The Architecture of Smart Antenna Systems

How Do Smart Antenna Systems Work?

Traditional switched beam and adaptive array systems enable a base station to customize the beams they generate for each remote user effectively by means of internal feedback control. Generally speaking, each approach forms a main lobe toward individual users and attempts to reject interference or noise from outside of the main lobe.

Listening to the Cell (Uplink Processing)

It is assumed here that a smart antenna is only employed at the base station and not at the handset or subscriber unit. Such remote radio terminals transmit using omnidirectional antennas, leaving it to the base station to selectively separate the desired signals from interference selectively.

Typically, the received signal from the spatially distributed antenna elements is multiplied by a weight, a complex adjustment of an amplitude and a phase. These signals are combined to yield the array output. An adaptive algorithm controls the weights according to predefined objectives. For a switched beam system, this may be primarily maximum gain; for an adaptive array system, other factors may receive equal consideration. These dynamic calculations enable the system to change its radiation pattern for optimized signal reception.

Speaking to the Users (Downlink Processing)

The task of transmitting in a spatially selective manner is the major basis for differentiating between switched beam and adaptive array systems. As described below, switched beam systems communicate with users by changing between preset directional patterns, largely on the basis of signal strength. In comparison, adaptive arrays attempt to understand the RF environment more comprehensively and transmit more selectively.

The type of downlink processing used depends on whether the communication system uses time division duplex (TDD), which transmits and receives on the same frequency (e.g., PHS and DECT) or frequency division duplex (FDD), which uses separate frequencies for transmit and receiving (e.g., GSM). In most FDD systems, the uplink and downlink fading and other propagation characteristics may be considered independent, whereas in TDD systems the uplink and downlink channels can be considered reciprocal. Hence, in TDD systems uplink channel information may be used to achieve spatially selective transmission. In FDD systems, the uplink channel information cannot be used directly and other types of downlink processing must be considered.

Switched Beam Systems

In terms of radiation patterns, switched beam is an extension of the current microcellular or cellular sectorization method of splitting a typical cell. The switched beam approach further subdivides macrosectors into several microsectors as a means of improving range and capacity. Each microsector contains a predetermined fixed beam pattern with the greatest sensitivity located in the center of the beam and less sensitivity elsewhere. The design of such systems involves high-gain, narrow azimuthal beamwidth antenna elements.

The switched beam system selects one of several predetermined fixed-beam patterns (based on weighted combinations of antenna outputs) with the greatest output power in the remote user’s channel. These choices are driven by RF or baseband DSP hardware and software. The system switches its beam in different directions throughout space by changing the phase differences of the signals used to feed the antenna elements or received from them. When the mobile user enters a particular macrosector, the switched beam system selects the microsector containing the strongest signal. Throughout the call, the system monitors signal strength and switches to other fixed microsectors as required.

Figure 1. Beamforming Lobes and Nulls that Switched Beam (Red) and Adaptive Array (Blue) Systems Might Choose for Identical User Signals (Green Line) and Cochannel Interferers (Yellow Lines)
Figure 1. Beamforming Lobes and Nulls that Switched Beam (Red) and Adaptive Array (Blue) Systems Might Choose for Identical User Signals (Green Line) and Cochannel Interferers (Yellow Lines)

Smart antenna systems communicate directionally by forming specific antenna beam patterns. When a smart antenna directs its main lobe with enhanced gain in the direction of the user, it naturally forms side lobes and nulls or areas of medium and minimal gain respectively in directions away from the main lobe. Different switched beam and adaptive smart antenna systems control the lobes and the nulls with varying degrees of accuracy and flexibility.

Adaptive Antenna Approach

The adaptive antenna systems approach communication between a user and base station in a different way, in effect adding a dimension of space. By adjusting to an RF environment as it changes (or the spatial origin of signals), adaptive antenna technology can dynamically alter the signal patterns to near infinity to optimize the performance of the wireless system.

Adaptive arrays utilize sophisticated signal-processing algorithms to continuously distinguish between desired signals, multipath, and interfering signals as well as calculate their directions of arrival. This approach continuously updates its transmit strategy based on changes in both the desired and interfering signal locations. The ability to track users smoothly with main lobes and interferers with nulls ensures that the link budget is constantly maximized because there are neither microsectors nor predefined patterns.

Figure 15 illustrates the relative coverage area for conventional sectorized, switched beam, and adaptive antenna systems. Both types of smart antenna systems provide significant gains over conventional sectored systems. The low level of interference on the left represents a new wireless system with lower penetration levels. The significant level of interference on the right represents either a wireless system with more users or one using more aggressive frequency reuse patterns. In this scenario, the interference rejection capability of the adaptive system provides significantly more coverage than either the conventional or switched beam system.

Figure 2. Coverage Patterns for Switched Beam and Adaptive Array Antennas
Figure 2. Coverage Patterns for Switched Beam and Adaptive Array Antennas

Relative Benefits/Tradeoffs of Switched Beam and Adaptive Array Systems

  • integration—Switched beam systems are traditionally designed to retrofit widely deployed cellular systems. It has been commonly implemented as an add-on or appliqué technology that intelligently addresses the needs of mature networks. In comparison, adaptive array systems have been deployed with a more fully integrated approach that offers less hardware redundancy than switched beam systems but requires new build-out.
  • range/coverage—Switched beam systems can increase base station range from 20 to 200 percent over conventional sectored cells, depending on environmental circumstances and the hardware/software used. The added coverage can save an operator substantial infrastructure costs and means lower prices for consumers. Also, the dynamic switching from beam to beam conserves capacity because the system does not send all signals in all directions. In comparison, adaptive array systems can cover a broader, more uniform area with the same power levels as a switched beam system.
  • interference suppression—Switched beam antennas suppress interference arriving from directions away from the active beam’s center. Because beam patterns are fixed, however, actual interference rejection is often the gain of the selected communication beam pattern in the interferer’s direction. Also, they are normally used only for reception because of the system’s ambiguous perception of the location of the received signal (the consequences of transmitting in the wrong beam being obvious). Also, because their beams are predetermined, sensitivity can occasionally vary as the user moves through the sector.Switched beam solutions work best in minimal to moderate cochannel interference and have difficulty in distinguishing between a desired signal and an interferer. If the interfering signal is at approximately the center of the selected beam and the user is away from the center of the selected beam, the interfering signal can be enhanced far more than the desired signal. In these cases, the quality is degraded for the user.Adaptive array technology currently offers more comprehensive interference rejection. Also, because it transmits an infinite, rather than finite, number of combinations, its narrower focus creates less interference to neighboring users than a switched-beam approach.
  • spatial division multiple access (SDMA)—Among the most sophisticated utilizations of smart antenna technology is SDMA, which employs advanced processing techniques to, in effect, locate and track fixed or mobile terminals, adaptively steering transmission signals toward users and away from interferers. This adaptive array technology achieves superior levels of interference suppression, making possible more efficient reuse of frequencies than the standard fixed hexagonal reuse patterns. In essence, the scheme can adapt the frequency allocations to where the most users are located.
Figure 3. Fully Adaptive Spatial Processing, Supporting Two Users on the Same Conventional Channel Simultaneously in the Same Cell
Figure 3. Fully Adaptive Spatial Processing, Supporting Two Users on the Same Conventional Channel Simultaneously in the Same Cell

Utilizing highly sophisticated algorithms and rapid processing hardware, spatial processing takes the reuse advantages that result from interference suppression to a new level. In essence, spatial processing dynamically creates a different sector for each user and conducts a frequency/channel allocation in an ongoing manner in real time.

Adaptive spatial processing integrates a higher level of measurement and analysis of the scattering aspects of the RF environment. Whereas traditional beam-forming and beam-steering techniques assume one correct direction of transmission toward a user, spatial processing maximizes the use of multiple antennas to combine signals in space in a method that transcends a one user-one beam methodology.

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