Upgrading Your Fleet Antennas for FirstNet? Take the Long View

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 14:49

The Situation – Staying Ahead of Moving Technology

For most owners of large vehicular fleets, the process of trying to stay ahead of emerging technology is daunting. New, better performing mobile technologies continue to press forward at a ceaseless pace, and fleets are by necessity always a bit behind. The problem is straightforward – how and when to upgrade existing antennas to maximize ROI, satisfy application needs, and protect existing resources.

As we’ve discussed in our recent white paper, “Building a Bridge to Next-Gen Fleet Connectivity,” the answer to this question lies in understanding a few best practices. We’ll discuss the importance of choosing processes which scale and what characteristics to consider in a new antenna. We’ll also discuss what emerging technologies demand of an antenna, and which options make for the best upgrade path.

Processes that Scale – Minutes Matter in your FirstNet Plan

Upgrading a fleet is about all of the details, and when there are hundreds or thousands of vehicles involved, even small decisions have very large impacts. That’s why the planning phase is so important, and why your concerns should lie as much with the procedures involved as with the hardware itself.

When adding FirstNet support, you may consider drilling an additional hole in the roof of a vehicle to support a FirstNet antenna. But this is a procedure which takes more time than utilizing the existing roof hole and adding a multi-port antenna. That time stacks for every single vehicle, which means this decision has huge implications in terms of man-hours and installation costs. It also introduces another ingress point for potential water damage if done incorrectly.

The alternative might be to install a multi-port, FirstNet-capable antenna and install it in the existing roof hole. Such antennas, like our Gar and Barracuda antennas, offer lots of connections, support multiple wireless technologies, and reduce installation time. When you multiply this time savings across the full fleet, the effect is appreciable. Making smart decisions like this can have a huge impact on your fleet upgrade.

The Right Antenna – Considering Form Factor

The form factor of an antenna has implications for the safety of that antenna in the field, as well as for aesthetic effect. The classic example is the whip antenna used on trucks, emergency vehicles, and more – a long thin antenna that is inherently vulnerable to being struck and damaged in the field. It’s for this reason that many new solutions have a lower profile and are more self-contained to prevent damage.

In navigating your upgrade path, consider a low-profile antenna in place of larger, more vulnerable antenna styles. Contrary to what you might expect, low-profile sharkfin antennas and other more modern designs are capable of the same performance as their counterparts.

Looking Forward – Anticipating Future Needs

Maybe the most important part of the planning process is identifying what technologies serve your organization’s needs, and not just the immediate needs. The long view on upgrading fleet technology is in identifying the requirements for your organization not just now, but five, ten, or fifteen years into the future.

For a long time, identifying long-term future use cases for wireless technologies was difficult or impossible, largely due to the infancy of wireless technologies and standards. When technologies like cellular were newer, and it wasn’t entirely clear how standards would develop, it was reasonable to plan for the immediate needs of the application and exercise caution about building for the long-term future. But now, with a clear insight into the roadmap for technologies like 5G cellular and FirstNet, it’s easier to anticipate what wireless technologies will serve emerging applications like bi-directional video communication which will be central to the fleets of the future.

Applications of the future almost definitely will require supporting multiple wireless protocols to succeed. UHF, VHF, Cellular, and more might be required to serve all the needs of a vehicle in operation. For these scenarios, a multiport antenna that serves many those wireless protocols, including emerging standards like 5G, can be the most efficient upgrade path.

Gar and Barracuda Antennas – Laird Connectivity’s Solution to the FirstNet Needs of Tomorrow

For the demanding applications of the future, which require multi-band support, high performance, and reliability, our Gar and Barracuda Antennas are an ideal upgrade path. They support Wi-Fi, LTE, and GNSS, with 2-port (VFP6938322JN) or 3-port (VFH6938323JW) MIMO support for the upper and lower Wi-Fi frequency bands. They support all of these in one sleek, low-profile form factor, and provide an excellent solution for Public Safety, Transportation and Aftermarket Fleet applications.

One antenna means no need to drill additional holes for a new installation. This means a quicker installation, which scales well to large fleet upgrades. And with support for 5G cellular, they’re ready for high-bandwidth cellular applications, providing you runway to continue to develop for the scenarios of the future.

Learn more about our Gar and Barracuda antennas.