Research Notes

Mobile coverage will be a key parameter of competition for mobile operators in the future. Strand Consult’s analysis shows that new antenna technologies will play a central role

In the last three years, Strand Consult implemented a process in Denmark with the aim of ensuring mobile operators better conditions when they build and operate mobile networks. When the project started, it was known that Danish operators TDC, Telenor, Telia and 3 had challenges when it came to building and operating networks. Read about how consumers and the media expressed the many problems with mobile coverage.

The process to improve mobile coverage, including the input from stakeholders from all parts of society, has been so successful that operators around the world are now trying to learn from the experience in Denmark . The report “How mobile operators can reduce the cost of mobile masts and improve regulation” identifies the elements needed for good mobile coverage.

The antenna in the smartphone
While many believe that the problem of mobile coverage is simply a function of the network, Strand Consult’s analysis shows that the quality of smartphones is a key determinant in the coverage that consumers experience. Strand Consult has a close dialogue with operators, regulatory authorities, and scientific experts to study this issue in depth. Here are 10 reasons why a smartphone will experience a poor signal.

As a result of Strand Consult’s analysis of the role of smartphone quality in mobile coverage, telecom regulators in eight European countries demanded that the EU investigate the issue further, saying that consumers require transparency. The EU and a number of European countries are considering whether phone manufacturers need to provide disclosures on smartphones to inform consumers how their devices will perform in relation to networks. Investigations by the Danish regulator and the EU have helped to give a better picture of the state of antenna technology in smartphones used today and its role in mobile coverage.

The antenna of the base station
The antenna in a smartphone is one thing. The antenna in a mobile base station is quite another. With smartphones, operators have no control over the quality of the antenna. The antenna comes bundled with the phone by the manufacturer. However with a mobile base station, the operator can choose from a number of suppliers of antennas with different features and quality.

Given consumers’ increasing demand for improved coverage, operators will likely be more critical about the quality of the radio and antenna technologies deployed in their networks and select their solutions accordingly. Antenna technologies may have been bundled and commoditized before in base stations, but now there is a movement to differentiate with better technologies.

A base station antenna connects a customer to the operator’s mobile network via the phone’s signal. Older generations of this antenna technology can experience problems including dropped calls and a slower rate of data delivery. This is a particular issue with base station antennas when transmitting on 1800 MHz or higher frequency bands with 3G/UMTS and 4G/LTE standards. Indeed improving the quality of base station antenna technology to capture and deliver signals can improve overall mobile coverage experience.

A new player in the area of base station technology, CellMax, claims to have developed an advanced base station antenna which reduces signal loss compared to traditional antennas. Traditionally energy consumption within a base station has not been so efficient; much energy is wasted, and the antenna doesn’t utilize the power its needs to perform signaling tasks properly. By improving the energy consumption of the antenna, CellMax attests that its antennas ensure better signal strength and hence, better mobile coverage.

There is no doubt that base station antenna technology is an important market opportunity. We will likely see the classic infrastructure providers such as Ericsson, Nokia Siemens, Alcatel-Lucent, ZTE and Huawei make base station antenna technology a priority in future and a competitive dimension by which they offer solutions to operators.

Infrastructure providers today are losing revenue because they can’t sell enough to operators. Around the world operators have difficulty to get permission to deploy infrastructure and face the increasing cost of renting sites to deploy masts and towers. Furthermore if infrastructure providers cannot provide the relevant technological solutions to operators’ problems, such as improved base station antennas, operators are even more reluctant to purchase equipment and services from infrastructure providers. There is no doubt that ignoring these challenges will only result in further poor experience in mobile coverage and a worsening of customer satisfaction.

Strand Consult has long recognized that good mobile coverage is vital for operators in the future and more than a matter of tweaking a few points in the network. As such operators will increasingly optimize the network as a whole, including integrating new technologies, such as improved base station antennas. The entire network experience will be a competitive dimension. This needs to be managed both at the technical level of the network components themselves as well as within the societal and regulatory framework governing mast deployment.

Find out more about the challenges operators face as Strand Consult’s 10 Steps to reduce the cost of mobile masts and improve regulation. This program helped to reduce infrastructure deployment costs in Denmark, saving Danish mobile operators millions of euros in rental fees and time delays. Additionally millions of Danes now experience better mobile coverage.

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