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The incredible diversity antennae: Why mobile devices for cops are getting smaller and better

One advanced technology means cops can have access to mobile devices running on the 4G network


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By PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff

A quarter century ago, cell phones were about the size of a one-quart milk carton with one-foot antennas protruding from the top.

Antenna design is shrinking the computer. (Image Xplore Technologies)
Antenna design is shrinking the computer. (Image Xplore Technologies)

How times have changed. Cell phones have shrunk considerably; they fit in your pocket and now function as mini-computers or ‘smartphones,’ while bulky desktop computers have morphed into lightweight laptops and tablets.

One of the biggest reasons this has been possible is the introduction of improved internal antenna technology, which is starting to replace traditional external antenna used on vehicles. These miniature antennas are embedded in mobile devices to support connectivity in ways their forbears could not.

“The internal antenna today is better than the external antennas of the past because they offer mobility,” said Bob Ashenbrenner, a solutions architect at Xplore Technologies. The Austin-based company makes  MIL-STD-810G certified 4G rugged tablets and holds several patents on antenna placement in their mobile devices.

Ashenbrenner said the newest internal antennae helps companies develop devices that let cops have a mobile, lightweight device they can take with them when they exit their cruiser in order to access criminal databases, documenting a scene, do inspections and more. 

“A diversity internal antenna means police can gather data whether in or out of their vehicle, all while maintaining the security needed to protect data,” he said. “This means they are always connected.”

External vs. Internal Antennas

The irony of portable computers in cop cruisers is that they keep officers, and their devices, tethered to their vehicles. When cops rely on laptops that need external antennas, they experience marginal to poor performance outside the vehicle when the external antenna is disconnected.

Radio signals bounce off of buildings, mountains and other obstructions. As a result, they arrive at the tablet or cell phone at different times to deliver data. On older analog networks, it is considered noise, Ashenbrenner said. But 4G and LTE designers used this ‘noise’ for their advantage by adding two internal antennas installed at different angles to transmit twice the data. Use of diversity antennas allows the full use of LTE networks.

“This process means an internal diversity antenna can get twice the data because both antennas can receive data at the same time,” he said.

Diversity antennas, combined with an evolving, robust commercial 4G and LTE networks, means cops can access and use portable device like tablets while in the field—cutting the tether for good. 

“These networks are much better at connecting and staying connected,” he said.

Advanced internal antennas are ubiquitous now. They are in every smartphone and tablet, a market that continues to grow – both in the consumer world as well as in law enforcement. Gartner predicted in 2015 a total of 320 million tablets will be sold, versus just 316 million PC sales (desktops and laptops).

“Tablets let the officer be mobile, not tied to a cruiser in order to get the data they need,” he said.

Extinction of the External Antenna

Nowadays, most tablets don’t even support external antennas.

Why?

Ashenbrenner said his company’s decision to develop rugged tablets that do not support the external antenna actually improves the performance of the internal antenna. This is because to support an external antenna, a tablet has to have extra switches, extra wires and other components that affect the size and placement of the internal antenna.

“Whenever a product is designed to support an external antenna, they are diminishing the performance of the internal antenna,” he said. “We were focused on keeping it mobile; it’s a mobile world.”

Plus, any tablet that hopes to receive 4G and LTE data must have two antennas, Ashenbrenner added. This is the only way it meets the standards set forth by the network.

“An external antenna implementation could not pass the certification,” he said.

This means the internal, not the external, antenna effectiveness will be the key technology to determine how future devices can support cops’ mobility. In fact, research and design teams continue to work on shrinking the internal antenna.

Advances in antenna technology will have a huge impact on performance. That means in the future cops will have access to smaller, more mobile devices to connect in the next few years to a 5G commercial network, Ashenbrenner said.

“Future innovations in antennae will make mobile devices even smaller and capable of accessing faster data, so police departments can keep cops connected 24/7,” he said.

For more information, contact Xplore Technologies.

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