The RF Engineer

James L Bradley July - 2007 One scenario that I often encounter in the world of wireless is our propensity to lay everything at the feet of the software, and in a great majority of the cases we have shifted away from the basics of RF design and planning. RF retains a similar attitude as to a small child, ‘you never know where it is going and in what shape or form it will be when it arrives’. Some of the basic theory hangs around in small corners of the engineering lab, supported by the people who climb the hills, drive through the cities looking for dead-spots and assembling data, and then composing a presentation to the management who only understand that they have just spent millions on a software package that will not only solve all the mysteries of communication, but on why the climate is changing. While the tried and true RF Engineer’s stand there with mouths agape listening to the tirade bouncing off their ears, in most cases not getting a word in edgeways, from management on why their multimillion dollar system won’t work, albeit a solution is usually found. It is a typical scenario, not in all cases – but consider this, where in this age of mass communications, with imported video from around the world, fiber laid so thick across the globe that a meteor strike would barely shake a light-bulb hanging on a bare wire from the ceiling, the management only knows someone is telling them it won’t work. Millions of bytes per sec fly around the world containing information that defies the imagination, now you stand there as an RF Engineer telling the board of directors that their buddies driving around in their $450,000 Bentley’s will not be able to communicate in all parts of his fine city – not well received. The RF Engineer today faces more than just the physics of radio wave propagation, where they bang their heads against the wall in fighting the RF environmentalists who state with unequivocal certainty that RF is raising the incidence of asthma, autistic children and in some cases increasing mad cow disease – in addition, you can’t put that antenna in their backyard. attempting to walk on water. Getting a permit today, in areas where most of the traffic will be generated is not unlike

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And these actions take place after the engineer(s) have completed months and months of survey’s and spent countless dollars in their search, that includes off the air signal analysis, along with burning the midnight oil writing countless reports on why or why not a certain location will or will not serve the goal. As a breed they all are jealous in their demand for height, more height and extreme height – hoping to achieve multiple line-of-sight paths, some mistake this as a goal in making their task an easy one – no, it is just a basic premise in highfrequency design. After the AM band, the RF Engineer climbs onto the “height is good” bandwagon, until he runs smack into the FCC and their frequency allocations, new and grandfathered, and he has to sit back and reassess his design or incorporate changes he guards with a passion. They lay the topo’s end –to- end across the engineering lab, spend hours looking at lines on these maps, spilling countless cups of coffee on them, smile when they find a couple of hills that will enhance their plan. They sleep, eat and walk the RF world – dreaming of their signal entering and visiting every place on the earth and beyond. They talk mostly in a language that even seasoned software developers do not understand, as some RF old timers have a difficult time comprehending code other than the one Sam and Alfred developed in the 1830s. Why not? They’re RF Engineers. Over the years, they, more than most, understand that radio systems demand tradeoffs or compromises, where coverage, quality and capacity must be balanced in achieving their desired level of performance. Wider coverage, normally a good thing, means using higher-powered mobiles which results in more interference, a loss of quality. Increased capacity demands more calls in the same amount of spectrum, which results in dropped or blocked calls in the same spectrum and again a loss of quality. Although dated, the saying, radio system are not sold, but engineered, is never truer than in today’s environment of increased demand and limited access.

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