Covering the Basics
If you’re doing any kind of wireless communications application, that probably means including an antenna in your design. The science of antennas is complex. But here Robert shows how the task of measuring an antenna’s performance is less costly and exotic than you’d think.
By Robert Lacoste
Now that wireless communications is ubiquitous, chances are you’ll be using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular, LoRa, MiWi or other flavor of wireless interface in your next design. And that means including an antenna. Unfortunately, antenna design is not an easy topic. Even very experienced designers sometimes have had to wrestle with unexpected bad performances by their antennas. Case in point: Google “iPhone 4 antenna problem” and you will get more than 3 million web pages! In a nutshell, Apple tried to integrate a clever antenna in that model that was threaded around the phone. They didn’t anticipate that some users would put their fingers exactly where the antenna was the most sensitive to detuning. Was it a design flaw? Or a mistake by the users? It was hotly debated, but this so-called “Antennagate” probably had significant impact on Apple’s sales for a while.
I already devoted an article to antenna design and impedance matching (“The Darker Side: Antenna Basics”, Circuit Cellar 211, February 2008). Whether you include a standard antenna or design your own, you will never be sure it is working properly until you measure its actual performance. Of course, you could simply evaluate how far the system is working. But how do you go farther if the range is not enough? How do you figure out if the problem is coming from the receiver, the transmitter, propagation conditions or the antenna itself? My personal experience has been that the antenna is very often the culprit. With that in mind, it really is mandatory to measure whether or not an antenna is behaving correctly. Take a seat. This month, I will explain how to easily measure the actual performance of an antenna. You will see that the process is quite easy and that it won’t even need costly or exotic equipment.
SOME ANTENNA BASICS
Let’s start with some basics on antennas. First, all passive antennas have the same performance whether transmitting or receiving. For this article, I’ll consider the antenna as transmitting because that’s easier to measure. Let’s consider an antenna that we inject with a given radio frequency power Pconducted into its connector. Where will this power go? First off, impedance matching should be checked. If the impedance of the antenna is not well matched to the impedance of the power generator, then a part of the power will be reflected back to the generator. This will happen in particular when the transmit frequency is not equal to the resonant frequency of the antenna. In such a case, a part of Pconducted will be lost. That is known as mismatch losses: Pavailable= Pconducted – MismatchLosses. While that itself is a very interesting subject, I have already discussed impedance matching in detail in my February 2008 article. I also devoted another article to a closely linked topic: standing waves. Standing waves appear when there is a mismatch. The article is “The Darker Side: Let’s play with standing waves” (Circuit Cellar 271, February 2013).
For the purpose of discussion here, I will for now assume that there isn’t any mismatching—and therefore no mismatch loss. …
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