Smart Antenna (by Jack H. Winters)


Throughout the world, including the United States, there is significant research and development on smart antennas for wireless systems. This is because smart antennas have tremendous potential to enhance the performance of future generation wireless systems as evidenced by the antennas’ recent deployment in many systems.

This chapter covers smart antenna technology, including software and system aspects. First the two basic types of smart antennas, adaptive and phased arrays, are described and then their current use and proposed use in future wireless systems is discussed. Then the key research issues that came up at the U.S. workshop and at the various sites the WTEC panel visited are presented. Finally, conclusions are presented along with the technology assessment of the U.S., European, and Japanese companies.


There are two basic types of smart antennas. As shown in Fig. 6.1, the first type is the phased array or multibeam antenna, which consists of either a number of fixed beams with one beam turned on towards the desired signal or a single beam (formed by phase adjustment only) that is steered toward the desired signal. The other type is the adaptive antenna array as shown in Fig. 6.2, which is an array of multiple antenna elements, with the received signals weighted and combined to maximize the desired signal to interference plus noise power ratio. This essentially puts a main beam in the direction of the desired signal and nulls in the direction of the interference.

A smart antenna is therefore a phased or adaptive array that adjusts to the environment. That is, for the adaptive array, the beam pattern changes as the desired user and the interference move; and for the phased array the beam is steered or different beams are selected as the desired user moves.

Nearly every company the WTEC panel visited is doing significant work in smart antennas. Indeed, some companies placed strong emphasis on this research. In particular, researchers at NEC and NTT stated that they felt that smart antenna technology was the most important technology for fourth generation cellular systems. Researchers at Filtronics and other companies agreed that smart antenna technology was one of the key technologies for fourth generation systems. The reasons appear below.

Phased array

Adaptive array
Adaptive array


Future wireless systems generally may require higher data rates with better coverage for a wide variety of users operating with a large variety of different systems. To achieve these goals, greater power, interference suppression, and multipath mitigation are needed. As users operate at higher data rates, they need higher power for adequate reliability. For higher bandwidths, higher carrier frequencies that have higher propagation and circuit losses are needed. So some way to recover this power must be developed. In addition, interference suppression is needed for higher capacities. Particularly as higher frequency reuse is used to increase capacity, there will be more cochannel interference, which requires greater interference suppression. Finally, multipath mitigation to have more reliable and robust communications is necessary.


Smart antennas can help systems meet these requirements in the following manner: First, both phased and adaptive arrays provide increased power by providing higher gain for the desired signal. Phased arrays use narrow pencil beams, particularly with a large number of antenna elements at higher frequencies, to provide higher gain (power) in the direction of the desired signal. Adaptive arrays place a main beam in the direction of the desired signal for an M-fold power gain with M antenna elements.

In terms of interference suppression, phased arrays reduce the probability of interference with the narrower beam, and adaptive arrays adjust the beam pattern to suppress interference. For multipath mitigation, smart antennas can provide diversity, of which there are three basic types: spatial, polarization, and angle (or pattern) diversity. These appear in more detail below.


From the site visits and U.S. company workshop, it appears that phased arrays and adaptive arrays are considered and researched about equally. Although some companies studied only one type exclusively, others work both on phased and adaptive arrays.

Phased arrays are mainly being studied for point-to-point wireless systems, e.g., for wireless local loops. They are also being considered for macrocellular base stations. For example, in Europe there is work on using 8-element phased arrays on GSM base stations. In Japan, there is work on using very large phased arrays on satellites, as well as on satellite terminals such as on car tops.

Adaptive arrays are being studied for indoor systems, i.e., systems with wide angular spread where the received signals arrive via widely separated paths where a phased array may not be useful in achieving gain. Also they are being studied in microcells and in some cellular base stations. For example, currently in the TDMA system ANSI-136 adaptive antenna algorithms have been widely deployed commercially in the United States. Also adaptive arrays are being considered on cellular terminals where local scattering causes wide angular spread.


The site visits and the U.S. workshop raised several key research issues.

The first research issue is cost, including the cost of power. For example, at Philips, researchers noted that 50% of the power in the handset is in the RF electronics. Therefore, multiple antennas in the handset not only increase the dollar cost of the handset, but also increase the power and thus decrease battery life. Research to reduce the power that each of these antennas requires needs to be undertaken. Similarly, the number of required receiver chains must be reduced because the RF electronics and the A/D converter required with each antenna are expensive. One method being considered is a low-cost phased array. At higher frequencies, some companies are considering using large phased arrays to create very narrow beams to provide higher gain. But the issue is how to have, for example, hundreds of antenna elements and mass produce them at a reasonable cost. Thus, cost is limiting the number of antenna elements that can be used. Various solutions are being considered. For example, ATR is considering using optical beamforming for large phased arrays. Another solution being considered is integrating the antennas onto the RF electronics IC itself. Also, researchers at Ericsson are considering a limited introduction of smart antennas, because their research has shown that using smart antennas at just a small portion of the base stations, e.g., those having capacity problems or creating the most interference, can achieve most of the gain of complete deployment. In particular, Ericcson’s results show that deploying smart antennas at only 10% of the base stations resulted in a 40% increase in capacity.

The second key research issue is size. Large base station arrays are difficult to deploy for aesthetic reasons, and multiple external antennas on terminals are generally not practical. For base stations, companies are using dual polarization, but at the terminal some companies are researching putting antennas on the RF electronics IC in an “antenna-less” terminal (since an external antenna is not present). However, issues of gain and efficiency and the effect of hand placement on the terminal need further research.

The third issue is diversity, which, as discussed above, is needed for multipath mitigation. For diversity, multiple antennas are needed on the base stations and/or terminals. As mentioned above there are three types of diversity: spatial, polarization, and angle (pattern) diversity. Spatial diversity3/4spatial separation of the antennas3/4is difficult on a small handset. Even though only a quarter wavelength separation is required for low correlation of the multipath fading between antennas on a handset, it also is difficult for base stations where the angular spread is small and large separation is required for low correlation. Spatial diversity is even more difficult to achieve in point-to-point systems where a near line-of-sight exists between the transmitter and receiver, and, further, at higher frequencies, sufficient spatial separation does not appear feasible. This problem can be partially avoided by the use of polarization diversity, where both vertical and horizontal polarizations are used to obtain dual diversity without spatial separation. For example, at Philips and other companies, researchers are using dual polarization diversity on handsets. Others are studying and implementing dual polarization on base station antennas. Polarization diversity provides only dual diversity, though polarization diversity can be used in combination with other forms of diversity to obtain higher orders of diversity.

Finally, companies are using angle diversity. That is, the signals from two or more beams (generally the beams with the highest signal powers) are used to obtain diversity. But performance depends on the angular spread. If the angular spread is small, then the received signal is mainly arriving on one beam and angle diversity will not provide a significant diversity gain. Also, some companies are studying pattern diversity, where antennas have different antenna patterns. In particular, researchers at Nokia are studying the use of multiple antennas in the handset, where some of the antennas may be covered by the hand, and moving the hand around changes the antenna pattern. These researchers believe that by adaptively combining the signals from such antennas, perhaps only using those antennas not blocked by the hand or adjusting the antenna impedance to compensate for hand placement, it may be possible to obtain much better performance (including diversity) with multiple internal antennas as compared to an external antenna.

A fourth issue is signal tracking, i.e., determining the angle-of-arrival of the desired signal with phased arrays to determine which beam to use and adjusting the weights with adaptive arrays to maximize the desired signal-to-noise-plus-interference ratio in the output signal. At none of the sites the panel visited did the researchers feel that signal processing power was a significant issue for tracking in future systems. Instead, they felt that increases in signal processing power would permit new tracking algorithms to be implemented without substantial consideration of the processing requirements. Researchers at Ericsson, for example, noted that, although angle-of-arrival techniques for phased arrays use MUSIC or ESPRIT algorithms in 2000, improvements are needed to make these algorithms more robust with angular spread and to obtain higher resolution. For adaptive arrays, better subspace tracking methods are needed since higher data rates will require longer temporal equalizers, which require longer training sequences and greater overhead.

A fifth issue is spatial-temporal processing, i.e., equalization of intersymbol interference due to delay spread at high data rates, with cochannel interference suppression. During the WTEC panel’s European site visits it was noted that better architectures are needed for spatial-temporal processing, as current architectures have room for significant improvement. However, the use of OFDM is being considered for fourth generation systems (as brought up during Japanese site visits), which may simplify spatial-temporal processing at high data rates, but further research is needed. Also, space-time coding is an area of significant research, primarily in the United States, but research on improved interference suppression and tracking with these codes is needed. Finally, multiple transmit/receive antenna systems (referred to as multiple input multiple output (MIMO) or BLAST for the Lucent Bell Labs version) are being touted mainly in the United States as a means for achieving very high capacities in wireless systems. With MIMO, different signals are transmitted from each antenna simultaneously in the same bandwidth and then are separated at the receiver, thus increasing the potential to provide an M-fold increase in capacity without an increase in transmit power or bandwidth. For example, Lucent has demonstrated 1.2 Mbps in a 30 kHz channel in an indoor environment using 8 transmit and 12 receive antennas. To be useful in a wider variety of wireless systems, however, research is needed to extend the technique to the outdoor environment, including determining the multipath richness of this environment, which is required for the technique to work properly, and to the cochannel interference environment of cellular systems.

A sixth issue involves putting the necessary hooks in the standards such that smart antenna technology can be used effectively. In second generation cellular systems, ANSI-136 and IS-95, implementing smart antennas had problems because the standards did not consider their use. In particular, ANSI-136 required a continuous downlink signal to all three users in a frequency channel, which precludes the use of different beams for each of these three users. In IS-95, there is a common downlink pilot, which also precludes the use of different beams for each user, as all users need to see the pilot. For third generation systems, smart antennas were taken into account in WCDMA, where downlink pilots are dedicated to each user, and therefore smart antennas can be effectively used on the downlink. In the EDGE system, the continuous downlink requirement is no longer present, but some signals from the base station still need to be broadcast to all users. Thus, further research is needed to ensure that smart antennas can be effectively used in this system. For fourth generation systems, therefore, smart antennas must be taken into account in standard development. Specifically, any packet or multimedia access to all users, as well as pilots, must be transmitted or done in such a way as to not preclude the use of smart antennas, if this technology is to be used to its full benefit. Since these standards are international, research in this area needs to be done globally.

The previous issue leads to the seventh and final issue: vertical integration or an interdisciplinary approach. Research on smart antennas will require multiple factors/expertise to be considered-smart antennas cannot be studied in isolation. This issue was brought up repeatedly during the WTEC site visits. As discussed above, smart antennas must be considered in protocol development, i.e., expertise in both physical and media access layers is required. Also, smart antennas need to be considered in combination with other techniques, such as frequency hopping, power control, and adaptive channel assignment. Researchers at Nokia and Philips noted that smart antennas need to be considered in combination with RF matching, particularly with multiband antennas. At Nokia, the issue of adapting the antennas to hand position was noted. Ericsson has studied the limited introduction of smart antennas with nonuniform traffic. Another issue was the interaction when ad hoc networks are used. Furthermore, propagation measurements and channel modeling are needed to determine the performance of smart antennas in specific environments. Issues of base station versus terminal antenna (complexity) tradeoffs were also noted, as well as transmit diversity with space-time coding. From the above issues, it seems important that smart antenna research be multidisciplinary. However, few people have such a wide range of expertise, and it is often difficult for researchers with such different expertise to work together effectively. Thus, even though the critical need for such research was noted over and over again worldwide, there were few instances in any region where this was being done, or even planned in the future, as this type of research is different from the general method used in the past. Thus, this type of research appears to require a change of approach, but there was general agreement that the companies that can do this will make the greatest progress in smart antennas.


From the site visits in Europe and Japan and interactions with U.S. companies, it appears that the major requirements for future wireless systems are higher data rates with better coverage to a large number of users at a reasonable cost. To obtain these goals, higher signal-to-noise ratios (more power), interference suppression, and multipath mitigation is needed. The smart antenna was universally recognized as a critical component in meeting these requirements, but much research still needs to be done, as evidenced by the fact that nearly all sites visited have a significant research effort in smart antennas. Research efforts are about equally divided between the two types of smart antennas (phased arrays and adaptive arrays), although the emphasis varies among companies.

The WTEC study concludes that the major research issues for smart antennas are the following:

  • cost (including power and electronics)
  • size
  • diversity
  • tracking
  • spatial-temporal processing
  • hooks in international standards to include provisions for smart antennas
  • vertical integration/interdisciplinary research

Of these, interdisciplinary research incorporating smart antennas was considered to be the key to the greatest gains, but very little of this type of research is currently being conducted because of the difficulty of the required interactions.

For future wireless systems to be viable, substantial research on smart antennas in the above areas will be required, with emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches.


Smart antenna technology varies substantially among companies, and since many of these companies are multinational, it is difficult to make a comparative assessment of the technology among regions. Nearly all wireless companies visited, and therefore regions, have significant research in smart antennas, and thus overall the current status of the regions in smart antennas appears to be about equal. However, the emphasis of the research on phased or adaptive arrays varies by application. Specifically, Japanese companies emphasize WCDMA and higher frequencies, and thus the major focus of their work is on phased arrays. On the other hand, U.S. and European companies tend to emphasize lower frequencies (850 and 1900 MHz), and TDMA systems (GSM, EDGE, ANSI-136) as well as WCDMA, and therefore focus on adaptive arrays in addition to phased arrays. Thus, Japan leads in smart antenna research and technology for phased arrays, particularly at higher frequencies (5 GHz and above), whereas the United States and Europe lead in adaptive array research and technology (see Table 6.1).

Technology Comparison
Technology Comparison

One thought on “Smart Antenna (by Jack H. Winters)”

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