming much more critical, replacing the integration aspect key in earlier technologies. These more complex aspects of 5G development also make it important to try multiple implementations in order to optimally identify and adapt tradeoffs.

Altair FekoTM is a leading comprehensive electromagnetic computation software solution widely used in the telecommunications, automotive, aerospace and defense industries. It is part of Altair HyperWorksTM’s unified CAE environment for virtual product development. Due to the higher antenna gain requirements in 5G, antenna arrays are typically required at both ends, on the mobile device and on the base station. In addition to higher antenna gains, more complex feed and control circuits are required, and good isolation between array elements must also be achieved. In addition to encompassing multiple frequency and time domain methods, Feko has a number of features that allow antenna arrays to be designed and optimized precisely and quickly. In a little more detail, several antenna placement options and their interaction with the hosting board can easily be explored using Feko to quickly identify various tradeoffs and optimization options. This is too expensive and time consuming to try on actual physical designs. Even complex beamforming and steering capabilities and their efficiency at different frequencies can be simulated and the results easily displayed in 3D models such as the one shown below, a 2D 16 x 16 antenna array running at 26 GHz.

2D 16 x 16 antenna array for 5G base stations with 26 GHz, developed and optimized with Altair Feko.

5G wireless coverage challenges

The new 5G cellular technologies offer consumers data rates that are up to ten times higher than those of the previous 4G / LTE. A similar trend towards higher data rates by using higher frequencies can be seen in Wi-Fi implementations that use the 60 GHz band with the 802.11ad and 802.11ay standards. For these emerging technologies, achieving the desired network performance in urban and indoor spaces poses new challenges. The performance is highly dependent on the radio channel (and the associated frequencies used) on which the urban and indoor buildings affect. Highly precise wave propagation models are required for channel statistics as well as for forecasting and optimizing radio coverage. The coverage must be analyzed for different deployment scenarios for base stations, different frequencies and different environments as well as for different test drives. This level of testing can be difficult, time consuming, and expensive. However, if not adequately researched, it can create even more expensive quality issues and the associated redeployment costs. However, too much testing time can delay market entry and reduce profit. Somehow the right balance has to be achieved.

Feko offers a complete set of tools for defining and modeling wave propagation in a variety of environments and situations that are important for 5G-based devices and systems. Feko’s high-precision and rapid empirical and deterministic dispersion models cover a wide range of scenarios, from rural to urban to indoor, tunnels and even hybrid environments. These realistic wave propagation models enable the successful provision and optimization of the developing radio access networks as well as the creation of a virtual test field for the analysis of the product compromise including the antenna effect.

In 5G networks, predictions for both coverage and interference are the key to assessing capacity. With Feko, users can simulate the maximum reception power and the achievable data rates for each location in the area of ​​interest, which are calculated individually for each transmission mode. Capacity constraints and congested cells can be easily identified, and networks can be optimized to provide both coverage and high throughput. Capacity improvements due to MIMO or beam shaping are precisely modeled due to Feko’s sophisticated deterministic propagation models.

Developers can even use Feko antenna patterns within the network coverage simulation. The following figure shows the pattern for a three sector outdoor antenna and analysis of radio coverage in an urban setting. This function accelerates the modeling considerably and enables several implementation cycles in order to optimize the product properties.

Bring 5G to the smart factory

5G technology opens up the possibility for companies to explore private network and Industrial IoT (IIoT) solutions in order to realize the promise of Industry 4.0. The 5G standard is the basis for many IIoT applications. However, creating a dedicated campus network with uniform connectivity, optimized services and secure communication in a specific area is a challenge for private network operators. To achieve the higher speed, lower latency, and other benefits that 5G promises, telecommunications systems integrators, engineers, and consultancies must have efficient 5G development tools in place.

Altair offers an integrated simulation of 5G antennas and 5G networks. With a holistic simulation approach, campus network planners avoid disruptions in advance and prevent radio waves from leaking into the environment.

In the factory, simulating the devices, 5G antennas and the 5G networks in which they operate helps achieve the desired communication performance for IIoT-controlled manufacturing processes.

The EM simulation helps to achieve the data rates required for each application and to ensure optimized behavior in the network. Design changes to optimize antenna design and positions within a device can be detected early, while avoiding EMC problems caused by interference in wireless communications. The precise representation of individual antennas up to complete systems that interact with an environment enables a unique forecast quality and an efficient design of industrial wireless applications.

Altair can also help manufacturers deploy edge computing clusters, train and run machine learning models, implement complex business logic for applications, perform data transformations, visualize real-time data, and more. For more information on Altair’s web services and analytics tools for developing scalable IoT systems, please visit the Altair IoT Applications page here.

For more information on 5G campus networks and Industrial IoT, check out this presentation from Nokia Bell Labs.


In an IndustryWeek article titled “Manufacturing’s New Frontier is Here. And now is the time for 5G! “Qualcomm Chief Engineer Dr. Xiaoxia Zhang contends that 5G is not focusing on mobile communications as it has been with previous technological advances, but is shifting the focus significantly to empowering smart factories. With highly reliable, low-latency and time-sensitive networks, 5G enables automation and accurate remote access within the factory of the future.

The transition to 5G will be a revolution for consumers and will require technological innovation for antenna design, base station configuration and network deployment. Software tools like Feko will be a key element in developing successful 5G products and networks. Altair provides product designers with the building blocks for digital transformation so they can move fast, scale quickly, and keep improving their electromagnetic systems over time.

In this webinar, you will learn more about 5G network planning and performance analysis.

Disclaimer of liability

Altair Engineering Inc. posted this content on April 05, 2021 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by the public, unedited and unchanged, on April 05, 2021 7:01:05 AM UTC.

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