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Antenna Special

Largely unconsidered these days, the antenna is really the key technology in a mobile phone, or anything labelled as wireless. Without it no customer can get a signal. Bigger is better, but in the ongoing battle to cram more gadgetry into smaller phone cases, it’s often the antenna size that takes a hit.

Old-style mobiles made it easy, people could see the stubby antenna poking up. But styling and fashion now demand most antenna are internal and hidden. A broad rule of thumb is that small feature-heavy phones will have compromised on antenna size. In an area of marginal coverage, it’s probably better to recommend a functional business-orientated model, like the Nokia E series, or a trusty workhorse like the mid range Sony Ericsson W and T models.

The second thing that determines whether consumers get a good signal is distance from the nearest cell site or mast. Network design and build is a bit of a black art. Engineers and planners have to juggle where to put transmitters based on available land, interference from other masts, power consumption, public concerns, return on investment, plus and a host of other business drivers. When you then factor in the environment, the shape of the landscape, building materials, vegetation and the weather, it’s no easy task.

Mobile Science 101

The networks also broadcast at different frequencies. 2G signals travel at 900MHz for Vodaphone and O2 and 1800MHz for T-Mobile and Orange. 3 doesn’t have it’s own 2G network, so mainly piggy-backs on Orange where they have no 3G. All 3G signals broadcast at the 2100MHz range.

As the diagram shows, the higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength. Longer waves travel further and take less power to transmit, meaning you don’t need to have so many masts to cover a wide area. But shorter waves bounce around more, reaching into dips and valleys and providing better coverage across a smaller area.

Pretty much everyone in the UK offers the same % of coverage. There have always been not-spots, and there always will be. Femtocells (opens in new tab) offer an innovative solution, allowing customers to fit their own mini transmitter where they need coverage, the signal is then piped back over local broadband.

Any competitive edge can drive sales. Antenna strength isn’t glamorous but it’s vital.

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