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Antenova warns against too much hype around ‘invisible IoT’

Many see the Internet of Things (IoT) has becoming entirely invisible in the near future, as its moving parts become tiny and fully embedded in all kinds of objects. But one player, Colin Newman, CEO of antenna firm Antenova, has different ideas. He thinks the laws of physics are going to throw a spanner in the works for that dream by limiting future advances in antenna efficiency and size.

Wireless Watch’s sister publication, Rethink IoT (www.rethink-iot.com) interviewed Newman this month to find out more about his views on the future shape of the IoT, in the wake of Antenova’s launch of three new embedded LTE antennas.

Antenova chooses to focus solely on the embedded antenna design, which allows it to remain protocol agnostic higher up the chain, unlike the wireless module makers, and to steer clear of software. Instead it concentrates on making the antenna as efficient as possible – a core requirement for IoT developers.

But Newman notes that there is a hard limit to this efficiency level. While he has seen smartphones with efficiency ratings as low as 10%, the current crop of antennas reaches 65-70%. However, this progress is going to top out at around 80%, he thinks, with 100% efficiency being impossible.

With IoT devices, developers are going to run into the fact that an antenna has to be a certain physical size in order to receive communications in specific radio wave frequencies. Newman notes that there are many digital engineers who don’t entirely grasp the gravity of this fact – which is rather well understood in the analog world. This sometimes leads to problems in IoT design projects, where the placement of an antenna comes low on the list of priorities if engineers are thinking of them as just another digital component to be mounted on the printed circuit board.

But unfortunately, the position of the antenna is critical to the success of a product. Newman explained that those smartphones with 10% efficiency ratings are being pushed by major vendors – and the carriers aren’t exactly in a position to refuse them access to the network, despite their poor performance. An MNO doesn’t want to be the only one in the market not to have the latest smartphone, despite the extra work it may have to do to accommodate it on the network.

But for IoT designs, having to crank up the power amplifier in a battery-constrained device could be ruinous for the business case. If the 5-10 year claimed battery life is actually closer to two due to a sub-par antenna/network performance, then the device is dead in the water.

As for Antenova, Newman said that since 2013, the company has been focusing on IoT and M2M customers and designs, rather than the high end consumer products that are often entail hard work and low margins.

The Antenova antennae on show at next month’s CTIA show will include the Lucida (SR4L002), a 35mm x 8.5mm x 3.2mm design that covers all LTE bands; the Similis (SR4C005), a low-profile 40mm x 10mm x 1.6mm design that Antenova says is among the thinnest on the market; and the flexible Moseni, Mitis, and Zhengi antennas that can be curved or folded within the device.

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