Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering

© 1999 J. Frank Jimenez

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

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

The human auditory system can detect cyclical barometric pressure changes occurring at rates between 20 to 20. They also need clearance for what is referred to as “the 1st Fresnel zone. compared to microwave frequencies—approximately 0. and they are. therefore.1 Frequency Frequency is measured in terms of the number of events in a given time duration. The moon completes a single cycle in about a month—or a frequency of approximately 12 cycles per year. This same characteristic applies to radio frequency signals.” whose boundaries vary with the frequency and wavelength of the specific system. 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 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. 3. Fresnel zones will be discussed in depth later in this paper.” This extra clearance is needed because the wavelength of visible light is extremely short. High frequency sounds tend to propagate in a more directional or “lineof-sight” manner than lower frequencies. or 0. boom” we can hear (or feel) from a high-powered audio system three cars away at a signal light. It is interesting to note that low frequency sounds tend to propagate in a less directional manner than high frequency sounds.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. attenuated to a larger degree by obstructions. while the highest frequency sounds from a tweeter are usually not audible unless one is situated in front of the speaker. they generally require a “line-of-sight” (LOS) propagation path.0000216 inches.3.55 microns. Since microwave frequencies have short wavelengths. as evidenced by the low frequency “boom. This results in a 1st Fresnel zone boundary that is virtually non-existent for a “visual line-of-sight” path.000 cycles per second. Frank Jimenez Page 4 of 17 . 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. 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. particularly signals in the microwave frequency range where most wireless broadband communication systems operate.

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. for a 528-foot-long.183 inches These seemingly minute differences can be far more important than they seem at first. 2. wavelength is considerably longer (4. you need to understand wavelength. similar to the way it affects speed. Over these distances. This means that the RF signal transmitted through that particular cable is slowed to 85% of its free-space velocity.036 inches at 5. Wavelength is related to system frequencies and is an important factor in determining free space loss. which is commonly used in RF antenna systems.At microwave frequencies. or 300. From a practical standpoint. each of varying density. Our atmosphere consists of numerous gases and water vapor. the minute differences in each wavelength become very significant. Frank Jimenez Page 5 of 17 . or some other transmission medium.9997 = 4. The resulting 60% 1st Fresnel zone boundaries range from approximately 3 feet.” 3. 5.000.4 GHz and 2. frequency has to go higher.921 inches One 2400 MHz wavelength in normal atmosphere = 11811/2400 x .8 GHz). Electromagnetic waves propagate at the speed of light (in free-space or a vacuum). As a result. because of the vast number of wavelengths required to cover even a single mile. to over 57 feet for a 15-mile-long. Coaxial cable slows the signal down even more. and Fresnel Zone boundaries—as well as the phase relationship between two signals. “radio frequency line-of-sight” differs significantly from “visual line-of-sight. What does this have to do with wavelength? As shown in the following example.8 GHz path. the results of these formulae are approximate.920 inches One 2400 MHz wavelength in LMR 400 coax = 11811/2400 x . Times Microwave LMR 400 coaxial cable. Although this principle is true. since radio link systems have path lengths that are measured in miles. however. since real-world electromagnetic waves propagate through a medium. whether it’s the atmosphere. To derive wavelength in inches.92 inches at 2. These materials slow the propagation of radio waves to approximately 99.000 meters per second. one can divide 11811 (the number of inches in 300 meters) by the frequency in MHz. antenna gain. wavelength in meters can be calculated by dividing the number 300 by the frequency in MHz.4 GHz path. a conductor. the density of the transmission medium produces changes in radio wavelengths. exceptions must be made when there are differences in propagation velocity.2 Wavelength To be able to solve radio system engineering problems. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. For example.85 = 4. has a velocity factor of 85%. By including the clearance needed for 60% of the first Fresnel zone. One 2400 MHz wavelength in free-space = 11811/2400 = 4.97% of their speed in a vacuum or free space.

979400) = 118. This occurs because higher frequencies have shorter wavelengths. With that frequency and wavelength. then his frequency would be 2000 cycles per hour.” Consequently. The amount of free space attenuation can be computed using the following formula: 36. which have longer wavelength.604225 Log (5) = 0. This establishes his wavelength (or linear distance per cycle) at 1 meter.698970 (x20) = 13. commonly referred to as path loss. it will help you understand atmospheric refraction.6 + 20 Log (F) + 20 Log (D) Where: F = Frequency in MHz D = Distance in Miles Example: A 2. With every cyclical movement of its tail.380211 (x20) = 67.183625 dB 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J.6 + 67. the higher the frequency (and shorter the wavelength). The fish would still complete 2000 cycles of tail movement in one hour. Its wavelength under these conditions would now be ½ meter in linear distance per cycle. wavelength is shortened without a corresponding change in frequency. with 2000 cycles of tail movement.3 Free Space Loss Free space attenuation. the more rapidly the signals weaken as they propagate. let’s say the fish must swim out of the still lake and move upstream in a river flowing at 1 kilometer per hour. During each cycle (wavelength) the signals propagate. that this distance is achieved in still water. and is dependent upon the frequency of the system involved and the length of the signal path. These same principals apply to radio signals propagating through mediums that modify their propagation speed. If you keep this phenomenon in mind. As propagation velocity decreases.979400 Path Loss = (36.4 GHz 5 mile path Log (2400) = 3. which will be explained later in this document. Now. some of their energy is “spent. rather than 1 meter as in still water. the fish moves forward in the water one meter.604225 + 13. the fish could cover a linear distance of 2000 meters in an hour. Free space attenuation (or loss) increases as frequency goes up. representing propagation in free space. and to cover a given distance. If the fish can complete and maintain 2000 tail cycles per hour. Although the formula for computing free space attenuation assumes signal propagation in a vacuum (outer space). the attenuation through the atmosphere is reasonably similar. Keep in mind. for a given unit of distance. but it would only cover a linear distance of 1 kilometer in that same time period.Let’s use the example of a fish swimming in a still lake. they must complete many more cycles than lower frequency signals. 3. however. Frank Jimenez Page 6 of 17 .

Therefore. with ¼ wavelength then being approximately 0. water droplets of smaller size. unless path lengths are extremely short and rainfall attenuation is factored into the system fade margin. antenna gain will go up in either of these two situations—if frequency goes up (allowing more. Although there are many types of antennas. systems designed with frequencies as low as 10 GHz should allow additional fade margin to overcome the attenuation effects of precipitation. as well as its wavelength relationship to that of the particular frequency involved. For systems at frequencies above 23 GHz. This numerical ratio increase would correspond to a gain of 6 dB in voltage (20 Log) terms. The number of wavelengths in its signal-capture area determines gain of an antenna. most point-to-point microwave systems utilize parabolic antennas in order to achieve the required gain and reduce interference. This instantaneous rainfall rate would result in approximately 66 dB of rain attenuation over a 23GHz. From a practical standpoint. shorter wavelengths) or if the size of signal-capture area goes up (also allowing more wavelengths). If the net size were increased from 1 square foot to 2 square feet. can become a major consideration for these millimeter wave systems. Imagine that radio energy is represented by hundreds of butterflies fluttering across the sky with an equal density of 3 butterflies per square foot. The standard 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. Frank Jimenez Page 7 of 17 . 3. The concept of signal-capture area can be explained with the following analogy. with ¼ wavelength then being approximately 0. deflectors) in the path of a 23-GHz signal. including fog. wavelength is directly related to frequency.3.509 inches. 11811/23000 = 0. Now visualize a 1-square-foot butterfly net being held in their path to “capture” butterflies.128 inches Basically. raindrops can easily attain a dimension of 1/8 inch or more. a doubling of the number. while having much less impact on a 5. we simply divide 11811 by the frequency in MHz. effectively becoming multiple reflectors (or more accurately stated. That’s why 23-GHz systems are not a very wise choice for some parts of the country. the gain of an antenna increases by 6 dB each time the signal capture area is doubled. In other words. To determine the wavelength in inches.514.5 Antenna Gain Antenna gain is directly related to frequency and the antenna signal-capture area. As explained earlier. 4-mile path. The detrimental effects of precipitation vary according to the physical properties of its form. as shown in the following calculations: 11811/5800 = 2. which comes in many forms. and one can determine the approximate wavelength of a frequency in free space.036. they become highly reflective at that frequency.8 GHz signal. when an object’s physical properties approach ¼ wavelength of a particular frequency. Point rainfall rates approaching 4 inches per hour can occur in many parts of Florida and the states located along the Gulf of Mexico.4 Precipitation Loss Frequency and wavelength are also affected by precipitation. rather than 3 butterflies. As shown in the two examples above. we would capture 6. 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.

66 dBi 3. which is closely related to the forward gain of an antenna. results in gain figures that fall within the median distribution of antennas available on the market: 7.56 Parabolic Antenna Gain = (7. From the standpoint of interference rejection. 6 foot diameter.4) = 0. parabolic antenna 70/(2. Since antenna gain results from redirecting available radiated energy in a given direction.380211 (x20) = 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. Consequently.4 x 6) = 4. It only provides an industry-standard method of defining the antenna’s main forward gain characteristics.3 degrees off the antenna’s beam peak. they are often used to solve interference problems when the interference source may be located off-azimuth from the affected system path.6 Antenna Beam-width Antenna beam-width is another important antenna parameter.4 GHz. 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 + 15.5 + 20 Log (F) + 20 Log (D) Where: F = Frequency in GHz D = Diameter in Feet Example: A 2. the antenna still has 27 dBi of gain.formula for computing parabolic antenna gain assumes 55% illumination efficiency of the antenna’s capture area.5 + 7.6 Log (6) = 0. shown below. the lower its gain in other directions.4 GHz. parabolic antenna Log (2.56) = 30. nothing more. Frank Jimenez Page 8 of 17 . then at +/. This formula. If an antenna has 30 dBi of gain and a 6-degree beam-width. 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. this specification has little value. That’s why larger antennas with higher gain are more directional.778151 (x20) = 15. the higher the antenna gain of an antenna in its forward direction. 6 foot diameter. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J.

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

and so on. and so on.8 Phase and Its Relationships Phase can be described either in terms of degrees or radians (1 radian being approximately 57. Accordingly. If this drawing were extended. Webster defines a cycle as: “an interval of time during which a sequence of a recurring succession of events or phenomena is completed. one-half of a wavelength corresponds to 180 degrees of phase. since radio signals propagate through the atmosphere in analog form. Phase relationships are important in radio communications. the next cycle would be identical to the previous one. because it relates more clearly to microwave system design.Fn = 72. 0° 90° 180° 270° 0° 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. Phase can be used to identify the state of progress within a cycle. at the rate of the system frequency.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.” The drawing below represents one complete cycle. Frank Jimenez Page 10 of 17 .3 degrees). with an amplitude voltage that varies much like the drawing below. which is equivalent to 360 degrees—or one wavelength. one-quarter of a wavelength corresponds to 90 degrees of phase. depicted in red. This paper will refer to degrees.

This relationship frequently occurs in the case of a multi-path reflected signal. causing the signals to cancel each other. 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. there will be no problem. As long as the signals travel a direct path between the antennas. but the results always follow the same principle. Frank Jimenez Page 11 of 17 . 0° 90° 180° 270° 0° In the following example. because the two signals will add. opposing ones subtract. as in the case of a multi-path reflected signal. these illustrations present extreme cases. 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. however. resulting in an increase of signal strength. Just as in-phase vectors add. In this case. 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. 0° 90° 180° 270° 0° Obviously.

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

which significantly affects radio signal propagation. propagation velocity is approximately 99. For example. as does temperature and humidity.11 Atmospheric Refraction Earth is a living source of the gases. vapors. as shown in the following example. and so on. as we discuss the effects of atmospheric refraction. Atmospheric content and density varies significantly with local geophysical characteristics and time of day and season. 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. The only thing one can say for sure is that the atmosphere changes dynamically and is never constant.3.997% of that in free space. Vegetation consumes carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. 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. Atmospheric Layers Refracted Wave Front Earth Surface Atmospheric Refraction In “normal” atmosphere near the earth’s surface. We have already discussed radio wave propagation—and the formulas that define this process in a vacuum or free space. Keep this principle in mind. Frank Jimenez Page 13 of 17 . which decreases as it dissipates outward from the earth’s surface. Population-to-vegetation density varies with region. atmospheric density decreases linearly with altitude. These differences in propagation velocity result in refraction of a signal propagated through the atmosphere. Under normal circumstances. and water molecules that make up our atmosphere. resulting in a propagation velocity differential between the top and bottom of a wave front. Livestock operations generate methane. Autos generate carbon monoxide. we consume oxygen and emit carbon dioxide and other gases.

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

Any discussion of effective earth bulge must begin with an understanding of the following rules. and “effective earth bulge” will be greater than “physical earth bulge. known as “effective earth bulge. 1. Otherwise. and the signal path is a straight line.” This refers to the amount of “earth bulge” that would normally result under these “standard” atmospheric conditions. it is easy to become confused about K factors and earth bulge. When K equals a number greater than 1. the refractive signal path is an arc in the same direction as earth curvature. there is no refractive effect. discussed in the following section. the refractive signal path arc is inverted (opposite) relative to physical earth curvature.The data point shown in the example above happens to be the mid-path point.” 4. we must always combine Physical Earth Bulge with the effects of atmospheric refraction. but may vary significantly from earth curvature. since they are true under all conditions. making the earth appear “flat”. Microwave signals propagated through normal atmospheric conditions do not travel in a straightline. when considered in strictly physical terms. which is known as “Effective Earth Bulge. For purposes of line-of-sight radio link design. must be used in determining path clearance. 2. totally canceling any “earth bulge” effect. or K.” 3. we refer to this condition as K=4/3. Because the signal arc of a propagated signal path through “normal atmosphere” follows earth curvature. combined with physical earth bulge. Physical Earth Bulge reflects earth curvature only and does not take into account the effects of atmospheric refraction. When these two parameters are combined. they “normally” propagate in an arc with a radius approximately 1. this curvature effectively reduces the amount of “earth bulge”—making it less than it is.” This modified profile. thereby reducing “effective earth bulge” to something less than “physical earth bulge. a modified earth bulge profile results.” Keep the following four rules in mind. or maximum “physical earth bulge” point. When the effects of atmospheric refraction are combined with “physical earth bulge. the refractive signal path arc follows earth curvature exactly. 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. or K. When K = infinity. Therefore.13 Effective Earth Bulge Effective earth bulge represents the effects of atmospheric refraction. When K=1. to a degree.33 (4/3) times that of true earth radius. Instead. Under these conditions “effective earth bulge” will be equal to “physical (or true) earth bulge. but it could be any point along the path. 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.” 3. K factor represents the amount and type of atmospheric signal refraction.” 2. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. When K is less than 1. or “normal earth. 1. 3.” a modified profile is produced. Frank Jimenez Page 15 of 17 . 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.

which consume fade margin. making its surface appear like a “bowl”.7 feet. When K = Negative.” in feet. and effectively reverses the curvature of the earth with respect to the signal path. without any refraction effects (K=1). at any data point in a path. It includes the effects of the applicable K factor: h= d1 • d 2 1 . then a system outage will occur—until the refraction index is restored to its original condition and “gives back” the necessary path clearance. This would be very similar to “visual line-of-sight. with the effects of K=4/3 refraction. The first and most obvious change is the difference in path clearance caused by changing the amount of “earth bulge. The following formula can be used to compute “effective earth bulge. Frank Jimenez Page 16 of 17 . would have an increased mid-path “earth bulge” of 25 feet. This result compensates for the signal path’s tendency to follow earth curvature as a result of atmospheric refraction. The resulting refraction arc is inverted with respect to earth curvature. would have a reduced mid-path “earth bulge” of 12.” The same 10-mile path. the refractive signal path is an arc that exceeds physical earth curvature (beyond K = infinity). 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 16.5. 30 March 1999 Fundamentals of Radio Link Engineering © 1999 J. due to earth curvature.5 feet. typically due to secondary effects. since the K value is less than 1. The same 10-mile path.” A loss of critical path clearance can result in diffraction losses. with the effects of K=2/3 refraction. Changes in atmospheric refraction are the most common cause of signal fading that occurs on line-of-sight microwave paths.

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

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful