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Wave propagation

By M. D. Kabadi
Electromagnetic waves and radio propagation

Electric and Magnetic Fields

An electromagnetic wave propagating through space consists of
electric and magnetic fields, perpendicular both to each other
and to the direction of travel of the wave

The relationship between electric and magnetic field intensities

is analogous to the relation between voltage and current in
Electromagnetic and the radio spectrum
General Frequency Ranges
Microwave frequency range
1 GHz to 40 GHz
Directional beams possible
Suitable for point-to-point transmission
Used for satellite communications
Radio frequency range
30 MHz to 1 GHz
Suitable for omnidirectional applications
Infrared frequency range
Roughly, 3x1011 to 2x1014 Hz
Useful in local point-to-point multipoint applications within confined areas
Radio wave at different frequencies and their
propagation mode
Electromagnetic waves interact with
Radio propagation is the behavior of radio
waves when they are transmitted, or
propagated from one point on the Earth to
another, or into various parts of the
atmosphere. As a form of electromagnetic
radiation, when radio waves travel through a
medium they can interact with that medium
in a variety of ways such as.
Reflection, Refraction, and Diffraction
Reflection of waves from a smooth surface
(specular reflection) results in the angle of
reflection being equal to the angle of incidence
A transition from one medium to another results in the
bending of radio waves, just as it does with light
Snells Law governs the behavior of electromagnetic waves
being refracted:
As a result of diffraction, electromagnetic waves
can appear to go around corners
Diffraction is more apparent when the object has
sharp edges, that is when the dimensions are small
in comparison to the wavelength
Free-Space Propagation

Radio waves propagate through free space in a straight line with

a velocity of the speed of light (300,000,000 m/s)
There is no loss of energy in free space, but there is attenuation
due to the spreading of the waves.
Most of the time, radio waves are not quite in free
Radio waves propagation modes include:
Ground waves
Space-wave( direct wave )propagation
Sky waves
Ground Wave Propagation
Ground Wave Propagation
Follows contour of the earth
In the HF region, the ground is a poor conductor and the ground
wave is quickly attenuated by ground losses.
Some ground wave communication is possible on 80m,
Frequencies up to 2 MHz
But at frequencies above 5 MHz, the ground wave is
AM radio
Ground Wave Propagation
Ground waves will propagate long distances over sea water, due to
its high conductivity.
Ground wave radio signal propagation is ideal for relatively short
distance propagation on these frequencies during the daytime.
A ground wave radio signal is made up from a number of
constituents. If the antennas are in the line of sight then there will be
a direct wave as well as a reflected signal.
As the names suggest the direct signal is one that travels directly
between the two antenna and is not affected by the locality
Factors that affect ground wave
Frequency. Using lower frequencies will result in less ground
Antenna characteristics. Using vertical polarization, when
possible, reduces the effect of the Earth "shorting out" the
electric field of the wave.
Power. Increasing the power output result in greater
Time of day. Sources of noise (natural and manmade) affect
radio wave propagation at different times of the day.
Terrain. The best propagation is achieved over conductive
terrain. Conductive terrain absorbs less wave energy.

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.
Ground wave requires a relatively high
transmission power.
Ground waves are limited to low and very
low frequencies (LF AND VLF), facilitating
large antennas
Ground losses vary considerably with
surface material

Space Waves, also known as direct waves, are radio

waves that travel directly from the transmitting
antenna to the receiving antenna.
Transmitting and receiving antennas must
be within line of sight.
This is difficult to do on the lower bands, and as a
result, direct wave communication is normally
restricted to bands above 20m. Its range is
determined by the height of both antennas and
generally less than 20 miles.
Signals in the VHF and higher range are not usually
returned to earth by the ionosphere
Most terrestrial communication at these
frequencies uses direct radiation from the
transmitter to the receiver
This type of propagation is referred to as space-
wave, line-of-sight, or tropospheric propagation

Sky waves are waves that leave the transmitting

antenna in a straight line and are returned to
the earth at a considerable distance by an
electrically charged layer known as the
Communication is possible throughout much of
the day to almost anywhere in the world via sky
Layers of the Earth's atmosphere
Layers of the Earth's atmosphere
The Earth's atmosphere is divided into three separate layers: The
The TROPOSPHERE is the region of the atmosphere where
virtually all weather phenomena take place. In this region, rf energy
is greatly affected.
The STRATOSPHERE has a constant temperature and has little
effect on radio waves
The IONOSPHERE contains four cloud-like layers of electrically
charged ions which aid in long distance communications.
Layers of the Earth's atmosphere
The troposphere extends from the face of the Earth to an altitude of about 7 miles at
the north or south poles and 11 miles at the equator. The Earth's weather activity
occurs in this region. It is very unstable due to the temperature variations, density, and
pressure, and these atmospheric conditions greatly affect radio wave propagation.

The stratosphere is located above the troposphere. It extends from a height of 7 miles
at the poles (11 miles at the equator) to a height of about 31 miles. There is little water
vapor present and the temperature is almost constant; consequently, this region has
relatively little affect on radio waves.

The ionosphere extends from about 31 miles to a height of about 250 miles. Four
layers of electrically charged ions enable radio waves to be propagated to great
distances around the Earth through reflection and refraction. This region of the
atmosphere is the most important because of its use for long-distance, point-to-point
Layers of the Earth's atmosphere
The Ionosphere
Long-range communication in the high-frequency band is possible
because of refraction in a region of the upper atmosphere called the
Ionization is different at different heights above the earth and is
affected by time of day and solar activity.
Signal reflected from ionized layer of atmosphere back down to
Signal can travel a number of hops, back and forth between
ionosphere and earths surface
Reflection effect caused by refraction
The Ionosphere
Consists of 4 highly ionized regions
The D layer at a height of 38 55 mi
The E layer at a height of 62 75 mi
The F1 layer at a height of 125 150 mi
(winter) and 160 180 mi (summer)
The F2 layer at a height of 150 180 mi
(winter) and 240 260 mi (summer)
The density of ionization is greatest in the F
layers and least in the D layer


maximum frequency that a radio wave can be
transmitted vertically and still be refracted
back to Earth.
The CRITICAL ANGLE is the maximum
and/or minimum angle that a radio wave can
be transmitted and still be refracted back to

SKIP ZONE is the zone of silence between the point

where the ground wave becomes too weak for
reception and the point where the sky wave is first
returned to Earth.
The outer limit of the skip zone varies considerably,
depending on the operating frequency, the time of
day, the season of the year, sunspot activity, and the
direction of transmission
The skip distance is the distance from the transmitter
to the point where the sky wave first returns to the
earth. The skip distance depends on the waves
frequency and angle of incidence, and the degree of
highest frequency that can be used for
communications between two locations at a given
angle of incidence and time of day.
highest frequency that can be used for
communications between two locations at a given
angle of incidence and time of day.
lowest frequency that can be used for
communications between two locations.
most practical operating frequency and the one that
can be relied on to have the fewest problems.
D LAYER: reflects VLF waves for long-range communications; refracts lf
and mf for short-range communications; has little effect on VHF and above;
gone at night.
E LAYER: depends on the angle of the sun: refracts hf waves during the
day up to 20 MHz to distances of 1200 miles: greatly reduced at night.
F LAYER: structure and density depend on the time of day and the angle of
the sun: consists of one layer at night and splits into two layers during
daylight hours.
F1 LAYER: density depends on the angle of the sun; its main effect is to
absorb HF waves passing through to the F2 layer.
F2 LAYER: provides long-range HF communications; very variable; height
and density change with time of day, season, and sunspot activity


Seasonal variations are the result of the earths revolving around
the sun, because the relative position of the sun moves from one
hemisphere to the other with the changes in seasons. Seasonal
variations of the D, E, and F1 layers are directly related to the
highest angle of the sun, meaning the ionization density of these
layers is greatest during the summer. The F2 layer is just the
opposite. Its ionization is greatest during the winter; therefore,
operating frequencies for F2 layer propagation are higher in the
winter than in the summer.
The suns ionizing radiation is most intense in the equatorial regions
and least intense in the Polar Regions. As a result, the daytime MUF
of the E and F1 layers is highest in the tropics.
One of the most notable occurrences on the surface of the sun is the
appearance and disappearance of dark, irregularly shaped areas
known as SUNSPOTS. Sunspots are believed to be caused by
violent eruptions on the sun and are characterized by strong
magnetic fields. These sunspots cause variations in the ionization
level of the ionosphere. Sunspots tend to appear in two cycles, every
27 days and every 11 years

Irregular variations are just that, unpredictable changes in the ionosphere that
can drastically affect our ability to communicate. The more common variations
are sporadic E, ionospheric disturbances, and ionospheric storms.

Wind, air temperature, and water content of the atmosphere can combine either
to extend radio
communications or to greatly attenuate wave propagation making normal
communications extremely difficult. Precipitation in the atmosphere has its
greatest effect on the higher frequency ranges. Frequencies in the HF range
and below show little effect from this condition
Signal path loss basics
Free space loss:
The free space loss occurs as the signal travels through space
without any other effects attenuating the signal it will still diminish as
it spreads out. This can be thought of as the radio communications
signal spreading out as an ever increasing sphere. As the signal has to
cover a wider area, conservation of energy tells us that the energy in
any given area will reduce as the area covered becomes larger.
Absorption losses:
Absorption losses occur if the radio signal passes into a medium
which is not totally transparent to radio signals. This can be likened to
a light signal passing through transparent glass.
Signal path loss basics cont..
Diffraction :
Diffraction losses occur when an object appears in the path. The signal
can diffract around the object, but losses occur. The loss is higher the
more rounded the object. Radio signals tend to diffract better around
sharp edges.
The terrain over which signals travel will have a significant effect on the
signal. Obviously hills which obstruct the path will considerably
attenuate the signal, often making reception impossible. Additionally at
low frequencies the composition of the earth will have a marked effect.
For example on the Long Wave band, it is found that signals travel best
over more conductive terrain, e.g. sea paths or over areas that are marshy
or damp. Dry sandy terrain gives higher levels of attenuation.
Signal path loss basics cont..

Buildings and vegetation:

For mobile applications, buildings and other obstructions including vegetation have a
marked effect. Not only will buildings reflect radio signals, they will also absorb
them. Cellular communications are often significantly impaired within buildings.
Trees and foliage can attenuate radio signals, particularly when wet.

Atmosphere :
The atmosphere can affect radio signal paths. At lower frequencies, especially below
30 - 50MHz, the ionosphere has a significant effect, reflecting (or more correctly
refracting) them back to Earth. At frequencies above 50 MHz and more the
troposphere has a major effect, refracting the signals back to earth as a result of
changing refractive index. For UHF broadcast this can extend coverage to
approximately a third beyond the horizon.
Signal path loss basics cont..
In a real terrestrial environment, signals will
be reflected and they will reach the receiver via
a number of different paths. These signals may
add or subtract from each other depending
upon the relative phases of the signals. If the
receiver is moved the scenario will change and
the overall received signal will be found vary
with position.
Causes of multipath
Reflection - occurs when signal encounters a surface
that is large relative to the wavelength of the signal
Diffraction - occurs at the edge of an impenetrable
body that is large compared to wavelength of radio
Scattering occurs when incoming signal hits an
object whose size in the order of the wavelength of the
signal or less