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Electromagnetic wave is electrical energy that has escaped into free space.
Electromagnetic waves can travel in a straight line at approximately the speed of light and
are made up of magnetic and electric fields that are at right angles to each other and at
right angles to direction of propagation.

Essential properties of radio waves:

1. Frequency
2. Intensity
3. Direction of travel
4. Plane of polarization

Polarization of a plane electromagnetic wave is simply the orientation of the electric
field vector in respect to the surface of the Earth. If polarization remains constant, it is
described as linear polarization. Horizontal and vertical polarizations are two forms of
linear polarization. If the electric field is propagating parallel to the Earths surface, the
wave is said to be horizontally polarized. If the electric field is propagating perpendicular
to the Earths surface, the wave is said to be vertically polarized. If the polarization vector
rotates 360 as the wave moves one wavelength through space and the field strength is
equal at all angles of polarization, the wave is described as having circular polarization.
When the field strength varies with changes in polarization, this is described as elliptical

A rotating wave can turn in either direction. If the vector rotates in clockwise
direction, it is right handed, and if the vector rotates in counter clock wise direction, it is
considered left handed.


Radio waves are electromagnetic waves simply because they are made up of an
electric and a magnetic field. The magnetic field is and invisible force field produced by a
magnet such as a conductor when current is flowing through it. Magnetic fields are
continuous; however, it is standard for performing calculations and measurements to
represent a magnetic field with individual lines of force. The strength of a magnetic field
(H) produced around a conductor (such as a wire or an antenna) is expressed
mathematically as

where H = magnetic field (ampere turns per meter)
d = distance wire (meters)
Electric fields are also invisible force fields produced by a difference in voltage
potential between two conductors. Electric field strength (E) is expressed mathematically

where E = electric field strength (volts per meter)
q = charge between conductors (coulombs)
= permittivity (farads per meter)
d = distance between conductors (meters)

Permittivity is the dielectric constant of the material separating the two conductors.
The permittivity of air or free space is approximately 8.85x10


The rate at which energy passes through a given surface area in free space is called
power density. Therefore, power density is energy per unit time per unit of area and is
usually given in watts per square meter. Field intensity is the intensity of the electric and
magnetic fields of an electromagnetic wave propagating in free space. Electric field
intensity is usually given in volts per meter and magnetic field intensity in ampere turns
per meter (At/m). Mathematically, power density is

where P = power density (watts per meter squared)
rms electric field intensity (volts per meter)
rms magnetic field intensity (ampere turns per meter)


The electric and magnetic field intensities of an electromagnetic wave in free space are
related through the characteristic impedance (resistance) of free space. The characteristic
impedance of a lossless transmission medium is equal to the square root of the ratio of its
magnetic permeability to its electric permittivity. Mathematically, the characteristic
impedance of free space (Zs) is

where Zs = characteristic impedance of free space (ohms)
o = magnetic permeability of free space (1.26 x 10
o = electric permittivity of free space (8.85 x 10

Substituting the values of o and o into the equation will yield Zs 377
Using Ohms law, we obtain





Refraction is the changing of direction of an electromagnetic ray as it passes
obliquely from one medium into another with different atmosphere; energy is transferred
from one medium into another with different velocities of propagation.

The velocity at which an electromagnetic wave propagates is inversely proportional
to the density of the medium in which it is propagating. Therefore, refraction occurs
whenever a radio wave passes from one medium to another medium of different density.
Refraction of electromagnetic waves can be expressed in terms of refractive index of the
atmosphere it is passing through. Refractive index is the square root of the dielectric
constant and is expressed mathematically as

where n = the refractive index (unitless)
k = equivalent dielectric constant relative to free space (vacuum)


where N = number of electrons per cubic meter
f = frequency (kHz)

Whenever a ray passes from a less dense to a denser medium, it is effectively bent
toward the normal. Conversely when a ray passes from a more dense to a less dense
medium, it is effectively bent away from the normal. The angle of incidence is the angle
formed between the incident wave and the normal, and the angle of refraction is the angle
formed between the refracted wave and the normal.

The amount of bending or refraction that occurs at the interface of two materials of
different densities is quite predictable and depends on the refractive index (also called
index of refraction) of the two materials. The refractive index is simply the ratio of the
velocity of propagation of a light ray in free space to the velocity of propagation of a light
ray in a given material. Mathematically, the refractive index is

where n = refractive index (unit less)
c = speed of light in free space (3 x 10
v = speed of light in a given material (meters per second)

How an electromagnetic wave reacts when it meets the interface of two
transmissive materials that have different indexes of refraction can be explained with
Snells law, which simply states that





where n1 = refractive index of material 1
n2 = refractive index of material 2
1 = angle of incidence (degrees)
2 = angle of refraction (degrees)

The refractive index of a material is equal to the square root of its dielectric



where r1 = dielectric constant of medium 1
r2 = dielectric constant of medium 2


Reflect means to cast or turn back and reflection is the act of reflecting.
Electromagnetic reflection occurs when an incident wave strikes a boundary of two media
and some or all o the incident power does not enter the second material.


Diffraction is defined as the modulation or redistribution of energy within a
wavefront when it passes near the edge of an opaque object. Diffraction is the phenomenon
that allows light or radio waves to propagate around corners. When a wavefront passes
near an obstacle or discontinuity with dimensions comparable in size to a wavelength,
simple geometric analysis cannot be used to explain the results and Huygens principle is

Huygens principle states that every point on a given spherical wavefront can be
considered as a secondary point source of electromagnetic waves from which other
secondary waves (wavelets) are radiated outward.

Consequently, the wavefront spreads out, or scatters. This scattering effect is called
diffraction. Diffraction occurs around the edge of an obstacle, which allows secondary
waves to sneak around the corner of the obstacle into what is called the shadow zone.


Interfere means to come into opposition and interference is the act of interfering.
Radio wave interference occurs when two or more electromagnetic wave combine in such a
way that system performance is degraded. Interference is subjected to the principle of
linear superposition of electromagnetic waves and occurs whenever two or more waves
simultaneously occupy the same point in space. The principle of linear superposition states
that the total voltage intensity at a given point in space is the sum of the individual wave


Electromagnetic waves travelling within Earths atmosphere are called terrestrial
waves and communications between two or more points on Earth is called terrestrial radio
communications. Terrestrial waves are influenced by the atmosphere and Earth itself. In
terrestrial radio communications, electromagnetic waves can be propagated in several
ways, depending on the type of system and the environment. Essentially there are three
ways of propagating electromagnetic waves within Earths atmosphere: ground wave,
space wave and sky wave propagation.

Surface Wave Propagation

A surface wave is an Earth-guided electromagnetic wave that travels over the
surface of Earth. As a surface wave moves over Earths surface, it is accompanied by
charges induced in the Earth. The charges move with the wave, producing current. Since
the Earth offers resistance to the flow of current, energy is dissipated in a manner very
similar to those in a transmission line. Earths surface also has dielectric losses. Therefore,
surface waves are attenuated as they propagate.

Surface wave propagation is commonly used for ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore
communications, for radio navigation, and for maritime mobile communications. Surface
waves are used at frequencies as low as 15 kHz.

The disadvantages of surface waves:

Ground waves require a relatively high transmission power.
Ground waves are limited to very low, low and medium frequencies requiring large
Ground losses vary considerably with surface material and composition.

The advantages of ground wave propagation are as follows:

Given enough transmit power; ground waves can be used to communicate between
any two locations in the world.
Ground waves are relatively unaffected by changing atmospheric conditions.

Space Wave Propagation

Space wave propagation of electromagnetic energy includes radiated energy that
travels in the lower few miles of Earths atmosphere. Space waves include both direct and
ground reflected waves. Direct waves travel essentially in a straight line between the
transmit and receive antennas. Space wave propagation with direct waves is commonly
called line-of-sight transmission. Therefore, direct space wave propagation is limited by the
curvature of the Earth. Ground-reflected waves are waves reflected by Earths surface as
they propagate between transmit and receive antennas.

The curvature of Earth presents a horizon to space wave propagation commonly
called the radio horizon. Because of the atmospheric refraction, the radio horizon extends
beyond optical horizon for the common standard atmosphere.

The line-of-sight radio horizon for a single antenna at sea level is given as

where d = distance of radio horizon (miles)
h = antenna height above sea level (feet)

The distance between the two antennas at sea level is

where d = total distance (miles)
dt = radio horizon for transmit antenna (miles)
dr = radio horizon for receive antenna (miles)
ht = transmit antenna height (feet)
hr = receive antenna height (feet)

The maximum distance between a transmitter and a receiver over average terrain
can be approximated in metric units by the following equation:


where d = total distance (kilometers)
ht = transmit antenna height (meters)
hr = receive antenna height (meters)

Sky Wave Propagation


Critical Frequency and Critical Angle

Frequencies above the UHF range are virtually unaffected by the ionosphere
because of their extremely short wavelengths. At these frequencies, the distances between
ions are appreciable large and consequently, the electromagnetic waves pass through them
with little noticeable effect. Therefore, it stands to reason that there must be an upper
frequency limit for sky wave propagation. Critical frequency (fc) is the highest frequency
that can be propagated directly upward and still be returned to Earth by the ionosphere.
The critical frequency depends on the ionization density and therefore, varies with the time
of day and season.

Critical angle is the maximum vertical angle at which at which a given frequency can
be propagated and still refracted by the ionosphere.

Virtual Height

Virtual height is the height above Earths surface from which a refracted wave
appears to have been reflected.

Maximum Usable Frequency

The maximum usable frequency (MUF) is the highest frequency that can be used for
sky wave propagation between two specific points on Earths surface. MUF, as with the
critical frequency, is a limiting frequency for sky wave propagation. However, the
maximum usable frequency is for a specific angle of incidence. Mathematically, MUF is


where i is the angle of incidence.

Because of the general instability of the ionosphere, the highest frequency used
between two points is often selected lower than the MUF. It has been proven that operating
at a frequency 85% of the MUF provides more reliable communications. This frequency is
sometimes called the optimum working frequency (OWF)

Skip distance and Skip Zone

Skip distance is defined as the minimum distance from transmit antenna that a sky
wave at a given frequency will be returned to Earth. The frequency must be less than the
maximum usable frequency and propagated at its critical angle.

At distances greater than the skip distance, two rays can take different paths and
still be returned to the same point on Earth. The two rays are called the lower ray and the
upper or Pedersen ray. The Pedersen ray is usually of little significance, as it tend to be
much weaker than the lower ray because it spreads over a much larger area than the lower

The area between where the surface waves are completely dissipated and the point
where the first sky wave returns to Earth is called the quiet or skip zone because in this
area there is no reception.