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Electromagnetic waves, often referred to as radio waves,

are waves of energy that are similar to light waves and


travel through the air at the speed of light. To understand
how an antenna works you must first have a basic idea of
the make-up of a radio wave. A radio wave can be
visualized as a sine wave. The distance a wave travels to
complete one cycle is known as the wavelength of the
signal. A 2.4GHz signal (such as Bluetooth, WiFi, Zigbee
or WiMedia) completes a cycle as it travels through the air
every 12.5 cm. The wavelength of visible light is less than
5 um.
The formula for wavelength is:
where is the
wavelength, c is the speed of light, and f the frequency
(cycles per second).
In vacuum and air, c is equal to the speed of light (299 793
077 m/s), but as you will soon see, radio waves are slower
when passing through other materials and hence the
wavelength will be shorter. This is of great importance
when designing antennas. See Material influence on
wavelength.
Electromagnetic spectrum

Basically, a transmitting antenna transmits by


exciting it at the base (or at a pair of antinodes),
while in a receiving antenna, the applied
electromagnetic field is distributed throughout the

entire length of the antenna to receive the signal.


The magnetic field that the transmitting antenna
radiates will produce an electric current on any
metal surface that it strikes. However, if the metal
that the signal strikes has a certain length
relation to the wavelength the induced current will
be much stronger on the object.
We stated before that as a signal at 2.4GHz
travels through the air, it completes a cycle in
approximately 12 cm. If the signal strikes a 12
cm antenna or fractions of it (1/2 or 1/4
wavelength = 6 or 3 cm), then the induced
current will be much higher than if the signal
struck a metal object that was not some
appreciable fraction of the wavelength. This is
known as antenna resonance. Every antenna
has at least one exact resonance point.
Note that an antenna also transmits a stronger
signal if it is resonant on the frequency used.
Antennas have a number of important
parameters, those of most interest include the
gain, radiation pattern, bandwidth and
polarization.

Without digging too deep into a complex domain,


lets look at a few facts that have great impact on
antenna design.
The dielectric constant is the relative permittivity
of a material. It is dimensionless and always
greater than 1. A dielectric constant of "1" is
equivalent to the permittivity of a vacuum, which
is a fundamental constant (associated with the
speed of light). In other words, vacuum has the
lowest possible permittivity.

The higher figures a material shows for


permittivity, the slower the radio waves will pass
and thus making a radio a signal of e.g. 2.4 GHz
present a wavelength shorter than 12 cm. This
means that if an antenna is covered with a
material with high permittivity it will, for the same
frequency, find its resonant point with a shorter
(smaller) antenna than would have been the case
if it was an open wire. A value
will result in
half the wavelength. This sounds good when you
want to build antennas for small devices, but
whats the catch? The catch is that the higher the
permittivity, the more the energy will be reflected
inside the antenna before leaving it, and the more
inferior and narrow-banded the antenna will get.
Also, a very small antenna has less surface to
absorb the incoming wave. Ceramic antennas can
be built very small .

VSWR is a measure of impedance mismatch


between the transmission line and its load. The
higher the VSWR, the greater the mismatch. The
minimum VSWR, i.e., that which corresponds to a
perfect impedance match, is unity.
To understand the definition above we must
understand what impedance is. Impedance in
antenna terms refers to the ratio of the voltage to
current (both are present on an antenna) at any
particular point of the antenna. This ratio of
voltage to current varies on different parts of the
antenna, which means that the impedance is
different on different spots on the antenna if you
could pick any spot and measure it.
As stated before, the impedance for the entire
chain from the radio to the antenna must be the
same, and almost all radio equipment is built for

an impedance of 50 ohm.
If any part of this chain fails to show a 50 ohm
impedance due to e.g. bad connections, incorrect
antenna length, etc., the maximum power will not
be radiated from the antenna. Instead part (or
all) of the wave is reflected back down the line.
The amount of the wave reflected back depends
on how bad the mismatch is.
The combination of the original wave traveling
down the coaxial cable (towards the antenna or
opposite during receive) and the reflecting wave
is called a standing wave. The ratio of the two
above described waves is known as the Standing
Wave Ratio.
The result is presented as a figure describing the
power absorption of the antenna. A value of 2.0:1
VSWR, which is equal to 90 % power absorption,
is considered very good for a small antenna:
3.0:1 is considered acceptable (-6dB) which is
equal to 75 % power absorption.

Smith Chart
One common way of visualizing the VSWR is a
polar plot called Smith chart. From this plot the
VSWR value, the return loss and the impedance
for the different frequencies can be derived.
Therefore it is an important instrument for

understanding antennas. To learn more about the


SMITH chart, see e.g. http://sssmag.com/smith.html

This is basically the same thing as VSWR.


If 50 % of the signal is absorbed by the antenna
and 50 % is reflected back, we say that the
Return Loss is -3dB. A very good antenna might
have a value of -10dB (90 % absorbed & 10 %
reflected).
When studying a graph showing Return
Loss/VSWR, a deep and wide dip of the curve is
good since this shows an antenna with good
bandwidth (spreadband). Consequently, the
narrower the dip is, the bigger risk that also
desired channels will be reflected away (narrow
band).
Return Loss Chart

Note: To be able to compare figures from


different manufacturers, you must be aware of
the conditions under which the measurement was
made. Was impedance matching used or not?

Conversion table VSWR / Return Loss


Performance VSWR
Return Loss (dB)
Better

Worse

1.01
1.05
1.1
1.2
1.3
1.4
1.5
1.75
2.0
2.5
3.01
5.85
8.72
17.4

-46.1
-32.3
-26.4
-20.8
-17.7
-15.6
14.0
-11.3
-9.5
-7.4
-6.0
-3.0
-2.0
-1.0

Normally a radio needs to work on multiple


frequencies. For example, the 2.4 GHz ISM band
used by Bluetooth/Wi-Fi/Zigbee/WiMedia devices
has a range from 2400-2483 MHz. In this band
WPAN communication uses 78 channels for its
frequency hopping technique, 1 MHz between
each channel.
This means that the antenna must perform well
over a range of frequencies. So, the goal must be
to make it resonant in the middle of that band.
The term that is important here is bandwidth or
how much band your antenna works well over.
One method of judging how well (efficiently) your
antenna is working is by measuring VSWR.
Typically, bandwidth is measured by looking at
SWR, i.e., by finding the frequency range over

which the SWR is less than 2.

Efficiency
is a figure showing the ratio of the total
radiated power
to the total input power .
Efficiency has no unit and the ideal figure is 1.

It is essential to know how the measurement was


performed before comparing figures from different
manufacturers: was a matching network used? Was
the measuring point as close to the antenna as
possible or was the transmission line included?
Often, the figure for efficiency will dramatically
decrease when the antenna is built into a device.
Note: This is a good figure of merit, especially for
small antennas.
Efficiency

Antenna gain is a measure of directivity. In order to


explain this better, we must first have a look at the
different antenna types and their radiation patterns.
Basically there are only two types of antennas: The
dipole antenna (Hertzian) and the vertical antenna
(Marconi). All antennas can be broken down to one
of these types (although some say that there is only
one - the dipole). In addition to this we have a
theoretical perfect antenna (non-existent) that
radiates equally in all directions with 100%
efficiency. This antenna is called an isotropic
radiator.
Basic Antenna types

Antenna Radiation Patterns

This is similar to gain but the heat losses (i.e. the


efficiency)
are disregarded. We will then get a pattern as the
dotted
line shown in the figure. Point "d" refers to
directivity,
point "a" to gain and point "b" to the isotropic
reference.

Gain presented as 3D gain

The gain can also be presented as a 3D gain. The


radius of the spheriod is proportional to the antenna
gain.
Gain in theory Since all real antennas will radiate

more in some directions than in others, you can say


that gain is the amount of power you can reach in
one direction at the expense of the power lost in the
others. When talking about gain it is always the
main lobe that is discussed.
Gain may be expressed as dBi or dBd. The first is
gain compared to the isotropic radiator and the
second gain is compared to a half-wave dipole in
free space (0 dBd=2.15 dBi).
It may be worthwhile considering the fact that
instead of doubling your amplifier output, you could
alternatively use an antenna that has 3db more gain
than your current antenna and achieve exactly the
same effect.
Note: Small antennas usually have low gain, often
between 0 and 2dBi.
Note: Regarding efficiency and radiation patterns what is true for transmission is generall also true for
reception.

This is similar to gain but the heat losses (i.e. the


efficiency) are disregarded. We will then get a
pattern as the dotted line shown in the figure.
Point "c" refers to directivity, point "a" to gain and
point "b" to the isotropic reference.

Radio waves are built by two fields, one electric and


one magnetic. These two field are perpendicular to
each other. The sum of the fields is the
electromagnetic field. Energy flows back and forth
from one field to the other - This is what is known
as "oscillation".
The position and direction of the electric field with
reference to the earths surface (the ground)
determines wave polarization. In general, the
electric field is the same plane as the antenna's
radiator.
Horizontal polarization the electric field is
parallel to the ground.
Vertical polarization -- the electric field is
perpendicular to the ground.
There is one special polarization known as Circular
polarization. As the wave travels it spins, covering
every possible angle. It can either be righthanded or
lefthanded circular polarization depending on which
way its spinning.

Note: Small antennas have no clear polarization.


Polarization chart

An ideal antenna solution has an impedance of 50


ohm all the way from the transceiver to the
antenna, to get the best possible impedance
match between transceiver, transmission line and
antenna. Since ideal conditions do not exist in
reality, the impedance in the antenna interface
often must be compensated by means of a
matching network, i.e. a net built with inductive
and/or capacitive components. The VSWR result
is optimized by choosing the proper layout and
component values for the matching net and the
maximum potential of the antenna is shown.

Decibel (dB) is a mathematical expression


showing the relationship between two values.
The RF power level at either transmitter output or

receiver input is expressed in Watts, but it can


also be expressed in dBm. The relation between
dBm and Watts can be expressed as follows:
P dBm = 10 x Log P mW
For example: 1 Watt = 1000 mW; P dBm = 10 x
Log 1000 = 30 dBm
100 mW; P dBm = 10 x Log 100 = 20 dBm
Conversion table dBm / Watt
dBm Watt
0

0,001

10

0,01

20

0,1

30

40

10

The following definitions are taken from IEEE


Standard Definitions of Terms for Antennas, IEEE
Std 145-1983.
Adaptive (smart) antenna: An antenna system
having circuit elements associated with its
radiating elements such that one or more of the
antenna properties are controlled by the received
signal.
Antenna polarization: In a specified direction
from an antenna and at a point in its far field, is
the polarization of the (locally) plane wave which
is used to represent the radiated wave at that
point.

Antenna: That part of a transmitting or receiving


system which is designed to radiate or to receive
electromagnetic waves.
Coaxial antenna: An antenna comprised of a
extension to the inner conductor of a coaxial line
and a radiating sleeve which in effect is formed by
folding back the outer conductor of the coaxial
line.
Collinear array antenna: A linear array of
radiating elements, usually dipoles, with their
axes lying in a straight line.
Co-polarization: That polarization which the
antenna is intended to radiate
Cross-polarization: In a specified plane
containing the reference polarization ellipse, the
polarization orthogonal to a specified reference
polarization.
Directional antenna: An antenna having the
property of radiating or receiving electromagnetic
waves more effectively in some directions than
others.
Effective radiated power (ERP): In a given
direction, the relative gain of a transmitting
antenna with respect to the maximum directivity
of a half-wave dipole multiplied by the net power
accepted by the antenna from the connected
transmitter.
E-plane: For a linearly polarized antenna, the
plane containing the electric field vector and the
direction of maximum radiation.
Far-field region: That region of the field of an
antenna where the angular field distribution is
essentially independent of the distance from a
specified point in the antenna region.
Frequency bandwidth: The range of frequencies

within which the performance of the antenna,


with respect to some characteristics, conforms to
a specified standard.
Front-to-back ratio: The ratio of the maximum
directivity of an antenna to its directivity in a
specified rearward direction.
Half-power beamwidth: In a radiation pattern
cut containing the direction of the maximum of a
lobe, the angle between the two directions in
which the radiation intensity is one-half the
maximum value.
Half-wave dipole: A wire antenna consisting of
two straight collinear conductors of equal length,
separated by a small feeding gap, with each
conductor approximately a quarter-wave length
long.
H-plane: For a linearly polarized antenna, the
plane containing the magnetic field vector and the
direction of maximum radiation.
Input impedance: The impedance presented by
an antenna at its terminals.
Isolation: A measure of power transfer from one
antenna to another.
Isotropic radiator: A hypothetical, loss less
antenna having equal radiation intensity in all
directions.
Log-periodic antenna: Any one of a class of
antennas having a structural geometry such that
its impedance and radiation characteristics repeat
periodically as the logarithm of frequency.
Major/main lobe: The radiation lobe containing
the direction of maximum radiation.
Microstrip antenna: An antenna which consists
of a thin metallic conductor bonded to a thin

grounded dielectric substrate.


Omnidirectional antenna: An antenna having
an essentially non-directional pattern in a given
plane of the antenna and a directional pattern in
any orthogonal plane.
Radiation efficiency: The ratio of the total
power radiated by an antenna to the net power
accepted by the antenna from the connected
transmitter.
Side lobe suppression: Any process, action or
adjustment to reduce the level of the side lobes
or to reduce the degradation of the intended
antenna system performance resulting from the
presence of side lobes.