Smart Antennas Will Increase Mobile Capacity

Singapore research institute Centre for Wireless Communications (CWC) is testing a prototype technology that will enable mobile operators to support larger groups of users from a single base station.

Developed from a joint collaboration with Japan-based NTT DoCoMo (of i-Mode fame), the technology encompasses enhanced filters and the use of what are called "smart antennas", said Francois Chin, CWC's executive research and development manager, communications division.

NTT DoCoMo has just initiated a six-month trial period on the smart antenna technology that is projected to end in March next year, Chin said.

"In this trial, CWC will design a signal processing algorithm for the filters, while DoCoMo will implement the network," he revealed, adding that a smart antenna testbed has already been built in the Tokyo trial site.

NTT DoCoMo is targeting for a smart antenna market rollout in 2003, he said.

In a typical GSM (global system for mobile communications) or CDMA (code division multiple access) mobile communications network today, as the number of users within the coverage area of a single base station increases, so will the level of interference. This ultimately results in a performance degradation of voice calls.

And while a conventional base station today can only support one antenna, CWC and NTT DoCoMo's prototype cellular technology allows multiple numbers of antennas to be mounted on a single base station, Chin explained.

This infrastructure is also supported by devices that decipher information carried via the transmission signal, and have the intelligence to identify the users it is responsible for, he said. These filters will then boost antenna signals towards the direction of these users, and suppress the interference level of other users within the coverage area, he said.

In a nutshell, because mobile phone users receive boosted antenna signals, their handsets consume a lower amount of power, and they enjoy longer battery life in return for the same call quality as offered via a conventional network.

For the operators, because a single base station can now support an -array of antennas, operators can achieve higher system capacity and extend their coverage area, Chin said.

Backed by filters that have higher levels of intelligence, the prototype technology also provides mobile operators with the ability to achieve better resource allocation, he added.

The smart antenna technology will further enable mobile operators to draw additional information on the location of mobile users, providing an alternative to the much-talked about, global positioning system, he said.

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