LTE 450: A new band for smart metering

Introduction to low frequency communications

As the number of devices requiring data transmission and reception grows, the IoT sector has traditionally relied on cellular bands, like NB-IoT or LTE-M, for communication. However, as wireless technologies advance, cellular network providers are increasingly exploring higher-frequency solutions. This shift has made the lower frequency ranges, such as 450 MHz, more accessible for alternative uses. As a result, utilities and various companies are now tapping into these lower frequencies for specialized applications.

Benefits of using low frequencies such as 450 MHz

Working at low frequencies can bring benefits. The following highlights the three most important ones:

  • Robustness against obstacles – Improved obstacle penetration ensures that the signal can travel through walls, trees, buildings, and other objects with minimal loss. This allows it to cover greater distances more effectively.
  • Coverage in remote places – Thanks to its long-range capabilities low frequency can provide connectivity in places, such as for applications in transportation industries, fleet management, logistics, oil and gas extraction, mining, and agriculture located in remote locations.
  • Lower power consumption – Can increase the battery life of a device, by reducing its power consumption. Fewer battery changes mean less waste and directly affect the health of the planet.

There is something that must be considered before starting a project using low frequencies:

  • Lower frequencies mean bigger ground planes – As we go down in frequency, the electrical size of the antenna decreases, for this reason, if we want to develop a solution that operates at low-frequency bands, the antenna is going to need bigger dimensions in order to preserve good performance in terms of radiation efficiency.

Important things to consider when dealing with low-frequency designs

One of the most popular applications currently using the 450MHz frequency band is smart metering.

A typical use case for a smart meter device is a multi-board/modular configuration, with the communication board separated from the main one but connected through a certain type of connection. With this configuration, you can take advantage of this to locate it in the position that better encourages the currents surface propagation in order to increase the ground plane.

At the end in this kind of multilayer projects, it is very important to pay attention to the surface currents. The location of the connection pins will define the surface currents and these are going to increase the length of the ground plane (electrically).

“The more intensely surface currents propagate along all the ground plane, the more efficient the antenna will be.”

For more information about this topic, take a look at our Smart Metering design guide.

the author

Jose Luis Pina

Jose Luis Pina is an Antenna Engineer at Ignion. As an integral member of the Product Engineering Department, he collaborates directly with partners, ensuring they receive unparalleled support when developing…

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Virtual Antenna®, the clear winner over PCB trace in reducing hardware iterations

Jaume Anguera
06 Oct 2023 Blog

Traditionally, antenna designers have grappled with the demanding task of maintaining high RF performance throughout the product design process without altering the antenna’s geometry or the matching network. However, with Ignion’s Virtual Antenna® technology, we have unlocked a game-changing solution that maintains superior performance without the need for intricate changes during the design process.

This is relevant for most IoT device development where the initial form factor and dimensions typically change, affecting the RF performance resulting in redesigns of the antenna solutions. Device designers on tight schedules often opt for using ready-made IoT modules with antennas embedded, and then typically mounted on a bigger main PCB. While the IoT module antenna might perform well in isolation, the RF performance can get significantly affected by integration with the main PCB.

Here’s why Virtual Antenna® components are the preferred choice for resilient antenna systems:

  • Preserving Performance: Virtual Antenna® technology allows us to maintain performance consistency across various device dimensions without modifying the antenna’s structure or the matching network. This means that if requirement changes occur or if using a module is mounted on a main PCB, you can expect the same high-quality performance consistently.
  • Cost-Efficiency: With Virtual Antenna® technology, we maximize the utilization of the existing Bill of Materials (BoM). This minimizes the need for expensive alterations and ensures that your antenna system remains budget-friendly even if hardware changes occur while delivering exceptional results.

Virtual Antenna® technology, far more resilient than PCB trace monopole antenna – the analysis of different ground plane sizes

The performance of the Virtual Antenna® technology and PCB trace monopole antenna has been analyzed under the same challenging conditions including ground planes ranging from a small ground plane of 20 mm x 30 mm up to 200 mm x 20 mm. The figure below illustrates the worst S11 reflection coefficient in both antenna systems between 863 to 928 MHz while keeping the same BoM (antenna part and matching network) for both cases. The maps demonstrate that Virtual Antenna® technology is far less affected when modifying the ground plane dimensions of the IoT device. In particular, for the PCB trace monopole antenna, only 4.6% of the devices satisfy a S11<-6dB threshold. However, such reuse increases to 53.8% for the Virtual Antenna®.

Figure: Worst S11 in the 863–928 MHz frequency range for the PCB trace monopole antenna (a) and Virtual Antenna® component (b) as a function of the length L and width W of the ground plane. Both designs are embedded on a small 20 mm x 11 mm clearance area.

In practical terms, when embarking on the journey of developing an IoT device, designing with Virtual Antenna® technology offers greater resilience and flexibility compared to PCB trace antennas. Very few projects end up being exactly as planned, meaning that using a resilient antenna technology will save you costly design iterations. Typically, just one extra hardware spin can cause several months of delay due to production and bring-up time.

To try using Virtual Antenna® technology today, visit the free-to-use Antenna Intelligence Cloud™ tool.

If you want to delve deeper into the technical details of the study, please read our new paper at: https://www.mdpi.com/2079-9292/12/9/2067

the author

Jaume Anguera

Dr. Jaume Anguera, IEEE Fellow, founder, and CTO of the technology company Ignion. Associate Prof. at Ramon LLull University. Inventor of more than 170 granted patents, licensed to telecom companies.…

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Ignion at IoT Days Fall

11 Oct 2023 Events

Join “IoT Days Fall” Online Event!

Explore the future of IoT connectivity at IMC Council online event, “IoT Days Fall”. There will be discussed 5G, satellite, low-power connections, and more. On October 12, our VP Product & Marketing Johan Pedersen will present “Antennas First: Don’t Risk IoT Project Failure”.

Click here to register and discover industry insights from the world of IoT.

  • When? October 11-12, 2023.

Antenna design revolution powered by AI, cloud computing and machine learning

Aitor Moreno
03 Oct 2023 Blog

The surge in Internet of Things (IoT) devices has significantly increased the demand for antenna design solutions. Despite the booming opportunities to innovate with novel RF-enabled devices, many organizations are grappling with a shortage of RF expertise and limited budgets to get the reliable, robust connectivity required.

Previously, conventional RF antenna design was challenging — necessitating specialized professionals and computer-aided design (CAD) electromagnetic (EM) simulation software. Coupled with high capital expenditures (CAPEX) and non-recurring engineering (NRE) costs, RF antenna design was an intricate undertaking. However, Ignion’s Virtual Antenna® technology has introduced a new frontier, making antenna design accessible even for ground up IoT device construction.

Harnessing the pervasive nature of cloud computing and machine learning (ML), Ignion is further democratizing RF antenna design. Through its Amazon Web Services (AWS) hosted Antenna Intelligence Cloud™ platform, the complexity and costs of antenna design are significantly reduced.

With the advent of various IoT devices, antennas have evolved dramatically. Antenna design, while being an essential component of any connected device, has remained a specialized field. Current antenna designs must be increasingly miniaturized due to the explosion of RF antenna applications in products like asset trackers and sensors. This downscaling introduces complexity and requires engineers to fully comprehend the various trade-offs, balancing size, power consumption, performance, reliability, and thermal characteristics cost-effectively.

Simplified antenna design journey with Ignion’s Virtual Antenna® technology

Ignion’s Virtual Antenna® technology allows seamless deployment of miniature antennas across numerous frequency bands and protocols. This adaptability ensures integration into any IoT device, irrespective of its protocol type.

Rooted in extensive research and RF technology expertise, Ignion’s Virtual Antenna® components have revolutionized antenna design. A non-resonant antenna, housed on a printed circuit board (PCB), coupled with a matching network, enables the ground plane to function as the resonant surface for the device, significantly enhancing its response. Additionally, Virtual Antenna® technology optimizes space utilization—an increasingly important consideration as IoT devices such as sensors continue to shrink.

With a single Ignion Virtual Antenna® component, connectivity across Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GNSS, 3G to 5G, or ISM, among others, can be provided. Its versatility makes it reusable across various device models, and geographic territories where differing frequencies are required to improve scalability. Despite the increasing proliferation of IoT devices, acquiring RF and antenna expertise remains a challenge.

Ignion has stepped up to address this gap by leveraging the universal accessibility of the cloud to make antenna design simple for anyone regardless of their RF expertise and available from anywhere.

Embrace the era of digital twins for simplified antenna design

Ignion has always focused on predictability in its antenna design services, aiming to simplify the customer journey. With the introduction of the Antenna Intelligence Cloud™, this journey is now cloud-based, making antenna design more accessible and efficient.

Ignion’s digital twin, the Antenna Intelligence Cloud™ design tool, hosted on AWS obviates the need for physical prototyping, reducing risks in the design process. This approach democratizes antenna design, as it requires minimal RF expertise and enables access to the latest technologies.

By inputting simple parameters: the size of the PCB and the desired frequencies (up to 5), and the type of device, the AWS-hosted digital twin, powered by machine learning and Ignion’s two decades of RF experience, provides key recommendations for building your antenna design on the PCB. These include:

  • An Ignion Virtual Antenna® component specifically selected for your device and application.
  • A location recommendation on a bare PCB that will optimize antenna performance.
  • Matching network components and topology.
  • Antenna performance estimation, including average antenna efficiency and reflection coefficient.
  • Detailed design tips to ensure successful implementation.

Antenna First. The Antenna Intelligence Cloud™ way

The Antenna Intelligence Cloud™ can emulate various aspects of the previously physical feasibility and design steps, providing guidance for performance improvements and estimating full design requirements.

The Antenna Intelligence Cloud™ isn’t just about changing mindsets—it encourages designers to consider connectivity and antenna considerations at the inception of the design process. By addressing your Virtual Antenna® requirements early, you can expedite your market entry with a successful, certified design.

Utilizing Ignion’s Antenna Intelligence Cloud™, you save substantially by reducing the need for physical prototyping—you only start incurring costs when you’re ready for physical product development and certification. Ignion also offers pre-certification facilitation with some service providers.

With Ignion’s Antenna Intelligence Cloud™, the absence of an in-house RF engineer or comprehensive antenna expertise need not be a barrier to device designer’s ambitions to penetrate the market quickly and successfully. By making antenna design more accessible and versatile, Ignion is facilitating the realization of more innovative IoT solutions, irrespective of RF expertise.

 

the author

Aitor Moreno

Aitor Moreno is Ignion’s Cloud Product Manager and oversees the Antenna Intelligence CloudTM strategy and roadmap implementation, working in close collaboration with Engineering and Marketing teams at Ignion. Aitor graduated…

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