IoT: Test Your Antennas
Whether you’re sending a text from your smartphone, listening to the radio in your car or keeping an eye on your baby with a monitor, you can do it only because of an electronic component you probably never think about – an antenna.
Antennas are essential to wireless communication. Without them, you’re stuck with cables – and cables have limitations. As the Internet of Things (IoT) expands around the world, capturing and transmitting data to improve business operations and generally make our lives better, the entire ecosystem will be highly dependent on antennas.
In IoT planning, much thought goes into the devices, platforms, network and software that analyzes data and makes it actionable. Antenna design and performance, however, don’t get nearly as much attention. Yet, without antennas, you don’t have much of an IoT – at least not in the way we’ve imagined it.
So long as a monitoring device communicates wirelessly, it needs an antenna to send data, be it in small dribs once or twice a day or in a continuous flow. As such, a lot of thought has to be adequately put designing sensors and trackers for maximum antenna performance because these devices are primarily responsible for delivering on the IoT’s promise of a connected world.
Why Design Is Critical
To understand the importance of antenna design and performance to the IoT, let’s review how this vast interconnected network is supposed to work: IoT sensors and monitoring devices are deployed in a number of settings, from the home to the office to a range of truly remote places. The latter includes faraway pipelines and oilrigs where equipment and flow are monitored, farms where livestock and machinery are tracked, and vast areas where wildlife is tracked.
Some sensors and monitors are dormant most of the time, waking up once or twice a day for short data transmissions. Data typically is transmitted wirelessly, either through IoT-specific networks such as LoRaWAN, SigFox and Neul or – where available – commonly used protocols such as cellular and WiFi. No matter how small and infrequent the data transmissions, devices need reliable antennas to do the job.
If the antenna is poorly designed or underpowered, it can jeopardize connections to the cloud-based systems and data centers at the core of IoT operations. Underperforming antennas also drain batteries more quickly, something you want to avoid in remote environments.
Antennas may be a small component but require a lot of thought. Factors such as size, device enclosure, antenna location and the materials around the antenna can determine how well it will do its job.
Antenna design aspects to take into consideration include length, gain, ground plane and connector loss, as well as what’s around the antenna, such as audio components, metal and wires. Even with proper planning in all these areas, an antenna still may not work correctly if it doesn’t have enough room in the device to radiate efficiently – or “breathe.” Issues in any of these areas may cause devices to underperform, possibly making it necessary to recall and redesign a device.
IoTest Kit Accelerates Design
Device designers have a lot to think about. Thanks to a newly released antenna testing kit, the task of pairing the right antenna to a device just got easier. Copper Mountain Technologies, Indianapolis, and PulseLarsen Antennas, San Diego, CA, have teamed to release the IoTest kit, which allows designers to determine in a matter of minutes if a particular antenna is suitable to a device and application.
The kit consists of a P60 Antenna Analyzer, calibration tool, antenna testing software with easy-to-follow instruction, and cable assembly. It also includes 18 antennas mounted on demo boards for the purposes for testing and comparison. The demo antennas cover the full range of IoT frequencies.
The IoTest kit guides designers through the steps of connecting an antenna, calibrating the analyzer, and testing and comparing the sample antennas. Once you choose the antenna for your device, the software walks you through the process of testing the antenna on its own and inside the device.
The P60 Analyzer performs measurements to help determine if the antenna is a good fit for a device. Especially important is the measurement of “return loss,” which refers to the amount of power lost (or returned to the transmitter) with each transmission.
With the test kit, pairing IoT antennas to devices becomes a quick, simple task to address an area of the IoT that, though often overlooked, is absolutely critical to a reliable connected environment.
You can find more information on designing your IoT device by visiting this resource hub from Copper Mountain Technologies.