Remote - M2M Special Issue 2013 - (Page 10)

Feature Article Exponential M2M Market Growth Calls for Innovative RF and Antenna Solutions Jeff Shamblin, Ethertronics Chief Scientist Ethertronics For vendors in the M2M market, the major market opportunity for exponential growth does not come without challenge. M2M connections are growing 26 percent annually and are on track to top 450 million worldwide by 2018, according to a new ABI Research report. But the revenue those connections generate is plummeting. “The market for M2M connections can be classified as very competitive to hyper-competitive depending on the country,” said Dan Shey, the report’s author. “As a result, connection ARPUs have declined dramatically over the last two years as operators fight for M2M business.” Declining ARPU means mobile operators and other M2M ecosystem members are looking for every opportunity to wring out costs to ensure profitability. That quest puts enormous pressure on M2M vendors to provide modules and other products that are as inexpensive as possible. The good news is that this pressure comes on the heels of a growing selection of RF solutions that enable vendors to meet pricing expectations without sacrificing performance or their bottom line. In fact, antenna systems are the ideal place to innovate because they’re critical not only for performance and reliability, but also because they directly affect the cost of both developing M2M products and providing M2M services. All of these challenges are compounded due to M2M’s extreme price sensitivity, which has existed as long as M2M has and, as ABI’s new report shows, will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. This situation makes it difficult for module vendors to spend the time, which ultimately is money, to create the custom antenna design necessary to meet each application’s unique requirements for space, reliability and performance. That’s assuming the M2M vendor has extensive or any experience in RF engineering. For example, now that LTE is widely available, many consumer electronics (CE) vendors have, for the first time, begun embedding M2M modules in their devices. Unlike smartphone and tablet vendors, CE companies typically don’t have in-house RF engineering staffs to create and integrate a custom antenna system. The obvious alternative is to use an off-the-shelf antenna. The drawback is that it probably won’t be able to meet the application’s unique requirements because the antenna’s design isn’t flexible enough to accommodate a variety of RF variables, frequency bands and space limitations. An off-the-shelf antenna requires integration services from an antenna expert to bring a product to market. However, unless a vendor has an in-house RF engineering staff, it can’t successfully integrate an off-the-shelf antenna and then tweak it if it doesn’t pass operator certification the first time. Tough Times Get Tougher The Future is Active To understand why, it helps to start by looking at why it’s so challenging to design antennas for M2M applications. One factor is that space is limited and shrinking. Smartphones and tablet form factors keep getting thinner, which is why the amount Antennas on M2M modules must fit on ever shrinking of interior space for antennas has board space. been shrinking by 25 percent annually. Although M2M modules frequently are inside large equipment such as vending machines, that doesn’t mean there’s ample room for antennas. Finding enough room for one or more antennas gets even more difficult if the M2M application uses lower frequencies, such as 400 MHz, 700 MHz and 900 MHz, because those antennas are physically longer. Regardless of the antenna’s length, the space available often is in a less-than-ideal location, such as surrounded by parts that block signals or components that spew RFI. Another location factor is the place where the M2M module is installed. For example, utility meters often are installed in underground vaults, while vending machines typically are deep inside buildings, away from windows. Those locations attenuate signals, making it difficult to maintain a reliable, high-performance connection. That problem affects costs for the M2M customer, such as having to send someone to read the meter manually. If it’s a widespread problem, the operator might have to increase the density of its cell sites to remain competitive in the M2M market. The CapEx and OpEx of dozens, hundreds or thousands of additional cell sites makes it difficult for the operator to price its M2M services competitively yet profitably. On top of everything, M2M modules frequently are in environments that continually changing in ways that affect RF. For example, a utility meter installed in the summer might have no difficulty maintaining a connection, but when it’s blanketed with wet leaves in the fall and snow in winter, that connection becomes unreliable or slow. When the end user or mobile operator has to troubleshoot that problem, it’s an additional expense. In some M2M applications, there are even bigger things at stake, such as when a patient or caregiver holds a telemedicine device in a way that de-tunes the antenna. That can prevent the device from sending critical information about a patient. 10 These challenges highlight the value of active antenna systems, which enable vendors to meet pricing expectations without sacrificing performance or their bottom line. Unlike passive antennas, active solutions make it easier, faster and more cost-effective for module vendors and other M2M companies to meet each application’s unique requirements. Active antenna systems can be dynamically tuned to support wide bandwidths, cover multiple bands, squeeze into small spaces and provide more degrees of freedom in the design process. They’re also flexible enough to work around problematic RF environments, such as being mounted inside a metal box, or in an underground vault or in an alley where large trucks are frequently parked. This flexibility also increases the likelihood that the M2M product will pass operator certification on the first try, which means faster time to market and faster time to revenue. Active antenna systems provide the off-the-shelf benefits that vendors have sought for years, but with none of the traditional drawbacks. Their flexibility eliminates the need for, and expense of, in-house RF engineering teams that can spend months integrating the antenna system into each product. An active antenna system also enables single-SKU M2M products, such as a telemedicine or CE device that the vendor wants to be able to sell in multiple world regions. In that product, the active antenna system could support a dozen or more LTE bands, plus the bands for 3G and 2.5G fallback, as well as ISM, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, GPS and NFC. The flexibility to support multiple LTE bands also enables M2M companies to address another problem that the ABI report identifies: LTE modules’ twoto six-fold price premium over 2G modules. The ideal active antenna system includes a tunable capacitor on a PCB to streamline integration. It also should have a typical dynamic range of 20 dB to ensure maximum performance across a range of frequencies and applications. The ideal solution combines closed-loop functionality and algorithms to sense and optimize the antenna system without external control signals from the device. This approach provides tuning capability by seamlessly adjusting the antenna’s characteristics to maintain performance amid changes such as frequency shift and hand, head and environmental effects. The end result is that active antenna systems provide the M2M ecosystem with the tradeoff-free plug-and-play option that’s been so elusive for so long. It’s an idea whose time has come, just in time. For more information visit

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Remote - M2M Special Issue 2013

Towards Right-Sizing Security for M2M Solutions: A Practical Approach
Intelligent Power Distribution for M2M Communications
Optimizing Remote Monitoring in the Cloud
Exponential M2M Market Growth Calls for Innovative RF and Antenna Solutions
Benefits of Using Wireless Networks to Automate FAA-Mandated Obstruction Light Monitoring Requirements
Energy Management Systems For Green Buildings
M2M Products and Services
Industry News

Remote - M2M Special Issue 2013