Active antennas: The cure for our phone-reception ills?

Ethertronics has developed a means for the antenna in your phone to morph depending on the cellular signal conditions you and your device happen to be wading through. Why do you care? Well, if the technology lives up to Ethertronics’ promises the next generation of smartphones and Wi-Fi devices will be able to get decent signals even in the most abysmal network conditions. In short, you will see faster speeds more often and fewer dropped calls.
There’s a tendency to think of the your phone as a tin can and the connection it makes to the tower as an invisible string stretched taught between two antennas. But in reality it’s a crazy, crazy radio airwave world out there. Your connection is actually a bunch of signals all of which are taking a round about way to reach your device. Like pinballs, they ricochet multiple times off buildings, the ground, cars, even your Aunt Marge’s sunglasses before hitting your phone – each signal arriving at a slightly different time depending on the path it took.
Your phone is pretty good as sorting through these signals, but when you start tossing in other variables, such as you or objects around you moving, that sorting process becomes a bit of a mess. The typical di-pole antenna in your phone is designed to receive signals under an optimal set of conditions, and if those conditions aren’t met, your connection suffers. So what Ethertronics has done is made an antenna that can adapt itself to those other less-than-optimal conditions.
It’s new technology, which it calls Ethertronics Air InteRFace Processing System, allows an active antenna to generate multiple radiation patterns, each targeted at a different set of signal conditions. So if you were to suddenly change step out of van barreling down the highway and face plant into the asphalt, the antenna would instantly reconfigure itself to your new radio frequency conditions, preserving your connection (though not your body).

Why active trumps passive

Ethertronics is an active antenna maker, and its core mission is to eliminate the increasingly ungainly mess of antennas growing in our phones. Typically each band a phone supports requires its own antenna. The more transmitting elements you add, the more costs go up, the more cramped space in the device becomes and the more performance suffers (if you don’t think that’s a problem, ask Apple(s aapl)).
Ethertronics along with SkyCross and WiSpry is developing smart antennas that can retune themselves to multiple bands, so rather than cramming multiple antenna rigs into a single device, emerging phones can support dozen bands and multiple network technologies on a few antenna structures. As I detailed in a recent GigaOM Pro piece, the problem of supporting multiple bands in a single device is going to get worse before it gets better due to LTE (subscription required).
Ethertronics, however, is taking its technology one step further. It’s already built an antenna that can morph to fit any band. Why not use that same technology to make an antenna that can morph within the same band to provide the best reception possible? Active antennas are already making it into a few new smartphones, and Ethertronics said the new in-band adaptive technology should appear in phones later this year.