Technologies and Market Developments in the Passive Base Station Antenna Market

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By Fei Liu | 4Q 2022 | IN-6758

The passive base station antenna market experienced an increase of 5.6% in 2021, amounting to US$3.56 billion, it is yet to recover to its previous peak level. The global demand for passive antennas will still be expected to grow, passive antenna vendors would need to continue to invest in Research and Development (R&D) and closely track the market demands for cost, performance, and weight/dimension in order to improve their product platforms accordingly to remain competitive. They also need to enhance antenna efficiency as it would gradually become a differentiating factor among the vendors with network operators committed to their carbon emission goals.

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The Passive Base Station Antenna Market Experienced an Increase of 5.6% in 2021

NEWS


The passive base station antenna market is strongly correlated to investments from operators in expanding their network assets and the replacement of any legacy equipment. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 created business uncertainty and led to a 13% decline in market size. In 2021, transiting into a post COVID-19 world, operators resumed their network deployments, and the passive base station antenna market witnessed an increase of 5.6%, amounting to US$3.56 billion. While the recovery is a positive sign, the global passive base station antenna market is yet to recover to its peak level from 2018.

Innovations for Passive Base Station Antennas

IMPACT


Innovation in passive antennas is crucial for vendors to remain competitive as they need to address key challenges in the physical cell site space, wind load, and energy efficiency. The increasing number of frequency bands also push antenna vendors to refine their product lines and cater for the new frequency bands as well as existing ones.

Innovative Architecture: One key technology Huawei employs to maximize energy efficiency for its passive base station antenna is Signal Direct Injection Feeding (SDIF). The SDIF architecture integrates all the scattered components such as splitters and phase shifters into one unit, which reduces the number of components connections and simplifies the design. It also uses air-type strip lines to integrate dipole arrays and feeding network rather than using cables, eliminating cable loss and maximizing energy efficiency. According to Huawei, energy efficiency under SDIF architecture is about 80% compared to 70% under traditional architecture.

Active + Passive (A+P) Platform Solutions: There is a growing need to increase capacity and data rates to provide a better quality  service in the current wireless communication system. Also, operators face limited space on the tower. In response, vendors have released A+P platform solutions to help save tower space and enable a seamless deployment of passive and active antennas under the same structure, while enhancing performance and reducing cost (i.e., deployment, maintenance, and operation). Operators can choose to deploy the passive and active antennas together or independently, depending on their network requirements. Additionally, the A+P solutions come with a compact design to ensure 4G infrastructure can co-exist with 5G antennas which in turn helps to speed up 5G deployments. Such solutions are already available from many vendors, including CommScope, Nokia, Ericsson, ZTE, and Huawei.

Wind Load Reduction: Wind load affects the tower safety and the reliability of the antenna, increasing the need for antennas with enhanced wind load performance. Vendors have been investing to reduce wind load. For example, CommScope’s innovative design delays flow separation and reduces wake by ensuring the flow attached to the antenna for as long as possible, which is critical to reduce wind load in the design of passive antennas. It is reported to reduce overall wind load by 30% and maintain peak Radio Frequency (RF) performance, helping operators to reduce operating cost and assure the quality of service. Prose also has efficient drag reduction solutions, including turbulence generator, bionic drag reduction end cap, aerodynamic optimized cross section, and side aerodynamic robs, resulting in 60% frontal wind load reduction.

The Outlook of Passive Base Station Antenna Market

RECOMMENDATIONS


As network operators around the world continue to roll out 5G, the increasing demand for 5G Massive Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (mMIMO) causes a disruption in the passive base station antenna market. The global demand for passive antennas will still be expected to grow as network operators need to deploy passive antennas in the lower frequency band (<3 GHz) to achieve nationwide network coverage, but its growth will be at a diminishing rate. The demand is expected to be driven by Latin America, Africa, and South Asia, with network operators upgrading to 4G networks and transitioning into 5G networks.

There is no clear answer to what actions or innovation will help drive significant growth in the passive base station antenna market. With passive base station antennas expected to dominate the market share in the near term, passive antenna vendors should closely track the market demands for cost, performance, weight/dimension in order to improve their product platforms and remain competitive. They should also continue to invest in R&D to ensure their passive antennas address the physical space limitations at cell sites and spectrums owned by network operators are being deployed optimally. Moreover, passive antenna vendors should explore the market opportunities created by the development of Open RAN. There are new radio vendors entering into the market, although the number is small for now.

As more network operators worldwide are committing to carbon neutrality by 2050 or earlier, the focus is on cutting the carbon emissions coming from the purchase of electricity, heat, or cooling for system operations and activities in the supply chain. Therefore, passive antenna vendors need to develop more low carbon footprint antenna solutions to help network operators achieve their carbon emission targets. Vendors such as Amphenol Antenna Solutions have launched the world’s first antenna upgradable program and it can help to cut carbon footprint by 50%. However, this concept is currently available in Europe with four different manufacturing sites. Other vendors should launch a similar program to benefits operators in the rest of the world.