Active and Passive Antenna Systems: Which One Is Best?

A basic router with an Ethernet cable plugged in

If you’re looking to boost wireless signals, an antenna system is a must. However, making the choice isn’t that easy. You need to compare the pros and cons of a passive vs. active antenna system to figure out which is better for you.

So, what are these pros and cons? Is one better than the other? Keep reading to discover the answers to these questions and more.

How Do Antenna Systems Work?

Before understanding the difference between passive and active antenna systems, it is important to understand why these systems are necessary and how they work.

They are necessary because large buildings generally create issues that impact the reception of wireless signals. These issues cause fading, path loss, and interference, ultimately reducing the signal quality and effectiveness. Buildings that fail to account for this will end up having occupants who find that browsing the internet is far slower than it should be or that they can’t place a call at all.

The solution comes in the form of distributed antenna systems. These are made from a framework of antennas that are connected at one point by a central controller. This controller is what receives the signals from a wireless network. When these signals are received, the controller transmits them through the system, which transmits them through the building.

This improves the wireless reception in buildings with this type of system setup. Doing so makes basic tasks, like using a cell phone, possible and effective in a number of places where they might be either impossible or inconvenient. This is essential in many buildings but doubly so in smart buildings.

Systems like these are becoming more and more widespread as buildings increase in size and wireless signals increase in importance. In fact, these systems are generally seen as an essential part of the overall wireless network. This reality is reflected in the fact that the FCC clarifies guidelines for using them as a part of infrastructure development.

Related: Fiber Optic Infrastructure and Internet Guide

Passive vs. Active Antenna System

A passive antenna system is an antenna system at its most basic. With these, the wireless signals make their way from the network to the controller and then through the system with no additional interference. They are essentially the basic version of what was described above.

Meanwhile, in an active antenna system, the signal is boosted in some way before it is distributed. This will usually involve an amplifier connected to the controller; however, it can also involve other methods of boosting the signal. Sometimes, things like fiber optic cables are used to improve functionality.

All of this has the impact of making the signal stronger or allowing it to travel over longer distances. So, active systems do something to change the basic nature of an antenna system.

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Which Is Better: Passive or Active Antenna Systems?

With active antenna systems boosting the signal, it seems obvious that these are the top choice when it comes to antenna systems. However, this isn’t always true. There are occasions where a passive system would be better and occasions where an active system would be better. It all depends on the situation and what it calls for.

Rows of fiber optic cables plugged into a device

When to Use Active Antennas

All types of antenna systems are useful in large buildings. After all, these are the types of buildings where wireless communications are most likely to be disrupted.

However, at a certain point, the size of a building can be detrimental to an antenna system. As cables transmit data over larger and larger distances, the signal becomes degraded in a process called attenuation. Active antennas are essential in reversing this process. They boost the signal and allow it to be transmitted over larger distances.

So, active antennas are particularly useful in large buildings. In these cases, they are able to directly tackle the natural problems presented by the size of the building.

Related: Low Loss Fiber: Maximizing Performance in Data Centers

When to Use Passive Antennas

Though passive antenna systems are generally more powerful than passive antenna systems, this isn’t always a good thing. In fact, it can cause problems.

There are situations where the additional gain provided by an active antenna system can create disruptions elsewhere. This may disrupt sound systems or other wireless systems within the building. In antenna systems with shorter cables, the added power from the active system’s amplifier can even cause the system to overload. In any of these cases, using an active system actively causes problems rather than providing solutions.

Finally, passive antennas tend to cost less than active antennas. This is because active systems need to use parts and equipment that passive systems simply don’t need. So, a passive system may be the better choice in cases where cost is an issue and the advantage provided by an active system is negligible.

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Picking a Passive or Active System

Since the benefits of passive and active systems are situational, there is no universal best choice when it comes to picking between the two.

Because of this, the best way to approach this problem is by deeply considering the situation surrounding the building. If the system will stretch across long distances or needs an amplified signal for some other reason, an active system will be for the best. If wireless interference or cost is a concern, passive systems may be the better choice.

Taking these factors and many other smaller factors into consideration is difficult. This is why relying on the advice of professionals can be so helpful. Working with a company specializing in communications technology, like antenna systems, allows you to tap into their expert advice. They can let you know which system would work best based on their experience and knowledge.

A desk with a computer, laptop, phone, and other items

Passive vs. Active Antenna Systems

Passive and active antenna systems are both good in their own ways. Though they extend the capabilities of wireless networks through different methods, they still accomplish the same goal of providing access to that wireless network to the people within a building. Because of this, neither is considered to be the best. Instead, the best system will be the one that works in your specific situation.

Related: What Is a Transceiver? Guide and Examples

Last Updated on August 21, 2023 by Josh Mahan

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