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All the results suggest that using just two antennas in a phone would offer significant savings, says Zhong. “With one antenna on the back and one on the front you could double the signal strength at the edge of the network compared to a regular antenna, and halve the energy needed when at the center of the network.”

Spencer Webb, president of AntennaSys, a New Hampshire company that designs antennas for everything from cell phones to medical devices, agrees that two separate antennas front and back could help a cell phone in a variety of situations. “One example is that when you place a device down on a surface, it could switch to the uppermost antenna to avoid interference,” says Webb.

Multiple antennas might also make it possible to sidestep the problem of a user’s grip hindering the connection, an issue many are now familiar with thanks to the publicity surrounding Apple’s iPhone 4 launch, Webb adds. “If you had, say, dual antennas and used them wisely, you could perhaps prevent some of those issues by switching antenna when a person changes their hand position,” he says.

However, one reason for the controversy over Apple’s iPhone–dubbed “antennagate”–is the tight constraints on space and design in smart phones, Web adds. Devices like the Droid X and HTC Evo have suggested that larger smart phones are becoming popular with designers, says Webb. “But did they put more antenna space in there? No.”

Antenna engineers typically lose out in the battle for space to the battery or other components, Webb says. Compact components that offer large space savings will be needed for manufacturers to make room for an extra antenna. That could become possible as the necessary chips drop in cost and size, and as cell-phone carriers move toward next generation mobile networks, such as LTE and 4G, that use smaller antennas, says Zhong, although the strategy may gain more immediate traction in other types of device. “In a laptop, for example, more space like the back of the screen is available,” says Webb.

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Credit: Lin Zhong / Rice University

Tagged: Communications, cell phones, electronics, wireless networks, antenna

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