Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering

© 1999 J. Frank Jimenez

which often inter-connect remote locations in today’s voice or data communications networks. in most cases they will end up regretting that decision.0 An Overview of Microwave Radio System Planning The process of establishing a reliable microwave system should include the following steps. it might be possible to combine it with Step 2. It does not involve any site visits or a field path survey. and grounding requirements. The amount of additional clearance depends on the particular frequency at which the system operates. Revision of the initial budgetary proposal into a firm. this engineering documents assumptions that are made to determine whether a microwave path is feasible. Step 1: Step 2: Step 3: Step 4: A preliminary engineering study for feasibility and budgetary proposal purposes. but the reliability of such systems is usually unpredictable. and any obstructions. 2. utilizing verified data from the site and path survey. based on assumed equipment installation locations. which may tempt them to use the information for implementation of the system—without any further engineering. so that installation costs can be determined. this is not the case.1. While they may get lucky occasionally. fixed-price quotation for the turnkey system. Step 3: The field path survey.0 Introduction This paper introduces the fundamental elements involved in atmospheric propagation and lineof-sight microwave systems. Frank Jimenez Page 2 of 17 . This information is crucial. Based on topographical map work and customer-provided coordinates or site locations. Frequently combined with other pre-sales visits to the prospective customer. 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. Step 2: The site survey. and determination of required antenna heights above ground level. Final system engineering. reflection analysis. Although many believe that establishing a line-of-sight radio link merely requires a visual lineof-sight between the antennas. Step 5: Step 1: The preliminary feasibility engineering study. and this approach is likely to result in system outages. path topology. A field path survey to verify station coordinates. It also documents cabling. These basics must be mastered before learning how to properly design and implement a “line-of-sight” (LOS) microwave path. Longer paths 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. A site survey to determine equipment installation requirements. It may be possible to establish very short radio links using “point-and-shoot” methods. link analysis. to address critical path clearances. 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. this survey identifies where equipment will be installed at each end of the link. Although this step is strictly path related. 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. powering.

1 Cost Issues Anyone who believes that the cost of proper system design is too expensive to justify. On the other hand. paths as short as 800 feet in length have been known to fail. Clients not willing to pay for the engineering must then are willing to assume responsibility for the system performance that will result. When justifying the total system cost. Experience has shown that someone must pay. based on his own informed risk assessment. In such cases. it is important to properly inform each customer of the risks involved in deploying a wireless system without benefit of proper engineering. if the application is strictly Ethernet. It’s just a question of who and when. a “shoot from the hip” replacement will usually end up being a costly disappointment. for example. sooner or later. every case has an exception. or more than one person will be needed to complete the work in one day. System engineering costs should be included in every system proposal presented to a client (even as a separate line item). It’s important to keep in mind that the total of all system costs is the real bottom line. Frank Jimenez Page 3 of 17 . 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. On the other hand. consider whether the system is replacing an expensive leased circuit with recurring monthly costs.frequently require more than one “virtual day.” That means it either requires two or more days in the field. 2. which is not tolerant of bit errors or path outages. This work can only be performed after the previous steps have been completed and the results are documented. so that system performance guarantees can be clearly linked to whether or not the engineering is performed. then the customer may choose a less-robust system. This could occur. Of course. the antenna height requirements could significantly affect system costs or result in a zoning impact that requires mitigation or renders the system unfeasible. he may be able to “SWAG” the engineering aspects of a short or simple path. one way or the other. due to a multi-path reflection. This quotation can only be developed based on the outcome of the previous steps. Step 5: The fixed-price quotation. when a wireless Ethernet system is used for real-time voice communication. risks spending considerably more money trying to resolve system problems that could have been prevented through proper design. Note: In order to avoid liability for a system that may turn out to be unreliable. Step 4: Final system engineering. and the proposed system will only be used to provide additional bandwidth in parallel with existing facilities. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. For example.

55 microns. Since microwave frequencies have short wavelengths. Frank Jimenez Page 4 of 17 . they generally require a “line-of-sight” (LOS) propagation path. This same characteristic applies to radio frequency signals. 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. and they are. The human auditory system can detect cyclical barometric pressure changes occurring at rates between 20 to 20.0 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.” This extra clearance is needed because the wavelength of visible light is extremely short. 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. boom” we can hear (or feel) from a high-powered audio system three cars away at a signal light. particularly signals in the microwave frequency range where most wireless broadband communication systems operate. or 0.0000216 inches. compared to microwave frequencies—approximately 0.000 cycles per second. It is interesting to note that low frequency sounds tend to propagate in a less directional manner than high frequency sounds. 3. therefore. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J.1 Frequency Frequency is measured in terms of the number of events in a given time duration. High frequency sounds tend to propagate in a more directional or “lineof-sight” manner than lower frequencies. This results in a 1st Fresnel zone boundary that is virtually non-existent for a “visual line-of-sight” path.3. 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. The moon completes a single cycle in about a month—or a frequency of approximately 12 cycles per year. as evidenced by the low frequency “boom.” whose boundaries vary with the frequency and wavelength of the specific system. Fresnel zones will be discussed in depth later in this paper. They also need clearance for what is referred to as “the 1st Fresnel zone. while the highest frequency sounds from a tweeter are usually not audible unless one is situated in front of the speaker. attenuated to a larger degree by obstructions.

frequency has to go higher. Coaxial cable slows the signal down even more. For example. you need to understand wavelength. 2. and Fresnel Zone boundaries—as well as the phase relationship between two signals. a conductor. or 300. Electromagnetic waves propagate at the speed of light (in free-space or a vacuum).920 inches One 2400 MHz wavelength in LMR 400 coax = 11811/2400 x . By including the clearance needed for 60% of the first Fresnel zone. the minute differences in each wavelength become very significant. Times Microwave LMR 400 coaxial cable.92 inches at 2. to over 57 feet for a 15-mile-long. Our atmosphere consists of numerous gases and water vapor. has a velocity factor of 85%.4 GHz path. the density of the transmission medium produces changes in radio wavelengths. however. wavelength in meters can be calculated by dividing the number 300 by the frequency in MHz. What does this have to do with wavelength? As shown in the following example. because of the vast number of wavelengths required to cover even a single mile. These materials slow the propagation of radio waves to approximately 99. wavelength is considerably longer (4. The resulting 60% 1st Fresnel zone boundaries range from approximately 3 feet. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. Wavelength is related to system frequencies and is an important factor in determining free space loss.000. To derive wavelength in inches. antenna gain. “radio frequency line-of-sight” differs significantly from “visual line-of-sight. each of varying density.At microwave frequencies.000 meters per second. which is commonly used in RF antenna systems. As a result. since real-world electromagnetic waves propagate through a medium. the results of these formulae are approximate.9997 = 4. Frank Jimenez Page 5 of 17 . Although this principle is true. From a practical standpoint. whether it’s the atmosphere. 5. One 2400 MHz wavelength in free-space = 11811/2400 = 4.97% of their speed in a vacuum or free space. one can divide 11811 (the number of inches in 300 meters) by the frequency in MHz.85 = 4. since radio link systems have path lengths that are measured in miles.8 GHz path. This means that the RF signal transmitted through that particular cable is slowed to 85% of its free-space velocity.8 GHz). similar to the way it affects speed.” 3. for a 528-foot-long. Over these distances.2 Wavelength To be able to solve radio system engineering problems.183 inches These seemingly minute differences can be far more important than they seem at first. or some other transmission medium.4 GHz and 2.921 inches One 2400 MHz wavelength in normal atmosphere = 11811/2400 x .036 inches at 5. exceptions must be made when there are differences in propagation velocity. 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.

and is dependent upon the frequency of the system involved and the length of the signal path.4 GHz 5 mile path Log (2400) = 3.6 + 67. Although the formula for computing free space attenuation assumes signal propagation in a vacuum (outer space).” Consequently.698970 (x20) = 13. commonly referred to as path loss. The amount of free space attenuation can be computed using the following formula: 36. With every cyclical movement of its tail.183625 dB 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. but it would only cover a linear distance of 1 kilometer in that same time period. that this distance is achieved in still water. the fish moves forward in the water one meter.6 + 20 Log (F) + 20 Log (D) Where: F = Frequency in MHz D = Distance in Miles Example: A 2.Let’s use the example of a fish swimming in a still lake. some of their energy is “spent. however. which have longer wavelength. This occurs because higher frequencies have shorter wavelengths.604225 Log (5) = 0. If you keep this phenomenon in mind. the higher the frequency (and shorter the wavelength). the attenuation through the atmosphere is reasonably similar.604225 + 13. with 2000 cycles of tail movement.380211 (x20) = 67. representing propagation in free space. Now. 3. they must complete many more cycles than lower frequency signals. Keep in mind. the more rapidly the signals weaken as they propagate.3 Free Space Loss Free space attenuation. then his frequency would be 2000 cycles per hour. for a given unit of distance. These same principals apply to radio signals propagating through mediums that modify their propagation speed. With that frequency and wavelength. This establishes his wavelength (or linear distance per cycle) at 1 meter. During each cycle (wavelength) the signals propagate. the fish could cover a linear distance of 2000 meters in an hour. 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.979400 Path Loss = (36.979400) = 118. and to cover a given distance. it will help you understand atmospheric refraction. Free space attenuation (or loss) increases as frequency goes up. Its wavelength under these conditions would now be ½ meter in linear distance per cycle. Frank Jimenez Page 6 of 17 . The fish would still complete 2000 cycles of tail movement in one hour. which will be explained later in this document. wavelength is shortened without a corresponding change in frequency. As propagation velocity decreases. If the fish can complete and maintain 2000 tail cycles per hour.

unless path lengths are extremely short and rainfall attenuation is factored into the system fade margin. This instantaneous rainfall rate would result in approximately 66 dB of rain attenuation over a 23GHz. The concept of signal-capture area can be explained with the following analogy. we would capture 6. The number of wavelengths in its signal-capture area determines gain of an antenna. The standard 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. For systems at frequencies above 23 GHz. Therefore.3. To determine the wavelength in inches. If the net size were increased from 1 square foot to 2 square feet. deflectors) in the path of a 23-GHz signal. 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. raindrops can easily attain a dimension of 1/8 inch or more. effectively becoming multiple reflectors (or more accurately stated.4 Precipitation Loss Frequency and wavelength are also affected by precipitation. From a practical standpoint. the gain of an antenna increases by 6 dB each time the signal capture area is doubled. a doubling of the number. wavelength is directly related to frequency. as well as its wavelength relationship to that of the particular frequency involved.036. shorter wavelengths) or if the size of signal-capture area goes up (also allowing more wavelengths). systems designed with frequencies as low as 10 GHz should allow additional fade margin to overcome the attenuation effects of precipitation. In other words.509 inches. 4-mile path. As shown in the two examples above. including fog.5 Antenna Gain Antenna gain is directly related to frequency and the antenna signal-capture area. they become highly reflective at that frequency. most point-to-point microwave systems utilize parabolic antennas in order to achieve the required gain and reduce interference. This numerical ratio increase would correspond to a gain of 6 dB in voltage (20 Log) terms. That’s why 23-GHz systems are not a very wise choice for some parts of the country. can become a major consideration for these millimeter wave systems. water droplets of smaller size. rather than 3 butterflies.8 GHz signal. 11811/23000 = 0. 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. Imagine that radio energy is represented by hundreds of butterflies fluttering across the sky with an equal density of 3 butterflies per square foot. As explained earlier. Frank Jimenez Page 7 of 17 . antenna gain will go up in either of these two situations—if frequency goes up (allowing more. while having much less impact on a 5. and one can determine the approximate wavelength of a frequency in free space. with ¼ wavelength then being approximately 0. Although there are many types of antennas. as shown in the following calculations: 11811/5800 = 2. with ¼ wavelength then being approximately 0. when an object’s physical properties approach ¼ wavelength of a particular frequency. we simply divide 11811 by the frequency in MHz. which comes in many forms. 3. The detrimental effects of precipitation vary according to the physical properties of its form. Now visualize a 1-square-foot butterfly net being held in their path to “capture” butterflies.514.

the higher the antenna gain of an antenna in its forward direction.4) = 0. which is closely related to the forward gain of an antenna.4 x 6) = 4. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. results in gain figures that fall within the median distribution of antennas available on the market: 7.5 + 7.380211 (x20) = 7.6 Log (6) = 0. 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. then at +/. parabolic antenna 70/(2. From the standpoint of interference rejection. Frank Jimenez Page 8 of 17 .56) = 30.66 dBi 3.3 degrees off the antenna’s beam peak. nothing more. It only provides an industry-standard method of defining the antenna’s main forward gain characteristics.6 + 15.5 + 20 Log (F) + 20 Log (D) Where: F = Frequency in GHz D = Diameter in Feet Example: A 2. 6 foot diameter.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.4 GHz. they are often used to solve interference problems when the interference source may be located off-azimuth from the affected system path.778151 (x20) = 15.56 Parabolic Antenna Gain = (7. Consequently. the lower its gain in other directions. shown below. That’s why larger antennas with higher gain are more directional. Since antenna gain results from redirecting available radiated energy in a given direction.formula for computing parabolic antenna gain assumes 55% illumination efficiency of the antenna’s capture area. This formula. this specification has little value. the antenna still has 27 dBi of gain. If an antenna has 30 dBi of gain and a 6-degree beam-width. 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 2.6 Antenna Beam-width Antenna beam-width is another important antenna parameter. 6 foot diameter. parabolic antenna Log (2.4 GHz.

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. the amount of loss will depend on the degree of Fresnel zone encroachment.” it is necessary to clear 60% of the 1st Fresnel zone boundary.” which are concentric areas surrounding the direct path of the signal beam between the two antennas. which is described as follows: The reflection point offset from a direct signal path. it is important to realize that Fresnel zones are infinite in number. since solution of interference problems frequently requires cross polarization of the antennas with respect to the interference source. 3. since this topic probably requires its own dedicated paper. This data is required in both the vertical and horizontal planes. from the signal beam centerline outwards. Frank Jimenez Page 9 of 17 . However. across the entire signal path. To establish “RF line-of-sight. and the distance separating each Fresnel zone diminishes as the Fresnel zone number increases. 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.180 degrees off the main gain lobe or beam. Therefore. Failure to do so will result in additional signal loss caused by diffraction. where the length of the reflected path is exactly ½ wavelength longer than the direct signal path.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. we will not discuss the complexities of interference engineering in this document.For interference engineering and analysis purposes. These boundaries can be calculated with the following formula: F1 = 72.” The extra clearance is needed to establish an unobstructed propagation path boundary for the transmitted signal. we can simply focus on the definition of the 1st Fresnel zone boundary. Each succeeding Fresnel zone has an exact ½ wavelength relationship to the previous one. For now. which includes antenna gain characteristics out to +/. These boundaries are referred to as “Fresnel zones. based on its wavelength. it is necessary to obtain accurate antenna radiation pattern data from the antenna manufacturer. Although we are primarily concerned with clearing 60% of the 1st Fresnel zone radius to avoid signal diffraction loss.

Phase can be used to identify the state of progress within a cycle. one-quarter of a wavelength corresponds to 90 degrees of phase. Webster defines a cycle as: “an interval of time during which a sequence of a recurring succession of events or phenomena is completed. 0° 90° 180° 270° 0° 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. Phase relationships are important in radio communications. If this drawing were extended.8 Phase and Its Relationships Phase can be described either in terms of degrees or radians (1 radian being approximately 57. with an amplitude voltage that varies much like the drawing below. one-half of a wavelength corresponds to 180 degrees of phase.Fn = 72.3 degrees). This paper will refer to degrees. which is equivalent to 360 degrees—or one wavelength. Accordingly. the next cycle would be identical to the previous one. since radio signals propagate through the atmosphere in analog form. and so on. at the rate of the system frequency. because it relates more clearly to microwave system design.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. Frank Jimenez Page 10 of 17 .” The drawing below represents one complete cycle. and so on. depicted in red.

because the two signals will add. as in the case of a multi-path reflected signal. as depicted by the red and green signals in the following drawing. it is possible for them to arrive at the destination in different phase states. 0° 90° 180° 270° 0° Obviously. opposing ones subtract. Frank Jimenez Page 11 of 17 . causing the signals to cancel each other. there will be no problem. 0° 90° 180° 270° 0° In the following example. these illustrations present extreme cases. In this case. the red and blue signals have a 180-degree phase (or opposing) relationship with one another. Just as in-phase vectors add. As long as the signals travel a direct path between the antennas. but the results always follow the same principle. This relationship frequently occurs in the case of a multi-path reflected signal. however. The degree of signal cancellation depends on the degree of phase opposition and the relative amplitude of the two signals. they will arrive fairly closely in phase with one another. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. resulting in an increase of signal strength.Since atmospherically propagated radio signals can take many paths between one point and another.

or glass surfaces with metallic tinting. During the design process. 3. To avoid path obstructions. lakes or ponds of standing water. These steps should be completed before any equipment is ordered. road surfaces. In a few cases. they simply install the antennas as high as possible. 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. Frank Jimenez Page 12 of 17 . For example. 2. In addition. the only technically feasible solution to a stable system may not even be economically or politically feasible. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. and reliability analysis of the system design. Multi-path reflected signals frequently cause problems in wireless systems that have been implemented without proper path engineering.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. Sometimes this approach works. The following sketch depicts what occurs to a signal during the reflection process.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. link. When a system cannot be made to work. In other words. it produces systems with unpredictable multi-path outages and susceptibility to interference from other systems in the area. the top of the original signal becomes the bottom of the reflected one. while avoiding the cost of system engineering. flat metal surfaces. hoping to overcome any obstacles. 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. this kind of unintended but efficient reflection can occur on empty parking lots. and surface characteristics. such that its amplitude can equal or exceed the amplitude of the direct signal. terrain topology. The resulting report provides crucial information that is required by the system engineer in order to perform reflection. This has the following negative effects: 1. When people don’t understand path engineering.3. it can provide gain to the reflected signal. Reflections occurring at small angles result in an inversion of the signal. and is prepared by the field engineer who carefully verifies and documents antenna coordinates. if the reflection surface is reasonably flat and has sufficient area. path obstacles. such as the windows of modern office buildings. but far more frequently. primarily due to the high ratio of path length versus antenna height above a specific reflection point. as the reflected signal becomes inverted. The path survey report is a very important part of the microwave system engineering. they often believe that providing a “line-of-sight” path between the two antennas is the only requirement. it’s better to avoid selling the system than to end up with a dissatisfied customer—and “eating” the cost of the system. 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.

Under normal circumstances. propagation velocity is approximately 99. 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. and so on. Keep this principle in mind. Atmospheric Layers Refracted Wave Front Earth Surface Atmospheric Refraction In “normal” atmosphere near the earth’s surface. Vegetation consumes carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. atmospheric density decreases linearly with altitude. resulting in a propagation velocity differential between the top and bottom of a wave front.11 Atmospheric Refraction Earth is a living source of the gases. we consume oxygen and emit carbon dioxide and other gases.997% of that in free space. Autos generate carbon monoxide. as we discuss the effects of atmospheric refraction. as shown in the following example. Population-to-vegetation density varies with region. which significantly affects radio signal propagation.3. Livestock operations generate methane. vapors. Atmospheric content and density varies significantly with local geophysical characteristics and time of day and season. We have already discussed radio wave propagation—and the formulas that define this process in a vacuum or free space. and water molecules that make up our atmosphere. 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. For example. The only thing one can say for sure is that the atmosphere changes dynamically and is never constant. Frank Jimenez Page 13 of 17 . These differences in propagation velocity result in refraction of a signal propagated through the atmosphere. as does temperature and humidity. which decreases as it dissipates outward from the earth’s surface.

This section focuses on “physical earth bulge. The bending of the radio signal path caused by differences in atmospheric density is referred to as atmospheric refraction. For now.” which describes the type and amount of refraction. This assumes that the earth’s surface is flat. so usage must be specific. with the peak of the bulge occurring at mid-path.12 Physical Earth Bulge Line-of-sight radio system engineering must deal with the effects of earth curvature. 3. The earth surface appears to “bulge upwards” in the path. Frank Jimenez Page 14 of 17 . “physical earth bulge. and it arcs in the same direction as the earth curvature. The amount of physical “earth bulge” along a path can be calculated from the following formula: h= d1 • d 2 1 . but to a lesser to a degree. or “Earth Bulge” as it is sometimes called. The second. we are simply introducing the concepts of atmospheric refraction and the K factor. A K factor greater than 1 describes a condition where the refracted signal path deviates from a straight line. it propagates faster than the lower part. and it arcs in the direction opposite the earth curvature. The first form. “effective earth bulge.” refers only to the effects of physical earth curvature. this document will explain the importance of the K factor in line-of-sight radio engineering.” includes both the effects of physical earth curvature and the effects of atmospheric refraction.lower part to which it is coupled. For example: A K factor of 1 describes a condition where there is no refraction of the signal. In radio path profiling. with no topological variation along the path between the two points.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. Later. atmospheric refraction is also referred to as “the K factor.” Earth bulge describes the effect of physical earth curvature along a direct path between two points on the earth’s surface. A K factor of less than 1 describes a condition where the refracted signal path deviates from a straight line. and it propagates in a straight line. the effects of physical “earth bulge” must be added to the terrain topology (earth surface variation) profile. This term can reflect two different forms. In radio engineering. The result is a signal path that normally tends to follow earth curvature.

Physical Earth Bulge reflects earth curvature only and does not take into account the effects of atmospheric refraction.” 3. or maximum “physical earth bulge” point. totally canceling any “earth bulge” effect. Frank Jimenez Page 15 of 17 . 1.” This modified profile. Under these conditions “effective earth bulge” will be equal to “physical (or true) earth bulge.” 4. the refractive signal path arc follows earth curvature exactly.” 3.” This refers to the amount of “earth bulge” that would normally result under these “standard” atmospheric conditions. it can be stated that the relationship between the two arcs remains constant for infinity. Since the propagated signal arc follows earth curvature exactly regardless of path length. and “effective earth bulge” will be greater than “physical earth bulge.The data point shown in the example above happens to be the mid-path point. 1. this curvature effectively reduces the amount of “earth bulge”—making it less than it is. a modified earth bulge profile results. known as “effective earth bulge. making the earth appear “flat”. it is easy to become confused about K factors and earth bulge. When K = infinity. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. Instead.33 (4/3) times that of true earth radius. Because the signal arc of a propagated signal path through “normal atmosphere” follows earth curvature. must be used in determining path clearance. but it could be any point along the path. When K equals a number greater than 1. Any discussion of effective earth bulge must begin with an understanding of the following rules. which is known as “Effective Earth Bulge. to a degree. we refer to this condition as K=4/3. discussed in the following section. combined with physical earth bulge.” a modified profile is produced.” Keep the following four rules in mind. the refractive signal path is an arc in the same direction as earth curvature. K factor represents the amount and type of atmospheric signal refraction. 3. 2.13 Effective Earth Bulge Effective earth bulge represents the effects of atmospheric refraction. thereby reducing “effective earth bulge” to something less than “physical earth bulge. Microwave signals propagated through normal atmospheric conditions do not travel in a straightline. they “normally” propagate in an arc with a radius approximately 1. 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. 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. When K=1. or K. but may vary significantly from earth curvature. when considered in strictly physical terms. Therefore. or “normal earth. When the effects of atmospheric refraction are combined with “physical earth bulge.” 2. since they are true under all conditions. and the signal path is a straight line. there is no refractive effect. When K is less than 1. or K. When these two parameters are combined. Otherwise. the refractive signal path arc is inverted (opposite) relative to physical earth curvature. we must always combine Physical Earth Bulge with the effects of atmospheric refraction. For purposes of line-of-sight radio link design.

without any refraction effects (K=1). Changes in atmospheric refraction are the most common cause of signal fading that occurs on line-of-sight microwave paths. which consume fade margin. making its surface appear like a “bowl”.” The same 10-mile path. If the amount of temporary diffraction loss exceeds available fade margin.” in feet. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. would have a reduced mid-path “earth bulge” of 12.5 • 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. The first and most obvious change is the difference in path clearance caused by changing the amount of “earth bulge. since the K value is less than 1. with the effects of K=2/3 refraction. Frank Jimenez Page 16 of 17 . typically due to secondary effects. due to earth curvature. This would be very similar to “visual line-of-sight. The following formula can be used to compute “effective earth bulge. would have an increased mid-path “earth bulge” of 25 feet. When K = Negative. The resulting refraction arc is inverted with respect to earth curvature. at any data point in a path.7 feet.5 feet.5. and effectively reverses the curvature of the earth with respect to the signal path. This result compensates for the signal path’s tendency to follow earth curvature as a result of atmospheric refraction.” A loss of critical path clearance can result in diffraction losses. then a system outage will occur—until the refraction index is restored to its original condition and “gives back” the necessary path clearance. It includes the effects of the applicable K factor: h= d1 • d 2 1 . with the effects of K=4/3 refraction. The same 10-mile path. the refractive signal path is an arc that exceeds physical earth curvature (beyond K = infinity).

One exception might be a challenging path implemented over water or in a region subject to temperature inversions and/or ducting. path clearances must be checked under these same conditions. However. there are no short cuts to success in reliable microwave radio link design. and analyze where the reflection point may move within the range of possible refraction conditions that can occur. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. Although atmospheric refraction can exceed either of these values on occasion. which were specifically designed for building-to-building data networking applications. Consideration must be given to maintaining adequate clearance for the “inner 60%. while not allowing the reflection point on the path to be visible to both antennas. By its nature. some sort of space diversity path design will be required. not guesswork and shortcuts. It is possible to effectively address them all up front. 4. will dictate what the maximum reliable path distance will be. provided that adequate fade margin is designed into the system. the signal beam alignment would be restored to the original conditions when atmospheric conditions of K=4/3 return. depending on K factor.0 Summary As you can see. The physics of each individual path. and the predicted level of system performance can be achieved when the system is installed and cut-over. then system designers must choose antenna heights that will place the point on a non-reflective surface along the path. so that an accurate bill of materials can be developed and quoted. These systems typically require space diversity. 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. 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. position it on an odd-numbered Fresnel zone. Frank Jimenez Page 17 of 17 . these criteria virtually assure that path availability objectives will be met. The effect would be similar to mis-aiming both antennas for the duration of time that the refraction index is changed. proper antenna support structures ordered and put in place.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. and the atmospheric refractivity conditions that can occur in the environment that the path is located in.” They are simply engineering issues that must be addressed by the designer of the system. A systematic and detailed engineering approach is required to assure predictable results. and none of them fall into the category of “black magic. If the required path distance exceeds what can be reliably achieved.” the invisible Fresnel zone. Assuming that the antennas were aimed with atmospheric conditions of K=4/3. since an increase or decrease in the height of path obstructions will occur. If visibility of the reflection point cannot be avoided. engineering is a discipline of science and precision. In addition. None of these problems are impossible to manage. which is not supported by most products. Further details of microwave path and system design will be provided in a separate paper.

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