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from the L.A. Times

Building a better cellphone antenna

Cellphone-antenna Most consumers weren't giving much thought to cellular antennas before the recent complaints over an issue with the new iPhone. Truth is, those crucial receptors can noticeably affect the size of a phone and how long it can hold a charge.

New developments in cellphone antenna technologies will result in smart phones that leverage battery life more efficiently and with fewer parts under the hood.

WiSpry, a radio frequency developer in Irvine, has designed the Smart Antenna Front End, or SAFE. The company announced Monday that the High Technology Foundation in Denmark would fund the project with about $8 million.

Most current phones have several components making up their antennas, each to receive a different radio band, and must switch among them to get good reception. SAFE replaces that infrastructure with a silicon chip that tunes the antenna to receive the necessary band.   

It's like having a guitar string that automatically tightens or loosens to play any note you need instead of having several strings tuned to individual notes.

"As you go to 4G, you either have to cram a lot more -- 50 bands and 40 different modes in a phone," said WiSpry spokesman Lewis Boore, "or tune the antenna."

SAFE drastically improves the performance of the phone's battery, call connections and data flow, Boore said. He said fewer bits of data, from websites to movie streams, get lost in the wireless transfer.

Remember pull-out antennas? Sure, they were silly-looking, but they were efficient. As much as phone makers (not designers) may want to go back to those days, it looks like hidden antennas are here to stay.

"If we could step back and do that, I'm sure most of the guys would love to not have integrated antennas," Boore said. But for aesthetic reasons, "you'll never be able to do that again," he said.

So plenty of technology companies are working feverishly on improving these covert antennas. For example, Apple recently put out a hiring call for antenna engineers. The company is expected to announce plans Friday to address complaints about the mostly external antenna surrounding the iPhone 4.

Consumers can expect to see -- or rather, not see -- the SAFE antennas early next year in smart phones from Nokia, Samsung or LG. Because of confidentiality agreements, Boore wouldn't say which.

With attempts at building a better antenna, some will stumble, as Apple has with the iPhone 4.

"What they're trying to do is actually to improve the reception performance," said Tina Teng, ISuppli's senior analyst for wireless communications. "This is actually a new design. Most [other phones] have their antennas inside."

-- Mark Milian
twitter.com/markmilian

Photo: Interior designer Val Arnold uses a Motorola DynaTAC portable phone at work about 25 years ago. Don't expect to see this style of antenna anymore except in '80s movies. Credit: Los Angeles Times

 
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