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© 1999 J. Frank Jimenez
in most cases they will end up regretting that decision. A site survey to determine equipment installation requirements. It may be possible to establish very short radio links using “point-and-shoot” methods. 2. because the serial path that a point-to-point RF link system represents frequently becomes the “single-point-of-failure” in the reliability model for the overall system. this engineering documents assumptions that are made to determine whether a microwave path is feasible. but the reliability of such systems is usually unpredictable. during a single visit—if the system involves a very short path that can be visually verified and if a qualified engineer is available to perform both functions. it might be possible to combine it with Step 2. fixed-price quotation for the turnkey system. Frequently combined with other pre-sales visits to the prospective customer. based on assumed equipment installation locations. which may tempt them to use the information for implementation of the system—without any further engineering.1. and any obstructions. While they may get lucky occasionally. and determination of required antenna heights above ground level. The amount of additional clearance depends on the particular frequency at which the system operates. to address critical path clearances. Step 3: The field path survey. path topology. It does not involve any site visits or a field path survey. and this approach is likely to result in system outages. this survey identifies where equipment will be installed at each end of the link. A field path survey to verify station coordinates. Longer paths 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. Step 5: Step 1: The preliminary feasibility engineering study.0 An Overview of Microwave Radio System Planning The process of establishing a reliable microwave system should include the following steps. link analysis. powering. Step 1: Step 2: Step 3: Step 4: A preliminary engineering study for feasibility and budgetary proposal purposes. utilizing verified data from the site and path survey. Final system engineering. Although this step is strictly path related. Although many believe that establishing a line-of-sight radio link merely requires a visual lineof-sight between the antennas. Creating reliable radio frequency line-of-sight systems generally requires path clearances greater than those required in achieving visual line-of-sight. These studies can appear quite detailed to the inexperienced. Step 2: The site survey.0 Introduction This paper introduces the fundamental elements involved in atmospheric propagation and lineof-sight microwave systems. Revision of the initial budgetary proposal into a firm. reflection analysis. It also documents cabling. so that installation costs can be determined. and grounding requirements. which often inter-connect remote locations in today’s voice or data communications networks. this is not the case. Frank Jimenez Page 2 of 17 . These basics must be mastered before learning how to properly design and implement a “line-of-sight” (LOS) microwave path. Based on topographical map work and customer-provided coordinates or site locations. This information is crucial.
every case has an exception. This work can only be performed after the previous steps have been completed and the results are documented. if the application is strictly Ethernet. and as a system integrator becomes more experienced in assessing a path during a visit to the client. These costs may be justified by the system’s high reliability and ability to meet specified performance expectations. For example. or more than one person will be needed to complete the work in one day.” That means it either requires two or more days in the field. Clients not willing to pay for the engineering must then are willing to assume responsibility for the system performance that will result. when a wireless Ethernet system is used for real-time voice communication. It’s just a question of who and when. System engineering costs should be included in every system proposal presented to a client (even as a separate line item). sooner or later. It’s important to keep in mind that the total of all system costs is the real bottom line. based on his own informed risk assessment. On the other hand. then the customer may choose a less-robust system. he may be able to “SWAG” the engineering aspects of a short or simple path. Frank Jimenez Page 3 of 17 . This quotation can only be developed based on the outcome of the previous steps. Of course. On the other hand. When justifying the total system cost. Note: In order to avoid liability for a system that may turn out to be unreliable. one way or the other. it is important to properly inform each customer of the risks involved in deploying a wireless system without benefit of proper engineering.frequently require more than one “virtual day. consider whether the system is replacing an expensive leased circuit with recurring monthly costs. a “shoot from the hip” replacement will usually end up being a costly disappointment. Step 5: The fixed-price quotation. paths as short as 800 feet in length have been known to fail. risks spending considerably more money trying to resolve system problems that could have been prevented through proper design.1 Cost Issues Anyone who believes that the cost of proper system design is too expensive to justify. for example. due to a multi-path reflection. Step 4: Final system engineering. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. In such cases. so that system performance guarantees can be clearly linked to whether or not the engineering is performed. Experience has shown that someone must pay. This could occur. which is not tolerant of bit errors or path outages. 2. the antenna height requirements could significantly affect system costs or result in a zoning impact that requires mitigation or renders the system unfeasible. and the proposed system will only be used to provide additional bandwidth in parallel with existing facilities.
particularly signals in the microwave frequency range where most wireless broadband communication systems operate. It is interesting to note that low frequency sounds tend to propagate in a less directional manner than high frequency sounds.” This extra clearance is needed because the wavelength of visible light is extremely short. as evidenced by the low frequency “boom.3.” whose boundaries vary with the frequency and wavelength of the specific system. High frequency sounds tend to propagate in a more directional or “lineof-sight” manner than lower frequencies. attenuated to a larger degree by obstructions. They also need clearance for what is referred to as “the 1st Fresnel zone. they generally require a “line-of-sight” (LOS) propagation path.0 The Fundamental Elements of “Line-of-Sight” Microwave Radio Systems This section covers the basic technical elements that provide a foundation for understanding lineof-sight radio frequency systems. while the highest frequency sounds from a tweeter are usually not audible unless one is situated in front of the speaker. therefore. This difference explains why the low frequency output from a woofer appears to be omni directional and can be easily heard around the corner in the next room. For now. This same characteristic applies to radio frequency signals. This results in a 1st Fresnel zone boundary that is virtually non-existent for a “visual line-of-sight” path. Frank Jimenez Page 4 of 17 . or 0. 3. The human auditory system can detect cyclical barometric pressure changes occurring at rates between 20 to 20. compared to microwave frequencies—approximately 0.55 microns. and they are. Since microwave frequencies have short wavelengths.0000216 inches. The topics include: • • • • • • • • • • • Frequency Wavelength Free-space Loss Precipitation Loss Antenna Gain Antenna Beam-width Fresnel zones Phase Relationships Multi-path Reflections Atmospheric Refraction Earth Bulge These elements must be clearly understood before attempting to undertake the design of a mission critical line-of-sight microwave radio link. Fresnel zones will be discussed in depth later in this paper.1 Frequency Frequency is measured in terms of the number of events in a given time duration. the key point to remember is that the “1st Fresnel zone” is a boundary surrounding the signal path between the two antennas which requires additional clearance beyond simple “visual line-of-sight.000 cycles per second. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. boom” we can hear (or feel) from a high-powered audio system three cars away at a signal light. The moon completes a single cycle in about a month—or a frequency of approximately 12 cycles per year.
” 3. the results of these formulae are approximate. wavelength is considerably longer (4. has a velocity factor of 85%. because of the vast number of wavelengths required to cover even a single mile. or 300.2 Wavelength To be able to solve radio system engineering problems.At microwave frequencies.183 inches These seemingly minute differences can be far more important than they seem at first.8 GHz path.9997 = 4. each of varying density. to over 57 feet for a 15-mile-long.92 inches at 2. These materials slow the propagation of radio waves to approximately 99. the minute differences in each wavelength become very significant. Times Microwave LMR 400 coaxial cable. whether it’s the atmosphere. What does this have to do with wavelength? As shown in the following example.8 GHz). since radio link systems have path lengths that are measured in miles. 2. Wavelength is related to system frequencies and is an important factor in determining free space loss. you need to understand wavelength. For example. or some other transmission medium.4 GHz path. This means that the RF signal transmitted through that particular cable is slowed to 85% of its free-space velocity. Although this principle is true. frequency has to go higher.036 inches at 5.97% of their speed in a vacuum or free space. Coaxial cable slows the signal down even more. exceptions must be made when there are differences in propagation velocity. antenna gain. since real-world electromagnetic waves propagate through a medium. however. a conductor.000 meters per second. one can divide 11811 (the number of inches in 300 meters) by the frequency in MHz. Frank Jimenez Page 5 of 17 . and Fresnel Zone boundaries—as well as the phase relationship between two signals. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. wavelength in meters can be calculated by dividing the number 300 by the frequency in MHz. “radio frequency line-of-sight” differs significantly from “visual line-of-sight. Electromagnetic waves propagate at the speed of light (in free-space or a vacuum). which is commonly used in RF antenna systems. the density of the transmission medium produces changes in radio wavelengths. for a 528-foot-long. To derive wavelength in inches. Our atmosphere consists of numerous gases and water vapor. As a result. The resulting 60% 1st Fresnel zone boundaries range from approximately 3 feet. By including the clearance needed for 60% of the first Fresnel zone. Over these distances. This information may seem to contradict what we have all been taught—that wavelength is related to frequency and that for wavelength to become shorter.4 GHz and 2. One 2400 MHz wavelength in free-space = 11811/2400 = 4.000. similar to the way it affects speed. 5. From a practical standpoint.920 inches One 2400 MHz wavelength in LMR 400 coax = 11811/2400 x .85 = 4.921 inches One 2400 MHz wavelength in normal atmosphere = 11811/2400 x .
If you keep this phenomenon in mind. Its wavelength under these conditions would now be ½ meter in linear distance per cycle. wavelength is shortened without a corresponding change in frequency. and to cover a given distance. it will help you understand atmospheric refraction. commonly referred to as path loss.698970 (x20) = 13. Frank Jimenez Page 6 of 17 .Let’s use the example of a fish swimming in a still lake. The fish would still complete 2000 cycles of tail movement in one hour. but it would only cover a linear distance of 1 kilometer in that same time period. the fish moves forward in the water one meter. representing propagation in free space. With that frequency and wavelength. with 2000 cycles of tail movement. With every cyclical movement of its tail. and is dependent upon the frequency of the system involved and the length of the signal path.3 Free Space Loss Free space attenuation. they must complete many more cycles than lower frequency signals.979400 Path Loss = (36.6 + 20 Log (F) + 20 Log (D) Where: F = Frequency in MHz D = Distance in Miles Example: A 2. the more rapidly the signals weaken as they propagate. the attenuation through the atmosphere is reasonably similar. This occurs because higher frequencies have shorter wavelengths. 3.604225 + 13.979400) = 118. let’s say the fish must swim out of the still lake and move upstream in a river flowing at 1 kilometer per hour. rather than 1 meter as in still water. then his frequency would be 2000 cycles per hour. some of their energy is “spent.6 + 67.604225 Log (5) = 0. This establishes his wavelength (or linear distance per cycle) at 1 meter.183625 dB 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. which will be explained later in this document. These same principals apply to radio signals propagating through mediums that modify their propagation speed. The amount of free space attenuation can be computed using the following formula: 36. If the fish can complete and maintain 2000 tail cycles per hour.380211 (x20) = 67. for a given unit of distance. As propagation velocity decreases. the higher the frequency (and shorter the wavelength). the fish could cover a linear distance of 2000 meters in an hour. During each cycle (wavelength) the signals propagate. Keep in mind. which have longer wavelength. Free space attenuation (or loss) increases as frequency goes up. Although the formula for computing free space attenuation assumes signal propagation in a vacuum (outer space).4 GHz 5 mile path Log (2400) = 3. Now.” Consequently. however. that this distance is achieved in still water.
Now visualize a 1-square-foot butterfly net being held in their path to “capture” butterflies.514. they become highly reflective at that frequency. This numerical ratio increase would correspond to a gain of 6 dB in voltage (20 Log) terms. The concept of signal-capture area can be explained with the following analogy. 11811/23000 = 0. raindrops can easily attain a dimension of 1/8 inch or more. As explained earlier. wavelength is directly related to frequency. 4-mile path. as well as its wavelength relationship to that of the particular frequency involved. Imagine that radio energy is represented by hundreds of butterflies fluttering across the sky with an equal density of 3 butterflies per square foot. That’s why 23-GHz systems are not a very wise choice for some parts of the country. 3. and one can determine the approximate wavelength of a frequency in free space. including fog. can become a major consideration for these millimeter wave systems. rather than 3 butterflies. To determine the wavelength in inches.3. which comes in many forms. as shown in the following calculations: 11811/5800 = 2. with ¼ wavelength then being approximately 0. antenna gain will go up in either of these two situations—if frequency goes up (allowing more. The number of wavelengths in its signal-capture area determines gain of an antenna. shorter wavelengths) or if the size of signal-capture area goes up (also allowing more wavelengths). As shown in the two examples above. while having much less impact on a 5.8 GHz signal. Frank Jimenez Page 7 of 17 . Although there are many types of antennas.4 Precipitation Loss Frequency and wavelength are also affected by precipitation. systems designed with frequencies as low as 10 GHz should allow additional fade margin to overcome the attenuation effects of precipitation. For systems at frequencies above 23 GHz. The detrimental effects of precipitation vary according to the physical properties of its form. effectively becoming multiple reflectors (or more accurately stated. Therefore. when an object’s physical properties approach ¼ wavelength of a particular frequency. we would capture 6. water droplets of smaller size. Point rainfall rates approaching 4 inches per hour can occur in many parts of Florida and the states located along the Gulf of Mexico.128 inches Basically. If the net size were increased from 1 square foot to 2 square feet.509 inches. unless path lengths are extremely short and rainfall attenuation is factored into the system fade margin. From a practical standpoint. the gain of an antenna increases by 6 dB each time the signal capture area is doubled.5 Antenna Gain Antenna gain is directly related to frequency and the antenna signal-capture area. a doubling of the number. The standard 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. We could then measure the capture effect of this 1-square-foot net as a reference for measuring the capture effect gain of larger net sizes. In other words. deflectors) in the path of a 23-GHz signal. with ¼ wavelength then being approximately 0.036. we simply divide 11811 by the frequency in MHz. This instantaneous rainfall rate would result in approximately 66 dB of rain attenuation over a 23GHz. most point-to-point microwave systems utilize parabolic antennas in order to achieve the required gain and reduce interference.
4 GHz.380211 (x20) = 7. nothing more.4) = 0. this specification has little value. The beam-width of a parabolic antenna can be approximated with the following formula: 70/F x D Where: F = Frequency in GHz D = Parabola diameter in feet Example: A 2. Consequently. This formula. If an antenna has 30 dBi of gain and a 6-degree beam-width. shown below. then at +/. which is closely related to the forward gain of an antenna.56 Parabolic Antenna Gain = (7.86 degrees It is important to realize that the beam-width of an antenna is merely the peak-to-peak angle of the antenna’s ½ power (or –3dB) point and not an absolute tight beam.3 degrees off the antenna’s beam peak.6 + 15. Frank Jimenez Page 8 of 17 .778151 (x20) = 15.formula for computing parabolic antenna gain assumes 55% illumination efficiency of the antenna’s capture area.6 Log (6) = 0. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. they are often used to solve interference problems when the interference source may be located off-azimuth from the affected system path. parabolic antenna 70/(2. That’s why larger antennas with higher gain are more directional.56) = 30. results in gain figures that fall within the median distribution of antennas available on the market: 7.5 + 20 Log (F) + 20 Log (D) Where: F = Frequency in GHz D = Diameter in Feet Example: A 2. 6 foot diameter.6 Antenna Beam-width Antenna beam-width is another important antenna parameter.4 GHz. parabolic antenna Log (2. the lower its gain in other directions. From the standpoint of interference rejection. The term “illumination efficiency” refers to the percentage of power being radiated by the source at the antenna’s focal point that “illuminates” the antenna reflector surface.4 x 6) = 4. It only provides an industry-standard method of defining the antenna’s main forward gain characteristics.66 dBi 3. 6 foot diameter.5 + 7. the higher the antenna gain of an antenna in its forward direction. the antenna still has 27 dBi of gain. Since antenna gain results from redirecting available radiated energy in a given direction.
180 degrees off the main gain lobe or beam. To establish “RF line-of-sight. the amount of loss will depend on the degree of Fresnel zone encroachment. These boundaries can be calculated with the following formula: F1 = 72.” which are concentric areas surrounding the direct path of the signal beam between the two antennas. These boundaries are referred to as “Fresnel zones. across the entire signal path. we can simply focus on the definition of the 1st Fresnel zone boundary. This data is required in both the vertical and horizontal planes. we will not discuss the complexities of interference engineering in this document. and the distance separating each Fresnel zone diminishes as the Fresnel zone number increases.7 The Fresnel Zones Creating “RF line-of-sight” for a microwave path requires more clearance over path obstructions than is required to establish a visual “line-of-sight. from the signal beam centerline outwards.For interference engineering and analysis purposes. it is necessary to obtain accurate antenna radiation pattern data from the antenna manufacturer. the boundary for any Fresnel zone radius can be calculated directly using the following formula: d1 • d 2 f •D 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. For now. based on its wavelength. which is described as follows: The reflection point offset from a direct signal path. Failure to do so will result in additional signal loss caused by diffraction. since this topic probably requires its own dedicated paper. Therefore. Frank Jimenez Page 9 of 17 .” it is necessary to clear 60% of the 1st Fresnel zone boundary.1 Where: F1 = First Fresnel zone radius in feet d1 = Distance from one end of path to reflection point in miles d2 = Distance from reflection point to opposite end of path in miles D = Total length of path in miles f = Frequency in GHz A reflected path length that is exactly ½ wavelength longer than the previous one defines the succeeding Fresnel zone boundaries. it is important to realize that Fresnel zones are infinite in number. where the length of the reflected path is exactly ½ wavelength longer than the direct signal path. 3. since solution of interference problems frequently requires cross polarization of the antennas with respect to the interference source. However. Each succeeding Fresnel zone has an exact ½ wavelength relationship to the previous one. which includes antenna gain characteristics out to +/. Although we are primarily concerned with clearing 60% of the 1st Fresnel zone radius to avoid signal diffraction loss.” The extra clearance is needed to establish an unobstructed propagation path boundary for the transmitted signal.
0° 90° 180° 270° 0° 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. Webster defines a cycle as: “an interval of time during which a sequence of a recurring succession of events or phenomena is completed. Phase can be used to identify the state of progress within a cycle. If this drawing were extended. depicted in red. Phase relationships are important in radio communications.3 degrees). at the rate of the system frequency. since radio signals propagate through the atmosphere in analog form.” The drawing below represents one complete cycle. because it relates more clearly to microwave system design. with an amplitude voltage that varies much like the drawing below.1 Where: n • d1 • d 2 f •D Fn = Specific Fresnel zone radius in feet d1 = Distance from one end of path to reflection point in miles d2 = Distance from reflection point to opposite end of path in miles D = Total length of path in miles f = Frequency in GHz n = number of specific Fresnel zone 3. which is equivalent to 360 degrees—or one wavelength. Accordingly. the next cycle would be identical to the previous one. and so on. one-half of a wavelength corresponds to 180 degrees of phase.Fn = 72. This paper will refer to degrees. and so on. Frank Jimenez Page 10 of 17 . one-quarter of a wavelength corresponds to 90 degrees of phase.8 Phase and Its Relationships Phase can be described either in terms of degrees or radians (1 radian being approximately 57.
The degree of signal cancellation depends on the degree of phase opposition and the relative amplitude of the two signals. In this case. causing the signals to cancel each other. opposing ones subtract. resulting in an increase of signal strength. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. Just as in-phase vectors add. 0° 90° 180° 270° 0° Obviously. but the results always follow the same principle. there will be no problem. however. they will arrive fairly closely in phase with one another. it is possible for them to arrive at the destination in different phase states. as in the case of a multi-path reflected signal. because the two signals will add. as depicted by the red and green signals in the following drawing. Frank Jimenez Page 11 of 17 . As long as the signals travel a direct path between the antennas. 0° 90° 180° 270° 0° In the following example. the red and blue signals have a 180-degree phase (or opposing) relationship with one another.Since atmospherically propagated radio signals can take many paths between one point and another. This relationship frequently occurs in the case of a multi-path reflected signal. these illustrations present extreme cases.
this kind of unintended but efficient reflection can occur on empty parking lots. it can provide gain to the reflected signal. When people don’t understand path engineering. Multi-path reflected signals frequently cause problems in wireless systems that have been implemented without proper path engineering. while avoiding the cost of system engineering. Sometimes this approach works. they simply install the antennas as high as possible. link. path obstacles.3. primarily due to the high ratio of path length versus antenna height above a specific reflection point. In other words. they often believe that providing a “line-of-sight” path between the two antennas is the only requirement. The following sketch depicts what occurs to a signal during the reflection process. The antenna’s primary signal beam-width is usually broad enough to illuminate the reflection point with the full signal power of the antenna’s primary beam. flat metal surfaces. if the reflection surface is reasonably flat and has sufficient area. but far more frequently. it produces systems with unpredictable multi-path outages and susceptibility to interference from other systems in the area. During the design process. The path survey report is a very important part of the microwave system engineering. terrain topology. The resulting report provides crucial information that is required by the system engineer in order to perform reflection. Frank Jimenez Page 12 of 17 . such as the windows of modern office buildings.10 The Reflected Signal The nature of point-to-point terrestrial line-of-sight microwave systems causes most reflected signals to occur at small angles. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. For example. In a few cases. the system engineer can then determine the most cost-effective way to avoid a multi-path outage problem and determine the required height above ground level for the antennas at each location. and surface characteristics. 3. These steps should be completed before any equipment is ordered. or glass surfaces with metallic tinting. Reflections occurring at small angles result in an inversion of the signal. When a system cannot be made to work. 2. road surfaces. This has the following negative effects: 1. This results in a reflected signal that is 180 degrees out of phase with respect to any direct path signal that has not been reflected. and is prepared by the field engineer who carefully verifies and documents antenna coordinates.9 Multi-Path Reflections Multi-path reflections occur when the reflection point for a given path has a reflective surface that can be “seen” by both antennas. as the reflected signal becomes inverted. it’s better to avoid selling the system than to end up with a dissatisfied customer—and “eating” the cost of the system. hoping to overcome any obstacles. In addition. the top of the original signal becomes the bottom of the reflected one. lakes or ponds of standing water. such that its amplitude can equal or exceed the amplitude of the direct signal. and reliability analysis of the system design. To avoid path obstructions. the only technically feasible solution to a stable system may not even be economically or politically feasible.
as does temperature and humidity. propagation velocity is approximately 99. and so on. Population-to-vegetation density varies with region. Frank Jimenez Page 13 of 17 . resulting in a propagation velocity differential between the top and bottom of a wave front. vapors. as shown in the following example. Livestock operations generate methane. Atmospheric Layers Refracted Wave Front Earth Surface Atmospheric Refraction In “normal” atmosphere near the earth’s surface. For example. The only thing one can say for sure is that the atmosphere changes dynamically and is never constant. atmospheric density decreases linearly with altitude. We also know that propagation velocity— the speed at which a signal travels through a medium—changes with respect to the density of the medium. These differences in propagation velocity result in refraction of a signal propagated through the atmosphere. Atmospheric content and density varies significantly with local geophysical characteristics and time of day and season.11 Atmospheric Refraction Earth is a living source of the gases. we consume oxygen and emit carbon dioxide and other gases. Under normal circumstances. We have already discussed radio wave propagation—and the formulas that define this process in a vacuum or free space. which significantly affects radio signal propagation. and water molecules that make up our atmosphere. Vegetation consumes carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. Autos generate carbon monoxide. Keep this principle in mind. as we discuss the effects of atmospheric refraction. Since the upper part of the wave front propagates through less dense atmosphere than the 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. which decreases as it dissipates outward from the earth’s surface.997% of that in free space.3.
and it propagates in a straight line. In radio path profiling.” refers only to the effects of physical earth curvature. This term can reflect two different forms.12 Physical Earth Bulge Line-of-sight radio system engineering must deal with the effects of earth curvature. atmospheric refraction is also referred to as “the K factor. A K factor of less than 1 describes a condition where the refracted signal path deviates from a straight line. Frank Jimenez Page 14 of 17 . The amount of physical “earth bulge” along a path can be calculated from the following formula: h= d1 • d 2 1 . and it arcs in the same direction as the earth curvature. with the peak of the bulge occurring at mid-path. with no topological variation along the path between the two points. The second. In radio engineering. This assumes that the earth’s surface is flat. 3. This section focuses on “physical earth bulge. The earth surface appears to “bulge upwards” in the path. or “Earth Bulge” as it is sometimes called. The bending of the radio signal path caused by differences in atmospheric density is referred to as atmospheric refraction. A K factor greater than 1 describes a condition where the refracted signal path deviates from a straight line. and it arcs in the direction opposite the earth curvature.5 h d1 d2 Where: h= d1 = d2 = Data Point B point Vertical distance from a horizontal reference line in feet Distance from the data point to point A in miles Distance from the data point to point B in miles Point A 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. For example: A K factor of 1 describes a condition where there is no refraction of the signal. Later. the effects of physical “earth bulge” must be added to the terrain topology (earth surface variation) profile. “effective earth bulge. this document will explain the importance of the K factor in line-of-sight radio engineering.” which describes the type and amount of refraction.” includes both the effects of physical earth curvature and the effects of atmospheric refraction.lower part to which it is coupled.” Earth bulge describes the effect of physical earth curvature along a direct path between two points on the earth’s surface. so usage must be specific. but to a lesser to a degree. For now. “physical earth bulge. The result is a signal path that normally tends to follow earth curvature. The first form. it propagates faster than the lower part. we are simply introducing the concepts of atmospheric refraction and the K factor.
to a degree. must be used in determining path clearance. 3.” 3.” 3. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. there is no refractive effect. and “effective earth bulge” will be greater than “physical earth bulge. 1. When K=1. Therefore.” a modified profile is produced. totally canceling any “earth bulge” effect. it can be stated that the relationship between the two arcs remains constant for infinity. but may vary significantly from earth curvature.” 2. we refer to this condition as K=4/3. which is known as “Effective Earth Bulge. Physical Earth Bulge reflects earth curvature only and does not take into account the effects of atmospheric refraction. making the earth appear “flat”. or maximum “physical earth bulge” point. discussed in the following section. this curvature effectively reduces the amount of “earth bulge”—making it less than it is. For purposes of line-of-sight radio link design. or “normal earth. A K factor of 1 represents the absence of any refraction effects and results in an “effective earth bulge profile” that is identical to the “physical earth bulge profile. Since the propagated signal arc follows earth curvature exactly regardless of path length. Under these conditions “effective earth bulge” will be equal to “physical (or true) earth bulge. we must always combine Physical Earth Bulge with the effects of atmospheric refraction. Because the signal arc of a propagated signal path through “normal atmosphere” follows earth curvature. 1. or K. When K = infinity. 2. it is easy to become confused about K factors and earth bulge. A K factor value other than 1 results in an “effective earth bulge profile” that differs from the “physical earth bulge profile” by an amount equal to the atmospheric refraction effects. they “normally” propagate in an arc with a radius approximately 1. K factor represents the amount and type of atmospheric signal refraction.” This refers to the amount of “earth bulge” that would normally result under these “standard” atmospheric conditions. Any discussion of effective earth bulge must begin with an understanding of the following rules. the refractive signal path is an arc in the same direction as earth curvature. the refractive signal path arc is inverted (opposite) relative to physical earth curvature. When these two parameters are combined. a modified earth bulge profile results. Microwave signals propagated through normal atmospheric conditions do not travel in a straightline. known as “effective earth bulge. combined with physical earth bulge. thereby reducing “effective earth bulge” to something less than “physical earth bulge.The data point shown in the example above happens to be the mid-path point. but it could be any point along the path.” Keep the following four rules in mind. When the effects of atmospheric refraction are combined with “physical earth bulge.13 Effective Earth Bulge Effective earth bulge represents the effects of atmospheric refraction.33 (4/3) times that of true earth radius. when considered in strictly physical terms. Instead. the refractive signal path arc follows earth curvature exactly.” 4. When K is less than 1. and the signal path is a straight line. Frank Jimenez Page 15 of 17 . or K.” This modified profile. since they are true under all conditions. When K equals a number greater than 1. Otherwise.
with the effects of K=2/3 refraction. would have a reduced mid-path “earth bulge” of 12. which consume fade margin. The same 10-mile path. The following formula can be used to compute “effective earth bulge.5. The first and most obvious change is the difference in path clearance caused by changing the amount of “earth bulge. due to earth curvature. Changes in atmospheric refraction are the most common cause of signal fading that occurs on line-of-sight microwave paths. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. and effectively reverses the curvature of the earth with respect to the signal path. If the amount of temporary diffraction loss exceeds available fade margin.5 • k h d1 d2 data point Point B Where: h= d1 = d2 = k= Point A Vertical distance from a horizontal reference line in feet Distance from the data point to point A in miles Distance from the data point to point B in miles The K factor value representing atmospheric refraction The following examples were derived using the above formula: A 10-mile path on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah would have a mid-path “earth bulge” of 16. at any data point in a path. The resulting refraction arc is inverted with respect to earth curvature. since the K value is less than 1.” A loss of critical path clearance can result in diffraction losses.” The same 10-mile path. typically due to secondary effects. without any refraction effects (K=1). Frank Jimenez Page 16 of 17 . would have an increased mid-path “earth bulge” of 25 feet. making its surface appear like a “bowl”.7 feet. with the effects of K=4/3 refraction. then a system outage will occur—until the refraction index is restored to its original condition and “gives back” the necessary path clearance.5 feet. the refractive signal path is an arc that exceeds physical earth curvature (beyond K = infinity).” in feet. When K = Negative. It includes the effects of the applicable K factor: h= d1 • d 2 1 . This would be very similar to “visual line-of-sight. This result compensates for the signal path’s tendency to follow earth curvature as a result of atmospheric refraction.
The second effect of a change in refraction is that it alters the signal beam path and effectively moves the signal beam off the far-end antenna. These systems typically require space diversity. One exception might be a challenging path implemented over water or in a region subject to temperature inversions and/or ducting. which is not supported by most products. Although atmospheric refraction can exceed either of these values on occasion. The physics of each individual path. engineering is a discipline of science and precision. not guesswork and shortcuts. A systematic and detailed engineering approach is required to assure predictable results. which were specifically designed for building-to-building data networking applications. However. By its nature. Frank Jimenez Page 17 of 17 . None of these problems are impossible to manage. 4.” They are simply engineering issues that must be addressed by the designer of the system. If the required path distance exceeds what can be reliably achieved. In addition. so that an accurate bill of materials can be developed and quoted. and the atmospheric refractivity conditions that can occur in the environment that the path is located in. provided that adequate fade margin is designed into the system. since an increase or decrease in the height of path obstructions will occur. and the predicted level of system performance can be achieved when the system is installed and cut-over. depending on K factor. much more is involved in reliable radio-link design than just establishing a visual line-of-sight path between the two antennas of a “line-of-sight” radio link. these criteria virtually assure that path availability objectives will be met. and none of them fall into the category of “black magic. The effect would be similar to mis-aiming both antennas for the duration of time that the refraction index is changed. there are no short cuts to success in reliable microwave radio link design. It is possible to effectively address them all up front. Industry-standard practice in designing point-to-point microwave paths under 30 miles involves factoring in refractive conditions of K=4/3 and K=2/3.0 Summary As you can see. while not allowing the reflection point on the path to be visible to both antennas. Assuming that the antennas were aimed with atmospheric conditions of K=4/3. proper antenna support structures ordered and put in place. and analyze where the reflection point may move within the range of possible refraction conditions that can occur. then system designers must choose antenna heights that will place the point on a non-reflective surface along the path. the signal beam alignment would be restored to the original conditions when atmospheric conditions of K=4/3 return. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J.” the invisible Fresnel zone. will dictate what the maximum reliable path distance will be. some sort of space diversity path design will be required. Consideration must be given to maintaining adequate clearance for the “inner 60%. If visibility of the reflection point cannot be avoided. position it on an odd-numbered Fresnel zone. path clearances must be checked under these same conditions. Further details of microwave path and system design will be provided in a separate paper.
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