Commercial and environmental impacts arising from the creation of a spin-out company: Antenova Ltd.
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Sheffield
Unit of AssessmentElectrical and Electronic Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials
Summary Impact TypeEconomic
Research Subject Area(s)
Technology: Communications Technologies
Summary of the impact
Antenova Ltd, a spin out company created to exploit University of
Sheffield research, is a leading developer and supplier of high
performance antennas and radio frequency (RF) antenna modules for wireless
communication and consumer electronic devices such as smartphones, laptop
computers and tablets. Significant commercial impact has been generated:
Antenova has 6% of the global mobile antenna market (2 Billion units) and
is a leader in the global antenna design market with a 15% share,
employing 40 staff worldwide and with an annual turnover of about $8
million. To gain commercial advantage Microsoft Corporation bought out
Antenova in 2013.
Small high dielectric constant chip antennas resulting from the
underpinning research allow multiple wireless services to be provided on
small devices such as smart phones and as these antennas are very
efficient, save energy, extend battery life and so bring environmental
The Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University
of Sheffield has a Communications group with a long history of research in
electromagnetics and antenna systems. Antennas play a significant role in
modern wireless communications where the challenge is to provide small
antenna systems operating at multiple frequency bands. The underpinning
research which led to this spin out company was an equal and joint effort
by Dr Simon Kingsley (Reader, Sheffield University, 1980-2001) and Dr
Steven O'Keefe (Senior Lecturer, Griffith University) into dielectric
resonator antennas from 1998-2002. Such antennas had originally been based
on low permittivity dielectrics but research by Kingsley and O'Keefe
extended this to much higher permittivity materials allowing much smaller
antennas to be made. This in turn led them to develop small low profile
antennas. In [R1] they changed the radiated beam direction of a dielectric
resonator antenna (DRA) by exciting different probes within the
dielectric. In some combinations, a pair of probes had a much greater
bandwidth than a single probe which overcomes a significant and
fundamental limitation. They also examined cylindrical and rectangular
dielectric resonator shapes [R2] to study the fundamental antenna
properties that were achieved when the DRAs were bisected through an image
plane by a conducting sheet. The resultant half DRAs were smaller in
volume and had a more directional radiation pattern than conventional DRA
geometries. A number of patents were filed (some key patents [R3-R5]) were
the direct outcome of the research [R1] and [R2].
The fundamental output of the underpinning research has resulted in very
small, high dielectric constant antennas that are able to function at many
different frequency bands and are highly resistant to detuning. The
current range of Antenova chip antennas would not have been developed
without the early work at Sheffield showing that practical antennas can be
made from high dielectric materials. The advanced antenna technology
developed from the academic partners has resulted in smart phones and
other mobile devices being able to perform a very wide range of functions
in a small miniaturized unit. This research on high dielectric constant
antennas was instrumental in making practical mobile phone antennas from
Kingsley and O'Keefe had an equal intellectual input to Antenova
researching the High Dielectric Antenna technology [R1, R2] that resulted
in the significant patents [R3-R5]. Kingsley made further contributions to
the impact taking place by extending the research into Antenova.
Kingsley recognised the potential impact of this research and left
Sheffield in June 2001 to set up and work at Antenova as Chief Scientist.
Sheffield continued to collaborate with Antenova in the following period
with advice on setting up and calibrating anechoic chambers, and also in
training some of the Antenova staff.
Simon Kingsley became a Visiting Professor at Sheffield in 2007 and
Antenova funded a PhD studentship (Luyi Liu) at Sheffield developing
reconfigurable antenna technologies [R6]. These new technologies have led
to significant new antenna products for Antenova from 2012.
References to the research
The underpinning work that led to the setting up of Antenova includes two
international Journal publications, which best indicate the quality of the
R1. "Beam steering and monopulse processing of probe-fed
dielectric resonator antennas", S P Kingsley and S G O'Keefe, IEE
proceedings Radar Sonar and Navigation, 146, 3, 121 - 125, 1999. doi: 10.1049/ip-rsn:19990307
R2. "FDTD simulation of radiation characteristics of half volume
HEM and TE mode dielectric resonator antennas", S. G. O'Keefe, S. P.
Kingsley and S. Saario, IEEE trans. Antennas Propagat., volume AP-50, pp.
175-179, February 2002. doi: 10.1109/8.997991
Some key patents resulting from the research in [R1,R2] are:
R3. S.P. Kingsley and S.G. O'Keefe: "Multi-segmented dielectric
resonator antenna", Mar 2001, EP1264365 B1, EP1264365A1, US Patent No
R4. S.P. Kingsley and S.G. O'Keefe: "Steerable-beam multiple-feed
dielectric resonator antenna of various cross-sections", Oct 2000,
R5. S.P. Kingsley and S.G. O'Keefe: "Dielectric resonator antenna
with special polarisation properties", 2002 UK Patent No 2377319.
Later research funded by the studentship:
R6. L. Liu and R.J. Langley: "Tunable Multiband Handset Antenna
Operating at VHF and UHF Bands" IEEE Trans. On Antennas and Propagation,
61(7):3790-3796 Jul 2013 DOI: 10.1109/TAP.2013.2254447
Details of the impact
Joint research by Kingsley and O'Keefe into dielectric resonator antennas
has had significant commercial impact through the spin out company
Antenova. The company was registered by the University of Sheffield in
1999 and fully funded in 2001. Sheffield University owned 18% of Antenova.
From the basic research Kingsley, as Chief Scientist and
co-inventor, further developed small dielectric antennas which eventually
led to the current range of RADIONOVA products in 2008 that can be seen on
the Antenova website (www.antenova.com)
[S1] and the more recent chip antennas (2010) produced in considerable
numbers that appear in mobile phones and tablets.
The PhD student (Dr Liu) became an Antenova employee on completing his
studies in 2011 taking the research into the company for commercial
development. Dr Liu has designed two standard antennas, that are selling
in high volumes, as well as several custom antennas which arose from
research at Sheffield. For example a project in production with LG for
their 7 - 10 inch portable multi-media devices uses the low frequency band
technology for FM/TV bands reported in [R6]. The ideas on capacitive
coupling structures in [R6] resulted in two products: (i) a pentaband
antenna for a portable payment machine using MEMS switches has been
implemented in a Glintt payment machine; and (ii) a Miniaturized pentaband
chip antenna which has been used in several of Silverspring's M2M
products, mainly for their smart metering systems. Both go into mass
production in 2013. This work has contributed significantly to Antenova's
recent commercial success.
The worldwide antenna business is dominated by high volume manufacturing
of low-cost, low performing products that also have low margins, typically
around 10-11%. Antenova was set up to work at the high end of the market
using advanced antenna technology to make products for high- end feature
phones and smart phones. The requirements on the antenna are much more
severe in these products. The antennas are correspondingly more expensive,
but attract a much higher margin, typically 60%.
The IP and Engineering assets of Antenova were bought out by Microsoft
Corporation, USA in 2013 to gain commercial advantage for their
Antenova was a UK-registered, UK-based company with its headquarters in
Cambridge. There are other company offices in Chicago and Taiwan and
several staff (~6) in other Asian countries. The company employed 40
people of whom 75% have advanced degrees (Masters or PhDs).
Antenova turnover totalled £16m between 2009 and 2012 reflecting
increased year-on-year sales for the same period:
- 2009: £3.1M or $4.96M
- 2010: £4M or $6.4M
- 2011: £3.9M or $6.24M
- 2012: £5M or $8M
- 2009: 7.75M direct units shipped
- 2010: 10M direct units shipped
- 2011: 11.7M direct units shipped
- 2012: 15M direct units shipped
Units sold under licence:
- Antenova has also generated considerable downstream revenue over its
lifespan. Antenova made about $17.5M in revenues from licensing and
royalties. This is made up from: Murata=$3M; Galtronics=$4M; Sony
Ericsson=$2M; Flextronics=$2.5M; others (includes LG, Inpaq, etc.)=$2M;
Antenova is one of the most innovative and advanced antenna companies in
the industry and is the only company to produce antennas for the full
range of mobile devices and protocols (phones, tablets, laptops, M2M,
etc.). Many products are customer specific.
Microsoft's new Surface Tablet only uses Antenova antenna technology (1M
sales 4th Quarter 2012) due to their multiband capabilities
combined with a small physical volume.
Market share: According to a major report on the mobile antenna
industry in 2012 by Mobile Experts [S2, S3] the overall antenna
market consists of "more than 2.3 billion structures shipped annually
(2012)". The report contains a pie chart showing that Antenova has 6% of
the market. The most valuable part of the company is its high dielectric
antenna technology according to the same report by Mobile Experts
[S2] with Antenova having the largest share of the global Antenna Design
Market at 15%.
Main customers: Antenova's main customers over recent years have
been Microsoft, Dell, Nokia, LG, Samsung, Foxconn, TomTom, Philips,
Motorola, Sony Ericsson (now Sony), HP and Murata.
Further Impact to beneficiaries: Antenova's high dielectric
technology has contributed to mobile devices becoming smaller, more robust
and more efficient (15%), thereby contributing to increased battery life
(5%) and enabling energy savings which has benefits for both the consumer
and the environment [S4]. Since the technology enables design flexibility
and rapid design cycles, it has helped to reduce the cost of mobile
products too. Users also benefit from improved signal reception and the
ability to receive multiple protocols such as Bluetooth, WiFi, telephone,
Internet, Radio and TV, Navigation, etc. making their mobile device so
multi-functional. Overall these economic, consumer and environmental
advantages also give a competitive benefit the suppliers of mobile
Professor Kingsley can be contacted for a general overview of the
research and company product development [S6].
Sources to corroborate the impact
S1. To corroborate product range and range of customers (on file)
S2. Mobile Experts www.mobile-experts.net/
report (on file) corroborates market share of Antenova.
S3. Company Report (on file) confidential — corroborates market
S4. For the technical perspective, a member of Antenova staff (and
Visiting Professor at QMUL).
S5. For corroboration of the commercial advantages of the high
dielectric technology, Marketing Director at Antenova.
S6. Prof Simon Kingsley can corroborate the technical and product