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United Kingdom Wireless Networking Hardware

Scottish Scientists Create World's Smallest Smart Antenna 91

Posted by samzenpus
from the getting-small dept.
judgecorp writes "Each generation of smartphones actually has more dropped calls and worse battery life than the last, because antenna design has fallen behind, says Edinburgh-based Sofant Technologies. The firm has made a tunable, steerable RF antenna using micro-electro-mechanical-system (MEMS) which it says will change all that. It's based on research from Edinburgh University and is designed to get the best out of LTE/4G."
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Scottish Scientists Create World's Smallest Smart Antenna

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  • will never beat the copper wire I've been using. 100% signal strength 24/7.
    • by pokoteng (2729771)

      What, you carry around a dedicated landline phone with a really long spool of copper wire?

      Or do you mean you've invented a crazy piece of wire antenna that's somehow better than all the other antennas around found in phones?

      • He's playing a variant of the area man constantly mentioning he doesn't own a television [theonion.com] tune. He's showing how superior he is for using outdated technology that fills a specific niche better than a modern, general-purpose device. In reality, most people aren't out to tilt in his little idealistic crusade, and just use both.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Oh my god, I've stumbled upon the Smug Olympics!

            What kind of odds I can get on OP to beat parent in the fifth comment level? It's gotta be at least two to one.

      • by lw7av (1734012)
        Not invented, just inserted a "crazy piece of wire antenna". And it works - I've not had signal problems ever since and my battery's power doesn't fade as fast as it used to.
        • by WillKemp (1338605)

          That sounds plausible. My phone operates on 850MHz and, as i understand it, 1/4 wavelength is the best length for an antenna - so an 88mm length of wire should be the go. However, i'd imagine it would work best if it was a dipole. Doing a good soldering job on the connector would be a bit critical at that frequency, of course.

          It probably is about time someone started selling add-on antennas for mobiles now, really - not car type ones, but ones you hook onto your phone when it's needed.

          • Not the IPhone, but many, many phones and wireless broadband USB dongles have had external antenna connectors. Usually never labeled as such, it looks like a small gold socket.

            • by WillKemp (1338605)

              Yeah, of course. My Galaxy S3's got one. But my point was there doesn't seem to be any external antennas that you can clip onto your phone (or something) when you need a bit of an ERP boost.

      • He and a fellow Scot were arguing over a copper penny.
    • You must have had better Wires than I had. I actually have had better experience with Cell Phones then with LAN Lines that are full of static, and cannot handle data past 9600bps.

  • by Guppy (12314) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @11:51PM (#41555689)

    The firm has made a tunable, steerable RF antenna using micro-electro-mechanical-system (MEMS) which it says will change all that.

    IANAE (I am not an Engineer), but looking at the picture in the article, is that little speck the actual antenna, or are they talking about developing some new antenna sub-component? I mean, can something that small intercept a reasonable amount of power flux?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You can make a high gain antenna arbitrarily small but the catch is that there is so much energy stored in the reactive field (to make it small) that it is very inefficient unless you were using something like a super conductor. It is more likely that this is just one component of an adaptive array antenna and several of them would be spread over several wavelengths for electronic steering.

    • by goombah99 (560566)

      A wee scotty antenna, lassy.

    • by dacut (243842)

      Aereo is doing this for their TV-to-internet service: each user gets his/her own antenna, in the hopes that it avoids legal issues. They create stacks of mini antenna arrays [cnet.com] and set them up somewhere in Brooklyn. The wavelength for TV is 30 cm to 5 m, depending on the channel; both dimensions are much larger than the dime-sized antenna shown there.

      How this exactly works, well, I can't exactly say. Although I am an electrical engineer, I have to admit that antenna design has always been out of my league.

    • by sjwt (161428)

      The company makes both antennas and processors/software the Article alludes to this being a tunable processing system..

    • by vandamme (1893204)

      I expect that the little speck is the MEMS switch chip, and what they do is have an adaptive diversity algorithm that scans for the best signal from a couple different antennas and picks the best combination. In olden days you'd have to do this with big relays, but now relays fit on a chip thanks to micromachines.

      And yes, I am a RF engineer.

  • Interesting, but I would have preferred to have our /. robotic overlords read TFA to me in the voice of James Doohan.
    • by rjstanford (69735)

      Interesting, but I would have preferred to have our /. robotic overlords read TFA to me in the voice of James Doohan.

      He's dead, Jim.

      Now, if you mean't zombie James Doohan, that'd be a different kettle of fish entirely.

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:02AM (#41555741)

    No, each generation of smart phones has shorter battery life because they put bigger brighter screens on them and are connecting to higher-speed networks that require faster processing or more hardware to encode and decode the data. Display power dominates most smartphones and is closely followed by general processing power when used as a web appliance rather than as a phone.

    And as an RF engineer, I have this to say about their antenna claims:

    If that picture in the article is any indication, it's much too small to be an efficient antenna in even the highest 4G bands. An antenna can't be made arbitrarily smaller than a half-wave resonator. Its job is to induce fields that will radiate in space. If it's much smaller than a half-wave, the fields will be too bound to the resonating structure. This means that much larger currents are required to induce the same field so the Q of the antenna has to go up, which means the bandwidth goes down. That makes it more vulnerable to detuning due to objects in the near field, i.e. within about a half-wave of the antenna. What they are showing is almost certainly a near-field coupling device that works by coupling RF to a much antenna.

    • by iamhassi (659463) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:07AM (#41555765) Journal

      No, each generation of smart phones has shorter battery life because they put bigger brighter screens on them and are connecting to higher-speed networks that require faster processing or more hardware to encode and decode the data. Display power dominates most smartphones and is closely followed by general processing power when used as a web appliance rather than as a phone.

      *worse* battery life? Seems to me smartphones are getting better. Sure the screens get larger, but I'm getting much longer battery life from a modern smartphone than I would from a Pocket PC from 2003. [wikipedia.org]

      • Checking between the Apple iPhone 4, 4s, 5.
        http://www.apple.com/iphone/compare-iphones/ [apple.com]

        Standby time has gone from 300 hours (4) to 200 hours (5).
        While browsing on 3g has gone from 6 to 8 hours (4 to 5).
        Wifi has stayed the same, but diped with the 4s to 9 (from 10).

        Checking the Motorola droids:
        And the first Droid listed talk time 385 minutes (6.4 hours)and standby time: 270 hours
        DROID RAZR listed at 750 minutes (12.5 hours) talk time and standby time: 205 hours
        DROID RAZR MAXX is listed at 21.5 hours of talk

      • by gaelfx (1111115)

        Is that a reflection on chip design or on battery capacity changes? It seems to me that batteries have been getting bigger along with the screens and whatnot. Fewer dropped calls should mean better battery life because you would be spending less time on the phone, and better reception would mean the same thing as well (how much time do people waste saying "Hello...? Hello...? HELLoooooo...?). Regardless of how you feel about whatever the article says or doesn't say, the purpose of their claims is to get som

        • by Shavano (2541114)
          A better receiver may or may not help with dropped calls but it's essential for improving function in weak signal conditions. It may help battery life because your phone dials back output power when it is getting a strong signal back to the cell. Unfortunately the original article doesn't explain what the component really is (not an antenna) or how or how much it's supposed to improve radio reception.
      • *worse* battery life? Seems to me smartphones are getting better.

        Yes worse. They're clawing their way back, painfully slowly.

        An old Nokia would last for ages on a single charge. The reasons were a low bandwidth network, a very low power screen (ye-olde LCD so virtually no drive and no backlight required), a tiny CPU and a honking great big efficient antenna.

        Dispite the battery tech being ancient, like NiMH, or even NiCd, the small, low capacity batteries would last for ages.

        In those days, when someone's ph

    • Nah-ah. I just got the Galaxy SIII, which has fairly advanced power management - it can tell where the power is going. Most of it goes to cell standby, the screen takes about half of that, in my usage mode. Even then, I get a lousy two days max run time. Taking into account screen, I could get just under 3 days max run time, which is considerably worse than the phone I had before. So it feels plausible that cell standby does take more power than before.

      • If I turn off the background data I get a good week or more from my Captivate Glide... With all my usual background stuff turned on its closer to 2 or 3 days though.

      • by HJED (1304957)
        Have you tried turning off 3G? On my Nexsus S1 the battery life triples when I switch to 2G mode (only useful in some situations though).
        • by Aryden (1872756)
          SGIII and the majority of my battery is burned up searching for signal and GPS.
        • I'll try... I was not aware of that setting. However I'm most of the time on WiFi, and really don't use network data as I don't have a data plan until next week.

    • The above 'too small' is only true to a degree - ceramic antennas can change things a little.
      However.
      Given that this is a MEMS device, and that the actual quotes are at best ambiguous, I suspect what it is is a big pile of relays.
      This will let you combine several antennas that would be singly pretty useless into one that happens to be decent, for the way the user is holding the phone at that particular moment.
      Imagine for a moment the whole back of the device with appropriate striplines going to a couple of

    • I read in Microwave Journal an interesting experiment done using Mobius strip antenna. They found that the mobius strip antenna behaves as though it is twice the diameter of a plain loop antenna. Have you heard about it? Is it now a common technique to shrink the antenna size?
    • You might appreciate the thought that first came to my mind, then, and that is this: They used to put telescopic antennas on cell phones! And the best part was they actually worked well!

      Now, I'm not a professional RF engineer, but I am no stranger to the RF arts (I am a ham operator) and I firmly hold the belief that there is no substitute for metal in the air. When feasible, nothing short of a 1/4 wave should be used, and it should be elevated above anything that would block it.

      At present, I use a flip

      • by Shavano (2541114)
        You are right that nothing works better than a 1/4 wave monopole in the air, but a loop also works very well. (iPhone 4's use a loop that wraps around the phone body.) A patch can have decent gain but it's annoyingly directive and not suitable for a phone. A popular style is the inverted-F. It is omnidirectional, can be efficient and can be printed on the edge or corner of a circuit board that contains the radio circuitry. But you're also right that out to 1/4 wave, bigger is better. But with 2.2GHz p
    • by jpstanle (1604059)

      I am also an RF engineer, and that was my first thought too: This is far too small to be any kind of steerable/smart antenna array. I don't know if there is some crazy, cutting edge hocus pocus out there, but I've always understood that antenna arrays need at least 1/2 wavelength spacing between elements. Same thing for diversity/MIMO antennas. At 2100 MHz, that's roughly 6cm. For 700LTE, we're talking 20+ cm. You're getting 2 elements in a mobile handset at best... good for maybe 3dB of gain over a single

  • by advocate_one (662832) on Friday October 05, 2012 @01:29AM (#41556049)
    can't tell what denomination that coin is so can't tell exactly how small it really is...it's either a five pence piece or ten pence piece and the ten pence piece is twice the size of what we call the tiddler. Is it too much these days to expect people to put a small one inch and one centimetre scale next to the items when photographing them?
    • by MightyYar (622222)

      Well, it looks like a full-sized bust of the Queen to me. I'd say that makes it a giant novelty coin, at least half a meter in diameter.

    • by Inda (580031)
      Get off my lawn you young whippersnapper!

      A "Tiddler" was the old, old half-penny.

      You can't just go around changing the nicknames of coins when you feel like it. It's the law.
      • A "Tiddler" was the old, old half-penny.

        I'm with you. Indeed, as a now expat Brit, I find it a sore trial to have to sort out my coins in an attempt to work out what constitutes legal tender. Since the currency was decimalised in 1970-something, the coinage has gone on a diet. Seems to me that the Mint has decreed that any coin large enough to be able to extract from a corner in your wallet is no longer spendable. That is, with the exception of that damnable 50p coin, which for some reason retains a bulk and mass entirely disproportionate to its

    • by ggreig (1710920)
      From the size of the milling around the edge, it's a five pence coin.
  • Finally, now I'll be able to phone my friend and listen to her play the world's smallest violin.
  • A steerable antenna close to my ear ? Call me old fashioned (and it won't be the first time) but I'll take a dipole, thank you.
  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Friday October 05, 2012 @03:37AM (#41556481)

    Great marketing spin, but it's nonsensical.

    Antennas don't use much power to begin with, if any at all.

    And dropped calls: in my experience indeed if you jump on the latest-network-type bandwagon all the time you have more dropped calls. When 3G was new, I moved to 3G, to have more dropped calls than on 2G (from once a year to once a month maybe, nothing spectacular) - more white spots due to incomplete network roll-out. I've moved back to 2G and am still on 2G, as it just works.

    3G is just as good by now, I'm sure, but why pay more for effectively the same?

    3G uses more power than 2G. 4G probably uses even more power. Bigger displays use a lot of power. That's what cuts battery life; incomplete network roll-out causes dropped calls. Better antennas won't change that much.

    • by WillKemp (1338605)

      Antennas don't use much power to begin with, if any at all.

      Huh???

      Antennas don't use any power. The transmitter uses the power (and the receiver to a certain extent) - and the efficiency of the antenna affects how much power the transmitter uses. If the antenna's inefficient, the transmitter must use more power to produce the required effective radiated power - which, of course, drains the battery more. Therefore, an efficient antenna will increase battery life.

      • by mcrbids (148650)

        Huh?!

        Antennas most certainly do use power... when they transmit! Or did you all forget the fact that a cell phone is a two way device?!?

        Crappy antennas use more power to broadcast successfully to the tower. When phones are further from the tower they amplify the signal more, and crappy antennas have a similar effect to being further from the tower.

        TURN IN YOUR GEEK CARD...sheesh!

        • by WillKemp (1338605)

          I guess your interpretation of the word "use" is different to mine. I wouldn't apply it to a passive component in a circuit. I would say the RF amp uses power, the antenna conducts/transmits/dissipates power. Although none of those words quite fit with "power" - but they would fit with "energy".

    • The antenna gain do have an impact on the power consumption. In the transmit side the device power is controlled by the base station to reach a given level at the BS receiver. For a given channel condition a phone with better antenna gain will need to transmit at a lower power than another with a poor antenna to reach the same radiated power, and received power at the BS. So the transmit power amplifier (PA) gain will have to be bigger to compensate for a poor antenna, and the power consumption increase wit
    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      incomplete network roll-out causes dropped calls. Better antennas won't change that much.

      Network rollout and design takes into account both the transmit and receive capabilities of the base and the portable. Simply changing the gain of the receiver antenna or improving it's usable minimum receive signal most definitely change things THAT MUCH.

      There's a reason the notes on coverage maps include things like assumptions on minimum signals required for users.

      But you want a practical example, take a look at the widely differing level of performance of various GPS receivers out there. I have two here

      • Far be it from me to be cynical (!) but it seems to me that the reason for dropped calls might be a deliberate policy on the part of our telcos to generate more revenue from connection fees. A brief perusal of my bills shows that this is working very nicely for Telstra, since I almost always have to make a minimum of two calls for any one phone conversation.
        • by thegarbz (1787294)

          I hate to burst your cynacism, but this sounds like either a problem with your phone or your location. If my phone would be doing that I'd be on a landline call to the Telstra and then the TIO (fun fact, every complaint to the TIO costs a carrier around $200 in administrative overhead, they don't like this much).

          I can't remember the last time I or my girlfriend (Optus and Telstra) had a dropped call.

          If it happens everywhere you go, get your phone replaced under warranty, if it happens only at home, TIO comp

  • "Each generation of smartphones actually has more dropped calls"

    That would be a no. I don't have any dropped calls. Admittedly I don't talk very often while driving or going by train, but when I do, my phone and the network seem to work just fine.

    • by gaelfx (1111115)

      How nice that you can disprove a sweeping generalization with a single personal experience. By the way, I have this rock that keeps tigers away...you interested?

      • by oji-sama (1151023)

        Right, 'we' get more dropped calls because antennas are actually getting worse as they are being developed. I've got a bridge to sell you and it is a lot better than the new ones that are being developed.

        I expanded my unscientific poll to workplace chat. 'Max once a year', 'Sometimes in an area of really bad coverage, but never elsewhere', 'what, a failed function call'.

  • "You call that an antenna?"

  • I assume the last step involves deep-fat frying.
  • It's nae very wee...

    It's FRICKEN wee..

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