National Physical Laboratory

Saving £50 million

NPL helped mobile network operators test the claims made by antenna manufacturers to ensure that the new network to support 3G was made up of antenna with comparable performance data.


Saving £50 million

3G mobile phone technology was a significant step up from earlier systems as it needs to carry large amounts of data quickly so users can view stream video and access the internet from handsets.

To support 3G, network operators had to install a new network of antennas, capable of handling higher data volumes and higher network transmission speeds. By moving from older fixed tilt antennas to new electronically variable tilt models, the reliability and access to the network could be improved.

However there were many different antennas available and it was difficult to evaluate the best option because specifications were set by the manufacturers themselves, rather than by an independent organisation.

The antenna range, housed in an anechoic chamber at NPL, helped network operators such as O2 by providing independent testing services to verify claims made by antenna manufacturers. This helped to ensure that performance data was comparable between products.


NPL carried out fourteen different test assignments for a variety of 3G clients: including both network operators and antenna makers. It was able to provide full information about how the antennas could be expected to behave, including their gain and directivity.

By mounting each contending antenna in its specialised testing chambers, NPL was able to get accurate and repeatable readings, allowing comparison across the competing products. Manufacturers' measurement uncertainties were found to be typically 5%, while NPL's facility was able to achieve 2%.

"The upgrade of our network was hugely important. It was also a process that was fraught with challenges. It was important to get it right. Armed with these results, we were able to make well informed decisions about which supplier and product would best fit our needs, and the needs of our customers. We feel the project was a great success."

Dave Westrup, Antenna Systems Engineer at O2.


Improved measurement could provide better estimates of key performance parameters by as much as 1 dB.

This would lead to substantial efficiency savings through fewer base-stations needed in rural areas, lower masts and less interference between adjacent base-stations in urban areas.

Mobile phone networks account for more than 1% of all UK electricity usage, so improvements in network efficiency would contribute to substantial energy savings (worth approximately £1 million a year) and the associated carbon reduction.

The calibration data improvements supplied by NPL's measurements could also equate to a 1% one off saving in network capital costs and a comparable saving in operational costs for the lifetime of the network. Since each UK 3G network cost between £5 billion and £10 billion to establish, the minimal one off saving was £50 million.

This work was funded by the National Measurement System, the UK's national infrastructure for measurement, which delivers world-class measurement science and technology. It is overseen by the National Measurement Office (NMO), an Executive Agency of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and is responsible for stimulating good measurement practice and enabling business to make accurate and traceable measurements, for the benefit of the nation.

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Contact: Robert Elliott

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Last Updated: 8 Apr 2016
Created: 20 Dec 2010


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