Engineer Gave Apple "Heads up" on Antenna Design Flaws

Nancy Anderson
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Ruben Caballero, a senior engineer and antenna expert at Apple, raised an early red flag to Apple execs, noting that the iPhone 4's antenna design could lead to dropped calls. The metal antenna that surrounds the outside of the device may have produced a lighter, thinner handset, but it also resulted in dropped or degraded calls.

Engineers noted that the metal bezel surrounding the handset is separated in sections to create individual antennas capable of handling the radio frequencies of different wireless networks. Covering an area between any of these sections with a hand or finger interferes with the signal transmission. One possible "fix" would be to cover the antenna area with duct tape—not exactly a cosmetic solution.

Soon after problems surfaced, Caballero gave journalists a private tour of Apple's custom-built wireless testing lab, which consists of several anechoic chambers to measure cell phone frequencies in various settings. Known as the “black lab" because even some Apple employees did not know of its existence, Apple decided to made the lab’s existence public to show that Apple's commitment to antenna design.

Test chambers in this lab are lined with blue pyramid-shaped Styrofoam, which "drinks up" radio-frequency signals. Devices like iPads and iPhones are held by robotic arms and spun 360 degrees (for 24 hours) while analytics software visualizes the wireless activity of each device.

Having studied RF wave propagation in college and operated wireless radios in the military, I can tell you that these testing facilities are absolutely necessary to predict a mobile device's performance. It's a shame that Apple execs didn't heed Caballero's early warnings.

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Alex A. Kecskes has written hundreds of published articles on health/fitness, "green" issues, TV/film entertainment, restaurant reviews and many other topics. As a former Andy/Belding/One Show ad agency copywriter, he also writes web content, ads, brochures, sales letters, mailers and scripts for national B2B and B2C clients.

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