Friday, February 03, 2012

How Maestro Smart Antenna Improves Fixed Wireless

Accel Technologies, a division of Accel Networks, is introducing a game changer into the fixed wireless space. It’s their new Maestro smart antenna system. What Maestro looks to do is make 3G and 4G fixed wireless broadband more competitive with more expensive business connectivity solutions, such as T1, MPLS, VSAT, Frame Relay and point to point microwave services.

New antenna makes fixed wireless services more availableSo, what is this Maestro and what’s so smart about it? Like all other smart devices, Maestro incorporates active technology improve performance. In this case, the improvement is to an inherently passive element, the RF antenna. Antennas are used for all electronic communications. They can be as simple as a foil trace on a circuit board to a multi-element Yagi beam antenna. Satellite dishes are antennas, or antennae if you prefer. So are long wires used with short wave radios or vertical tower arrays for directional AM radio broadcasts.

The thing that’s important about antennas is that they are the first point of contact with any incoming signal and the last element involved in outgoing signals. An antenna can be any random length conductor or it can be a finely tuned system. Most antenna designs are “cut” to a particular size that resonates with the frequencies you are using. The right antenna length greatly improves transmission and reception. You can tune antennas by adding other passive elements, capacitors and inductors. By adding more elements or creating a parabolic reflector (satellite dish) the gain of the antenna is increased. Gain is like amplification. It gives you a stronger signal. As a passive device, you can’t get something for nothing. That gain in a particular direction comes at the expense of reduced sensitivity in other directions. For most applications that’s an additional advantage. A directional antenna reduces pickup of otherwise interfering signals coming from other directions.

Now, take a look a the antenna on your wireless router. Looks like a little black vertical stick, doesn’t it? Is it a particular length selected for the frequencies involved? Yes. Is it directional? No. A vertical “whip” antenna radiates and receives equally in all horizontal directions, although not so well in vertical directions. That’s nice if you want to blanket an area for reception, like a WiFi hotspot. You need broad coverage if you have users scattered all over or moving from place to place.

Now, how about an antenna to connect with a fixed wireless service? Is a simple whip antenna good enough? It is if you have a very strong signal. But what if you are just far enough away from the tower that you don’t have 5-bar coverage? In the case of smartphones and USB modem aircards, you take what you get or do without. These devices are designed to be nomadic, so they have to have universal coverage that brings with it mediocre pickup performance. However, if your business location is fixed and the towers are fixed, you can do better with an antenna that optimizes for the transmission path.

This is what Maestro is all about. It’s a high technology patent pending design that includes eight antennas, three switchable filter banks and an embedded LNA (Low Noise Amplifier) that adjusts to maintain the highest carrier to noise ratio for the 3G or 4G service you are using. Maestro has over 500 discrete setting options to fine-tune for optimum performance.

Why go to all this trouble? Accel Networks has specialized in leveraging the near-universal availability of cellular broadband service across the US and Canada. We think of cellular as a way to get broadband for our mobile phones, but it can also be used as a fixed location broadband service. It sometimes doesn’t work so great within buildings because those itty-bitty antennas on USB dongle adaptors and MiFi boxes can’t deliver a strong enough signal. Put a decent antenna ahead of ahead of the transmitter/receiver and you’ll have a robust signal that won’t go dead or reduce connection speed.

Maestro will be available in about a month from this writing. Accel expects that its introduction for 3G and 4G fixed wireless broadband service will challenge other solutions that businesses have employed to get high speed Internet access. These include VSAT satellite dishes on the roof, T1 lines, DSL and Cable that may or may not be available, frame relay and even microwave fixed wireless systems. Most businesses, especially small retail stores and offices, don’t need massive bandwidth. They need basic connectivity for credit card verification, email and website access. A 3G or 4G cellular service can provide the bandwidth, reliability and latency they require at a substantial cost savings. Accel has over 6,000 installations now that prove just that. With Maestro, many more locations will be able to gain these benefits.

Is your business located in an area where broadband service is hard to come by or unreasonably expensive? Check availability and pricing for fixed wireless broadband. You may be pleasantly surprised by how affordable it is and how well it works.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

Follow Telexplainer on Twitter