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Need more than one type of connectivity? Crack the combination with combo antennas

Connected assets and devices often need to be able to access more than one connectivity technology but this has been difficult for OEMs and developers to enable. Until recently, they have been faced with the choice of specifying expensive combo antennas that combine multiple radio technologies or having to install multiple antennas on their products. Neither approach is cost-effective.

This is all changing as larger volumes of IoT-enabled assets are deployed, enabling vendors to spread the cost of R&D across more sales and thereby enabling reductions in the unit cost of combo antennas. At the same time, more use cases have emerged that justify adoption of combo antennas. It’s a virtuous circle that is already starting remove barriers to wider adoption of combo antennas.

Although relatively complex to develop, combo antennas offer great simplicity for installers because only a single mounting is required. In contrast to embedded IoT antennas, combo antennas are typically mounted externally with an antenna that is connected to the electronics in the product. This reduces the cost of operation and time-to-market for projects that utilize combo antennas in comparison to deployments that need to connect multiple antennas.

Even so, deployment volumes remain relatively small. This isn’t massive IoT because of the size and value of assets that typically benefit from adopting combo antennas. A typical, large combo antenna deployment would be measured in the low tens of thousands, such as a substantial vehicle fleet. Now though, innovative vendors are spreading the cost of development across far larger customer bases and introducing re-usable form factors, making combo antennas appealing for a broad range of healthcare, public safety and emergency response use cases, delivering more reliable and robust connectivity at an affordable pricepoint than ever before.

Combo antennas now cover various use cases with a range of form factors

The potential to design combo antennas is limited only by what can be fitted into the space available so customers could choose to select a range of cellular, Wi-Fi, satellite and LPWAN antennas to be combined into a combo antenna of their specification. One popular example is a 9-in-1 combo antenna that combines 8 x 8 5G/4G MIMO antennas with a GNSS L1 and L5 antenna. The greater number of antennas ensures strong connections for video applications and typical use cases include passenger transport, vehicle tracking and remote asset and pipeline monitoring.

Another example is a 5-in1 puck antenna, typically seen on the exterior of vehicles for applications in intelligent transportation or for heavy equipment telematics. Such an antenna combines 5G and 4G network capability with satellite capability by including 4 x 4 5G/4G MIMO antennas and a GNSS L1 and L5 antenna. All of these are included in the same product that requires a single installation by an installer with no specific technology expertise. As the market for combo antennas widens to include use cases that were previously excluded on the basis of cost, combo antennas provide an elegant solution, ensuring maximized connectivity choice with minimized installation complexity.  

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