The Question of Antenna and Radio Integration

Wireless operators who are trialing integrated antennas that combine the remote radio unit with the base station antenna need to ask themselves, “What level of antenna/RRU integration is ideal?,” says CommScope’s Jones Kalunga. Certain realities such as the need to replace damaged RRUs might make too much integration less than desirable. See today’s blog post for more.

Andrew SiteRise Standard Interface
In the South African market, operators are quickly adopting the next generation of wireless technology. Many are currently exploring what network equipment and design will best support LTE and future technology platforms. Part of this exploration has included trialing integrated base station antennas, which combine the remote radio unit with the antenna. The question South African operators (and all wireless operators, really) need to answer regarding such solutions is, what level of integration is practical?

A fully integrated antenna system weaves one or more RRUs into the antenna, placing the whole structure into a single enclosure. Obviously such integration reflects the broader cell site trend of placing the radio closer to the antenna to reduce signal loss and power consumption. Many in the industry now agree that moving the radio up the tower is a good idea. But is fully integrating the RRU with the antenna just as good of an idea?

What if there is a maintenance issue such as a lightning strike that damages the radio equipment? At that point, operators may need to take the whole integrated unit down for repair. Fully integrated systems do not provide the flexibility to fix damaged equipment without taking the whole site down or allow for easy upgrade of the radio units when new technologies need to be deployed.

Fully integrated antennas remind me a bit of the televisions that had VHS players integrated in them. If the VHS part broke, you had to take the whole TV in for repair, losing the ability to watch your favorite shows. Of course, VHS also became obsolete, and many people were stuck with a TV that had an outdated, unneeded component. That would be like having an antenna that works, but an RRU that is becoming or has become outdated.

A tower top design that is less integrated could allow for the removal of just the elements that are damaged or in need of replacing. For example, a less integrated antenna system allows for the RRU to be swapped out without having to remove the antenna. A less integrated antenna system provides the same advantage of a reduced foot print on the tower, reducing the space occupied by equipment and therefore reducing the wind loading and leasing costs. Less integrated systems offer the flexibility for upgrades to the active or passive components of the systems.

That’s the approach CommScope takes with the Andrew SiteRise tower top solutions. We focus on standardizing the connections and pre-assembling the components to optimize performance and provide cost and time savings. Learn more about the latest evolution of SiteRise.

What do you think? What level of antenna/RRU integration is ideal?