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Antennas And Radio-Frequency Power


An antenna's function is twofold. To transmit, an antenna must take the radio signal that
is applied to it and broadcast that signal as efficiently as possible. An antenna
transforms alternating electrical current into a radio signal that is propagated through the
atmosphere. Conversely, to receive, an antenna transforms a radio signal into an
alternating electrical current that is decipherable to the receiving equipment. Put simply
antennas radiate energy into space, and collect radio energy from space.

There are two main types of antennas used in the cellular industry. All antennas fall
under one of these two categories: omni directional or directional antennas. There are a
multitude of omni directional and directional antennas available today.

The word decibel is used to compare one power level to another, and is denoted by the
symbol dB. Antenna propagation is measured in decibels. For example, a 9-dB antenna
is commonly used at omni cells. Cellular base station antennas range in average length
from 2 to 14 ft' and weigh from 10 to 50 lb.

In some cases there are areas known as antenna farms." An antenna farm is a plot of
land that has been dedicated by the owner to the placement of towers for all different
types of wireless services, offered by all types of wireless carriers (e.g., cellular, PCS,
paging, I]/SMR).

Omni directional Antennas

An omnidirectional (omni) antenna is one that radiates an RF signal equally in all

directions (3600). Cells using omnidirectional antennas are known as omni cells
Omnidirectional antennas are sometimes referred to as sticks" because of their

The term gain refers to how the radiation pattern emitted from an antenna is reshaped.
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Figure: Omni antenna propagation.

Note: Gain is a measure of how much an antenna's vertical radiation pattern is

compressed to the horizontal plane. This compression results in pushing the RF
propagation outward horizontally from a radiating antenna, at a given radio power
setting. How far the RF propagates outward horizontally is equivalent to how far the RF
coverage extends from any given base station.

Gain is a logarithmic progression. It is represented by the width of a radiation pattern, or

how much the pattern has been electrically compressed (vertically) and expanded

Analogy: Think of the RF coverage area of a cell as being the surface of a balloon. Gain
is achieved (and increased) if the balloon is compressed on the top and the bottom
simultaneously As the balloon is squeezed, it flattens out and widens. This flattening
represents gain on the horizontal plane. With omnidirectional antennas that radiate in a
3600 pattern, the simplest way to achieve gain is by stacking multiple 1/4-wavelength
antennas one on top of the other, and feeding the energy emitted by these antennas
together in such a way as to add each antenna's vertical radiation pattern together in
phase. When the patterns of all the antennas are added in phase, their signals
complement each other instead of canceling each other out' thus contributing to the
total, composite signal.
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The more radiating 1/4-wave antennas that are stacked on top of each other (while their
patterns are kept in phase), the more gain is produced.

When we speak of stacking multiple 1/4-wavelength antennas one on top of the other,
this is actually a reference to installing antennas that were designed and built to a
specific gain level. This type of antenna configuration is known as a collinear array
described below.

In the balloon analogy as the amount of downward force is increased, the balloon
becomes flatter but its circumference is increased. The amount of "bulge" represents
gain. As the gain is increased, the vertical pattern becomes progressively more
compressed, until at 12 dB the vertical radiation pattern is only about 4" in height (or
thickness) at the antenna. The average gain for an omnidirectional antenna is 9 dB. The
higher the stated decibel level is for a given antenna, the higher the gain that the antenna
will deliver

Collinear Array Antennas

A collinear array antenna is a predominant type of omnidirectional and directional

antenna. To produce a collinear array antenna, one or more 1/4-wave antennas are
stacked inside the antenna radome. The radome is the white or gray fiberglass shell that
encases antennas. It appears tubular, and is what we all see and think of as the actual
antenna. Each antenna that is stacked inside the radome represents an incremental
increase in gain, in most cases in increments of 3 dB. However these incremental
increases in gain are not without some cost. Each time 3 dB of gain is produced, the
overall length of the antenna is doubled. If a 3-dB-gain omni antenna is 3 ft in length, a
6-dB-gain antenna will be 6 ft in length. A 9-dB-gain antenna would then be 12 ft long,
and a 12-dB gain antenna would be 24 ft long. The antenna elements that comprise the
collinear array antenna will be longer for antennas (antenna elements) that are used for
lower frequencies. This length in the antenna elements correlates directly to the fact that
lower frequencies emit longer radio wavelengths. Thus, antennas used for lower
frequencies will be physically longer than antennas used for high frequencies, if the gain
assigned to both of those antennas is the same. Put differently if a carrier deploys a 9-dB
antenna that operates at 500 MH4 and a 9-dB antenna that operates at 800 MH4 then the
800-MHz antenna will be physically shorter due to the shorter wavelength inherent with
RF emitted at 800 MH4 the higher frequency.
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Figure: Omni gain (antenna propagation) for a collinear array antenna.

Downtilt Antennas

With a very high tower and a high-gain antenna, coverage shadows may be created near
the tower To compensate for coverage shadows, downtilt antennas were developed
specifically for the wireless industry by antenna manufacturers. A downtilt antenna is an
antenna whose radiation pattern can be tilted a specified number of degrees downward.
The downtilt antenna decreases distance coverage horizontally but increases signal
coverage closer to the cell site. A common place to install a down-tilt antenna is at a cell
site that's on a very tall tower or a hill. Downtilt antennas are also used to compensate
for what is known as the far-field effect in wireless systems. The far-field effect occurs
when the radio coverage projected from site A may completely overwhelm the intended
coverage area of site B. Site A may transmit and receive into site B, theoretically
leaving site B unused.
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This would not only be terribly inefficient, but would be a terrible waste of equipment
and frequency resources at cell site B. The deployment of a downtilt antenna at cell site
A would ensure that the intended radio coverage from site A stays within its designated
coverage boundary. The far-field effect may occur in areas where a cluster of sites has
many towers of different heights.

Note: Mechanical downtilting of antennas can be done only with directional antennas.
Downtilting of omnidirectional antennas is done electrically not mechanically. It is not
feasible to mechanically downtilt an omni antenna. Electrical downtilting is
accomplished by adjusting the phasing of the RF signal that is fed to the collinear
antenna elements. A wireless carrier would purchase a downtilt antenna from a
manufacturer. The carrier does not mechanically manipulate the elements of a regular"
antenna to convert it into a downtilt antenna.

Downtilt antennas can shrink omni cell coverage areas while maintaining static RF
power levels. Downtilt antennas improve portable (phone) coverage. They can also be
used to pull coverage away from a market border while maintaining static power levels.

Criteria Used to Determine Selection of Base Station Antennas

Base station antennas are much more sophisticated and utilize a much wider variety of
designs than mobile phone antennas. One reason for this difference is that base station
antennas are required to have a higher gain, ordinarily between 6 and 12 dB for
omnidirectional antennas. In some cases, O-dB-gain omni antennas have been used.
This scenario might involve engineering for a microcell.

The type of base station antenna that is chosen in any situation depends on many

The size of the area to be covered.

Neighboring cell site's configurations.

Whether the antenna is omnidirectional or directional.

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Figure: Downtilt antenna function.

If it is a directional antenna, the antenna's beamwidth.

How much of the allotted RE spectrum the antenna can utilize. In the cellular industry
carriers can get antennas for the transmit band only the receive band only or both
transmit and receive bands.

Mobile Antennas

Many mobile antennas are collinear array antennas. Mobile collinear array antennas
consist of two antennas that are stacked together, separated by a "pigtail" in the middle.
The purpose of the pigtail is to act as a phasing coil. The pigtail puts the two separate
antennas in phase, so that the antennas add their respective signals together to produce
gain instead of canceling each other out. Mobile antennas are the weak link in the
wireless system because they are the one element over which wireless carriers have the
least amount of control.

Mobile antennas are usually mounted in less than optimal places on cars. Ideally they
should be mounted in the center of the car roof to obtain the best signal strength.
However, they are mounted at many other places on cars, and sometimes, when users go
through a car wash, a glass-mount antenna gets bent at a 450 angle, inhibiting optimal
signal quality. Car-mounted antennas are also exposed to harsh elements such as ice
snow and road salt, which also detract from their optimal functioning.

Most mobile antennas deliver 3 dB of gain. However, there are some models that
deliver 5 dB of gain.
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Antenna Quality

Quality varies with both base station and mobile antennas used in the wireless industry.
Some antennas can stand up to the elements, while some do not. Some will leak, some
will literally fall apart. Ultraviolet rays and salt are especially harsh on mobile antennas.
Antenna quality is measured in several ways. One way is to determine how many
dissimilar metals are used in the antenna. This is important because the more different
metals that are used, the more likely the antenna will develop corroded junctions, which
can cause intermodulation (IM), or signal mixing. For instance, two signals may go in
and four signals may come out. Ultimately this results in a degradation of signal quality.

Radio-Frequency (RF) Power

RF power is defined as the amount of radio-frequency energy in watts, delivered by the

base station radio to the base station's transmit antenna. RF amplifiers used at the cell
site determine power and the amount of RF energy that is delivered to the base station
antenna by the base station radios (transceivers). There will also be loss of the signal as
it propagates through the coaxial cable from the transceiver up to the transmit antenna,
due to impedance. Wireless system engineers factor this into RF design.

Effective Radiated Power (ERP)

FRP stands for effective radiated power It is determined by the gain of the antenna
(mobile or base station) times the power delivered to the base of the antenna. ERP is
measured in watts.

Note: It is important to remember this rule of thumb: When the power output of
amplifiers (radios) is doubled (in watts), a 3-dB increase in gain is achieved.

Example: Ten watts of radio energy directed into a 10-dB-gain (base station) antenna
equals 100 W of LRP.

Example: A carrier is using an 8-W power amplifier (PA), with a 15-dB gain antenna
and 3 dB of line loss (impedance). This equates to a net gain of 12 dB. The number 8 is
the factor in this equation, because that is the power delivered by the amplifier to the
antenna. In this scenario with the 8-W amplifier, presume we start with 0-cIB gain.
Three decibels of net gain would deliver 16 W LRP (8-W amplifier with 3 dB of gain
equals a doubling of LRP). Six decibels of net gain would equate to 32 W LRP Again,
every additional 3 dB of gain equates to a doubling of LRP Nine decibels of net gain
would equate to 64 W LRP Twelve decibels of net gain would equate to 128 W LRP Sq
since we know we have a net gain of 12 dB, the FRP for a base station using the
equipment listed above would be 128 W Again, notice that each time we increase net
gain by 3 dB the ERP doubles.

Author's note: Actual formulas used to determine ERP can be very granular, as they
represent logarithmic relationships. That information is beyond the scope of this text.
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Allowable Power Levels

Cell Base Stations In the cellular industry, carriers are allowed to use up to a maximum
of 500 W FRP at cell base stations. The range of 100 to 500 W is primarily used in RSA
base stations. BTS power levels used depends on the frequency-reuse pattern. Ideally
the maximum power level needed to provide coverage is used, but no more than that.

The average power level for MSA base stations ("macrocells") is 20 to 100 W to cover
an area from 8 to 30 mi. Again, this level will depend on terrain in the coverage area
and antenna gain. The overall range of ERP in a wireless system can be anywhere from
1/10 to 500 W ERP.

Base stations can and will throttle down the power of a mobile phone if the mobile
phone is emitting too much power, for whatever reason. This will avoid overloading
equipment at the base station. One example of this is when a mobile phone is located
too close to the base station. The BTS will send a message over the control channel
telling the mobile phone to throttle down its power to a specified level.


Mobile Station

Power Level Class 1 Class 2 Class 3

0 4.000 1.600 0.600
1 1.600 1.600 0.600
2 0.600 0.600 0.600
3 0.250 0.250 0250
4 0.100 0.100 0.100
5 0.040 0.040 0.040
6 0.016 0.016 0.016
7 0.006 0.006 0.006

Mobile Telephones Mobile phones have allowable power classes assigned to them by
the FCC. These power levels have a range from 0.006 W (six hundredths of a watt) to 4
W Mobile phones (auto installations) have higher allowable power levels-they emit
more power because they run off of car batteries.

Table depicts allowable power levels for different types of mobile phones in a cellular
AMPS system, in watts.