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Integrated or External Antenna? Finding the Perfect GNSS Antenna Module for Your Industrial Application

Today’s industrial businesses have more options for GNSS antenna modules than ever before, but deciding on the perfect solution can be a challenge. Should you go with an integrated antenna, which will save you a great deal of time? Or should you take advantage of the higher performance offered by an external antenna? 

Before making your decision, you need to understand the pros and cons of an integrated antenna and an external antenna. While one is easy to use and deploy, the other performs more efficiently in certain industrial applications. By considering all of your needs before choosing a new antenna module, you’ll be able to select the best technology for your company and set yourself up for success. 

The Pros and Cons of an Integrated GNSS Antenna Module

The Pros
For many industrial applications, an integrated GNSS antenna module is the best solution. By combining your module and antenna, you can design and make changes to your system on the fly. This is also a great option if you need to get to market quickly with a short integration period.  Adjusting the location and orientation of your antenna is still vital, but it will take a lot less time and effort than integrating an external GNSS antenna. You can follow the minimum ground plane requirements for these small, integrated antennas. 

Cost is also a potential benefit when choosing an integrated antenna over an external one. A pre-integrated GNSS antenna module is less complicated to design and deploy, which saves you time and money. You don’t have to use staff or other resources to integrate your own external antenna. 

The Cons 
While integrated antennas are easy to use and can be less expensive, there is one significant downside. Depending on the design, the smaller sized antenna in an integrated module can compromise performance. To solve this problem while getting the best possible performance-to-size ratio, we recommend a 15x15 or 12x12 integrated antenna GNSS module. These two sizes are small enough to reduce the module’s footprint, but not so small that antenna performance is adversely affected.

The Pros and Cons of an External Antenna

The Pros
Compared to an integrated GNSS antenna module, an external antenna provides more flexibility. You may choose a larger, high-performance antenna or something smaller and thinner than even a patch antenna, depending on what your application requires. With external antennas, you have many more options to choose from. 

You also have the freedom to customize the placement and configuration of your antenna, which gives you more control. But perhaps the greatest advantage that external antennas have over integrated modules is improved performance. With an external antenna, you can tweak and tune the GNSS antenna performance to fit the needs of your application. This is ideal for use-cases where positioning is critical, such as vehicle tracking or car alarm devices. Your connections will be far more reliable with this type of system. 

The Cons 
For some applications, navigating the larger size of an external antenna module can be a challenge. After all, you still have to find a spot to place your external setup. You’ll need to weigh your performance needs against available space. For example, many industrial businesses, where a larger sized antenna is acceptable, choose to use an external antenna module for its improved performance.

In addition to module size challenges, integrating your own antenna involves meeting complex development requirements and takes more time than buying a pre-integrated module. You’ll also need someone on your development team with expertise in radio frequency to help select the right antenna and integrate it seamlessly into your system. This can potentially increase your development costs and time to market. Even if you have the staff you need to integrate an external antenna, high-performance antennas themselves can be costly. Some large versions cost as much as a fully-integrated antenna module—and that’s not including the cost of the other components you’ll need to get your system up and running. High performance can come at a price premium. 

Which Option is Right for You?

Choosing the best GNSS antenna module for your business depends on the level of performance you need and whether you have the resources necessary to properly integrate an external GNSS antenna. 

Companies That Should Use Integrated Antennas 
Even if you’re able to put in the effort required to install an external antenna, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best choice for your device. Before you choose an external antenna, think about whether you’re actually going to make use of the high-performance features. If you don’t need that high level of performance, then it will be less expensive and easier to select and design around an integrated antenna—just follow the integration guidelines from the vendor. Finally, if you need FCC or CE certification, using an existing, pre-integrated module lowers the risk of failing certifications.

Companies That Should Use External Antennas
 
Generally, if you work with transportation and vehicle tracking, an external antenna is the best fit. In these industries, you need the highest radio frequency performance available. An XM series module is recommended for these applications. Companies with someone on staff who understands radio frequency and FCC certification standards could find greater benefits from external antennas. If your company is able to invest in development, then an external antenna setup could be worth the effort. 

To learn more about installing your own GNSS antenna module, Start with Sierra today. We offer some of the most advanced IoT and tracking modules on the market and can give you expert advice on which option will be the best choice for your company’s needs. For more information, you can also read our whitepaper about GNSS navigation.