Ericsson joins trend on active-passive antennas

2-5G, it's easy as APA.

Ericsson has announced two new active-passive antenna (APA) designs with integrated radio. They combine FDD 2-5G antennas with mid-band M-MIMO panels, in two different design options. 

The hybrid version (HybridAIR) attaches an active midband TDD  antenna on top of the 2-5G FDD passive panel. The interleaved version (interleavedAIR) combines both active and passive antennas in an “interleaved” manner into a smaller overall form factor. 

The interleaved version has been developed in association with Vodafone, according to its requirements. Head of Product Area Mobile Networks, Per Navinger, said on a call that the interleaved version would suit sites with height restrictions on the antenna unit size, and where operators might want to start with a lower branch antenna and then swap that for a Massive-MIMO antenna if need be later on. Other interleaved combined APA manufacturers, such as RFS, have previously said that interleaved options give operators the opportunity to install an antenna with no active unit, and then install that as they need to upgrade, whilst keeping the same size antenna.

The hybrid combination gives access to the full range of FDD bands and the full selection of Kathrein antennas with the Ericsson active antennas sitting on top, so it comes in taller but offers more band support.

With 5G upgrades still very much in play, and the USA looking at midband spectrum rollouts as soon as it can sort it out, there’s a lot to play for in this space. Antenna size, weight, design and power efficiency has become a major differentiator amongst manufacturers. 

Ericsson has been a partner of Kathrein on its Antenna Integrated Radio units since 2011. It announced its intention to buy the antenna manufacturer in 2018. At the time it said it needed access to the manufacturer’s passive antenna technology, as Huawei had built a lead in integrated antenna solutions. Ericsson says these new products are the results of a full integration of Kathrein’s R&D with Ericsson’s global R&D.

Swisscom is already using the HybridAIR version in some of its sites, and Vodafone has contributed on the InterleavedAIR design, but Per Navinger said that US-friendly and other spectrum band combinations would be available in due course. 

Other antenna manufacturers have had interleaved and combined antenna solutions for 1-2 years now. RFS announced an interleaved version in 2018, and a modular version akin to Ericsson’s hybrid option in 2019.  

Commscope announced a combined passive-active antenna within a single radome in 2019, and added that it would be working with Nokia on one version. Nokia had itself originally prepared a custom design for Orange with Kathrein, before that company was itself bought by Ericsson. 

Huawei also announced its 1+1 active-passive antenna design “concept” in 2018,  bringing three product options to market a year later. It also announced its 5G Blade AAU in 2019 – which again integrated Active and passive elements in a 2 metre high panel.