Wi-Fi Antenna Design spirals to new heights
Article by: Don Scansen
With a name like “The Antenna Company”, you wouldn’t be surprised that David Favreau and his team are a coveted resource for challenging antenna designs …
Like many people of my generation (especially engineers), I often think that advanced technology has to be somehow connected to space. I’m especially prone to this mindset with things like multi-element phased array antennas. I recently had a chat with the CEO of The Antenna Company, who specializes in this technology. David Favreau is extremely tech-savvy, but a down to earth engineer and a pleasure to speak to.
Dielectric resonator antenna
With a name like “The Antenna Company,” you wouldn’t be surprised that Favreau and his team are a coveted resource for challenging antenna designs. Given the current technology trends, what is not a challenging antenna design?
A key driver of innovation for The Antenna Company is the dielectric resonator antenna (DRA). The dielectric resonator acts as a lens for radio wave energy to focus the energy where the RF designer needs it. This enables more compact antenna designs, since fewer conductive elements can be used to achieve an equivalent antenna gain.
The Antenna Company marks their custom designs under the product heading “SuperShape” for their design methodology. With clever engineering, these antennas will only attract the most accomplished and thorough teardown specialists. The team prides itself on minimizing the extra space required by incorporating them into otherwise critical mechanical design parts like laptop hinges. The flexibility of the DRA concept lends itself to such applications, but the technical effort is made possible by the modeling tools developed by The Antenna Company.
This may seem like an esoteric technology, and it is true that very few people fully appreciate it. But hey, like I said, the RF people are responsible. The Antenna Company is further evidence of this. It was founded in 2013 by two antenna experts. One of the two co-founders of the company, Johan Gielis (pronounced Hill-Iss), developed a design model from the “Gielis Superformula” to enable a more compact modeling of the dielectric resonator antennas. I suppose it makes sense to call this DRA “SuperShape”. All of this results in an antenna that will blend in better with their customers’ existing physical designs.
Outdoor directional Wi-Fi antenna with DRA technology (Source: The Antenna Company)
The need for compact, efficient antennas is critical with the increasing use of radios in products. The obvious adapting to smaller form factors is the obvious part of it. For the RF designer, the more pressing challenge is often the integration of many RF subsystems that operate on adjacent frequency bands and need to fit into limited product volumes while maintaining isolation between and within the band. Isolation is only part of this challenge, of course, as users expect any radio system to provide sufficient signal strength to ensure a solid connection and high data throughput without interfering with other radio or subsystems.
The founders didn’t invent DRA, but The Antenna Company was the first to commercialize it. The first product was an outdoor point-to-point WiFi antenna designed and built for Aruba Networks.
DRA for IoT
DRA technology is an area in which it must be observed how the increasing complexity and integration of several radio systems working in close proximity increases the use. Corporate networks, consumer broadband and IoT are just a few of them. When form factor constraints hit the growth of MIMO arrays and the coexistence of multiple radios, the lens phenomenon of dielectric resonator antenna appears.
However, the DRA products are not expected to appear in the handset market. I asked Favreau about this and he replied that the volume constraints just aren’t suitable for this application, especially thickness constraints. However, in RF modules for IoT, Favereau predicts the trend from ceramic chip antennas to DRA as more RF connectivity is required to be able to coexist on these platforms. It will also be a key to mesh network devices as more and more wireless systems are crammed together.
WiFi6E + UWB array
As intriguing as the DRA concept is, The Antenna Company’s latest product is not an antenna array focused on dielectric beams. Instead, the application requires omnidirectional radiation patterns to service a large space. However, the new WiFi6E + UWB array product benefits from careful antenna design due to very aggressive specifications. This new antenna combines a number of antennas to create a tri-band indoor antenna for enterprise systems. The schematic showing the placement of the individual antenna elements for the various bands gives a good idea of the RF design effort required for these products.
Scheme of the Wi-Fe 6E antenna system (Source: The Antenna Company)
The new Wi-Fi 6E antenna array is designed for access points. The design includes a total of 15 antennas. Company specifications suggest better than 45dB isolation between pairs of Wi-Fi antennas, allowing simultaneous operation in the 5GHz band.
Wi-Fi 6E enters the 6 GHz spectrum (Source: Wi-Fi Alliance)
This antenna array includes an Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) option that enables Real-Time Location System (RTLS) services for access control, indoor navigation, asset tracking, and contact tracking (if you have 2020 and forgot about the pandemic). The Antenna Company achieved an isolation of more than 30 dB between WLAN and UWB antennas.
In Favreau’s words, “Wi-Fi 6E enables the capacity, speed, and latency required to support the shift in network usage for enterprise and industrial IoT markets. The addition of UWB gives our customers a scalable platform to offer new RTLS services. “
Each new wireless standard offers users better bandwidth and better performance. The new Wi-Fi 6E continues that promise. However, a new spectrum or new standards alone cannot produce real results. It always depends on a good antenna.