There are many compromises associated with designing and building a smartphone. The device needs to combine many different technologies and systems into a small and tightly packed space, without causing interference or poor connectivity. When it comes to networks, modern flagship devices typically have 2G, 3G, 4G LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth and NFC radios competing for antenna space. Some devices have additional radios or technology, such as infrared and FM radio (although most handsets use the headset wire for the FM radio antenna). These antennas must be wired up within the chassis and are often separated within the device – it’s quite common to have the WiFi antenna at one end or side of the device and the 3G antenna at the other. Different materials are better or worse at blocking signals – in short, plastic is great to cover an antenna with, glass not so bad but metal makes life difficult for the radio engineers! This is why many handset manufacturers have resorted to using antennas using the metal of the chassis, but with clever software control and management because depending on how the user holds the device, our skin can reduce the signal.
We’ve seen reports today that the new, unannounced Samsung Galaxy S6 will feature a new antenna type designed to solve the problem of getting signal to and from a glass and metal body. It’s reported that Samsung will be switching from the Laser Direct Structuring (or LDS) manufacturing process to a flexible PCB (FPCB) in order to wire up the various antenna dotted around the chassis. It’s expected that the Galaxy S6 will feature an aluminum chassis with a glass front and rear and if this is the case, I would expect Samsung to use the aluminum ring around the edge of the device as the antenna. It’s reported that the antenna will be flexed in those sections designated for different antenna.
It’s important that Samsung get their antenna arrangements right, because it’s one thing to build a device out of metal and another to get the radios working harmoniously with customers without telling them that they’re holding the device wrong, as Apple’s Steve Jobs did in 2010. Through the years, there have been other devices with notable signal drop when held such as the 2011 HTC Desire S, which can have WiFi connectivity issues depending on how it’s being held. The pressure is on Samsung because whilst Qualcomm introduced smart antenna management into the Snapdragon 800-series processor a year ago, Samsung have been quiet about any smart antenna management functions built into the Exynos processor, reputed to be powering the Galaxy S6. We will hopefully find out soon at the Samsung announcement, due the 1 March!