The future of antennas: What to expect?

The future of antennas: What to expect?

By Joe Humphries

As electronics have developed in recent years, product engineers have found ways to largely eliminate the use of antennas on most smartphones and personal electronics. Think about it – when was the last time you had to adjust the antenna on your iPad or Samsung phone in order to get better reception? Whereas previous generations knew how to manipulate an antenna in order to get better reception, millennials, teenagers, and young kids today have no idea that the antenna played such an important role in the development of the radio, television, and mobile phones.

But antennas aren’t going away. Scientists and engineers are actually finding new ways to implement antennas in tried-and-true technologies, as well as creating completely new antenna technologies for the future. The following article discusses the future of antennas, and how antennas are still playing an important role in the world of technology today.

3D-Printed Antennas:

You’ve no doubt heard about how 3D printing is revolutionizing the manufacturing industry. Companies around the world are trying to figure out how to print their products on-demand for their customers. Interestingly, 3D printing has also taken the antenna world by storm.

One way 3D printing is influencing the future of antennas is that product engineers are now designing traditionally-shaped antennas at lighter weights and cheaper costs than can be achieved through conventional manufacturing methods. These 3D-printed antennas are also notable because they tend to be more powerful than regular antennas. Optomec’s Aerosol Jet® can 3D print fine-feature electronic structures and components including antennas for consumer electronics, wearables, IoT, aerospace and defense.

Smaller Antennas Become the New Trend:

Outside of 3D printing, product engineers are trying to find forward-thinking ways to make antennas smaller. This movement to make antennas smaller is referred to as antenna miniaturization, and is definitely a huge part of where antenna-related technology is going in the future.

Scientists are now producing antennas that are between a tenth and a hundredth of the size of antennas that are currently on the market. What’s unique about these new ultra-small antennas is that they communicate via radio waves, whereas normal-sized antennas are activated by electromagnetic waves. The study, published in Nature, reported that their mini-antennas sent and received 2.5 GHz signals nearly 100,000 times more efficiently than a conventional ring antenna.

The Continued Presence of Cell Phone Towers:

Every year, some imaginative technology blogger writes some long-winded piece about how cell phone towers will soon be displaced by some innovative new antenna-less technology.

The fact of the matter, though, is that cell phone companies are currently selling more bandwidth than they are selling phones — that’s how insatiable the demand is for more bandwidth. The only way carriers can meet this bandwidth demand is to continue to rely on the pre-existing cell phone tower system.

Until companies like AT&T and Verizon can figure out a way to produce more bandwidth than they can sell — a problem they do not want to solve — cell phone towers will continue to play a prominent role in mobile communication. To put things simply, cell phone towers are here to stay for a long time.

Mobile 5G Promises to Revolutionize the Mobile Phone Industry:

While cell phone towers will continue to play a role in the development of cell phone technology, 5G mobile technology is currently on the horizon. The most intriguing antenna-related innovation involved with the development of 5G will be the appearance of small cell towers.

These experimental cell phone towers are so small that mobile phone companies can attach them to things like light poles or roof tops. Because these small antenna towers are so much smaller than current cell phone towers, phone companies should be able to put them in rural parts of the country. The more antenna towers there are, the better your cell phone coverage will be. Experts believe that 5G technology will improve cell phone communication because there will be fewer dropped calls and better overall reception with so many small antenna cell towers around.

The Future of Antennas:

Although antennas are generally considered to be an antiquated technology, telecommunications companies are finding ways to innovate the antenna for the next generation of electronics. At the moment, product engineers are using 3D printing or refined manufacturing techniques to make antennas smaller, lighter, and more powerful than ever before. Cell phone companies are planning to introduce 5G technology, which will hearken in an era of small cell towers. Despite these innovations, traditional cell phone towers and larger antennas will still play an important role in shaping the future of human communication.

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