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In radio-frequency engineering, a transmission line is a specialized cable or other structure designed to conduct alternating current of radio frequency, that is, currents with a frequency high enough that their wave nature must be taken into account. Transmission lines are used for purposes such as connecting radio transmitters and receivers with their antennas (they are then called feed lines or feeders), distributing cable television signals, trunklines routing calls between telephone switching centres, computer network connections and high speed computer data buses.
This article covers two-conductor transmission line such as parallel line (ladder line), coaxial cable, stripline, and microstrip. Some sources also refer to waveguide, dielectric waveguide, and even optical fibre as transmission line, however these lines require different analytical techniques and so are not covered by this article; see Waveguide (electromagnetism).
Ordinary electrical cables suffice to carry low frequency alternating current (AC), such as mains power, which reverses direction 100 to 120 times per second, and audio signals. However, they cannot be used to carry currents in the radio frequency range,^{ [1] } above about 30 kHz, because the energy tends to radiate off the cable as radio waves, causing power losses. Radio frequency currents also tend to reflect from discontinuities in the cable such as connectors and joints, and travel back down the cable toward the source.^{ [1] }^{ [2] } These reflections act as bottlenecks, preventing the signal power from reaching the destination. Transmission lines use specialized construction, and impedance matching, to carry electromagnetic signals with minimal reflections and power losses. The distinguishing feature of most transmission lines is that they have uniform cross sectional dimensions along their length, giving them a uniform impedance , called the characteristic impedance,^{ [2] }^{ [3] }^{ [4] } to prevent reflections. Types of transmission line include parallel line (ladder line, twisted pair), coaxial cable, and planar transmission lines such as stripline and microstrip.^{ [5] }^{ [6] } The higher the frequency of electromagnetic waves moving through a given cable or medium, the shorter the wavelength of the waves. Transmission lines become necessary when the transmitted frequency's wavelength is sufficiently short that the length of the cable becomes a significant part of a wavelength.
At microwave frequencies and above, power losses in transmission lines become excessive, and waveguides are used instead,^{ [1] } which function as "pipes" to confine and guide the electromagnetic waves.^{ [6] } Some sources define waveguides as a type of transmission line;^{ [6] } however, this article will not include them. At even higher frequencies, in the terahertz, infrared and visible ranges, waveguides in turn become lossy, and optical methods, (such as lenses and mirrors), are used to guide electromagnetic waves.^{ [6] }
The theory of sound wave propagation is very similar mathematically to that of electromagnetic waves, so techniques from transmission line theory are also used to build structures to conduct acoustic waves; and these are called acoustic transmission lines.
Mathematical analysis of the behaviour of electrical transmission lines grew out of the work of James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin, and Oliver Heaviside. In 1855 Lord Kelvin formulated a diffusion model of the current in a submarine cable. The model correctly predicted the poor performance of the 1858 trans-Atlantic submarine telegraph cable. In 1885 Heaviside published the first papers that described his analysis of propagation in cables and the modern form of the telegrapher's equations.^{ [7] }
In many electric circuits, the length of the wires connecting the components can for the most part be ignored. That is, the voltage on the wire at a given time can be assumed to be the same at all points. However, when the voltage changes in a time interval comparable to the time it takes for the signal to travel down the wire, the length becomes important and the wire must be treated as a transmission line. Stated another way, the length of the wire is important when the signal includes frequency components with corresponding wavelengths comparable to or less than the length of the wire.
A common rule of thumb is that the cable or wire should be treated as a transmission line if the length is greater than 1/10 of the wavelength. At this length the phase delay and the interference of any reflections on the line become important and can lead to unpredictable behaviour in systems which have not been carefully designed using transmission line theory.
For the purposes of analysis, an electrical transmission line can be modelled as a two-port network (also called a quadripole), as follows:
In the simplest case, the network is assumed to be linear (i.e. the complex voltage across either port is proportional to the complex current flowing into it when there are no reflections), and the two ports are assumed to be interchangeable. If the transmission line is uniform along its length, then its behaviour is largely described by a single parameter called the characteristic impedance , symbol Z_{0}. This is the ratio of the complex voltage of a given wave to the complex current of the same wave at any point on the line. Typical values of Z_{0} are 50 or 75 ohms for a coaxial cable, about 100 ohms for a twisted pair of wires, and about 300 ohms for a common type of untwisted pair used in radio transmission.
When sending power down a transmission line, it is usually desirable that as much power as possible will be absorbed by the load and as little as possible will be reflected back to the source. This can be ensured by making the load impedance equal to Z_{0}, in which case the transmission line is said to be matched .
Some of the power that is fed into a transmission line is lost because of its resistance. This effect is called ohmic or resistive loss (see ohmic heating). At high frequencies, another effect called dielectric loss becomes significant, adding to the losses caused by resistance. Dielectric loss is caused when the insulating material inside the transmission line absorbs energy from the alternating electric field and converts it to heat (see dielectric heating). The transmission line is modelled with a resistance (R) and inductance (L) in series with a capacitance (C) and conductance (G) in parallel. The resistance and conductance contribute to the loss in a transmission line.
The total loss of power in a transmission line is often specified in decibels per metre (dB/m), and usually depends on the frequency of the signal. The manufacturer often supplies a chart showing the loss in dB/m at a range of frequencies. A loss of 3 dB corresponds approximately to a halving of the power.
High-frequency transmission lines can be defined as those designed to carry electromagnetic waves whose wavelengths are shorter than or comparable to the length of the line. Under these conditions, the approximations useful for calculations at lower frequencies are no longer accurate. This often occurs with radio, microwave and optical signals, metal mesh optical filters, and with the signals found in high-speed digital circuits.
The telegrapher's equations (or just telegraph equations) are a pair of linear differential equations which describe the voltage () and current () on an electrical transmission line with distance and time. They were developed by Oliver Heaviside who created the transmission line model, and are based on Maxwell's equations.
The transmission line model is an example of the distributed-element model. It represents the transmission line as an infinite series of two-port elementary components, each representing an infinitesimally short segment of the transmission line:
The model consists of an infinite series of the elements shown in the figure, and the values of the components are specified per unit length so the picture of the component can be misleading. , , , and may also be functions of frequency. An alternative notation is to use , , and to emphasize that the values are derivatives with respect to length. These quantities can also be known as the primary line constants to distinguish from the secondary line constants derived from them, these being the propagation constant, attenuation constant and phase constant.
The line voltage and the current can be expressed in the frequency domain as
When the elements and are negligibly small the transmission line is considered as a lossless structure. In this hypothetical case, the model depends only on the and elements which greatly simplifies the analysis. For a lossless transmission line, the second order steady-state Telegrapher's equations are:
These are wave equations which have plane waves with equal propagation speed in the forward and reverse directions as solutions. The physical significance of this is that electromagnetic waves propagate down transmission lines and in general, there is a reflected component that interferes with the original signal. These equations are fundamental to transmission line theory.
In the general case the loss terms, and , are both included, and the full form of the Telegrapher's equations become:
where is the (complex) propagation constant. These equations are fundamental to transmission line theory. They are also wave equations, and have solutions similar to the special case, but which are a mixture of sines and cosines with exponential decay factors. Solving for the propagation constant in terms of the primary parameters , , , and gives:
and the characteristic impedance can be expressed as
The solutions for and are:
The constants must be determined from boundary conditions. For a voltage pulse , starting at and moving in the positive direction, then the transmitted pulse at position can be obtained by computing the Fourier Transform, , of , attenuating each frequency component by , advancing its phase by , and taking the inverse Fourier Transform. The real and imaginary parts of can be computed as
with
the right-hand expressions holding when neither , nor , nor is zero, and with
where atan2 is the everywhere-defined form of two-parameter arctangent function, with arbitrary value zero when both arguments are zero.
Alternatively, the complex square root can be evaluated algebraically, to yield:
and
with the plus or minus signs chosen opposite to the direction of the wave's motion through the conducting medium. (Note that a is usually negative, since and are typically much smaller than and , respectively, so −a is usually positive. b is always positive.)
For small losses and high frequencies, the general equations can be simplified: If and then
Since an advance in phase by is equivalent to a time delay by , can be simply computed as
The Heaviside condition is a special case where the wave travels down the line without any dispersion distortion. The condition for this to take place is
The characteristic impedance of a transmission line is the ratio of the amplitude of a single voltage wave to its current wave. Since most transmission lines also have a reflected wave, the characteristic impedance is generally not the impedance that is measured on the line.
The impedance measured at a given distance from the load impedance may be expressed as
where is the propagation constant and is the voltage reflection coefficient measured at the load end of the transmission line. Alternatively, the above formula can be rearranged to express the input impedance in terms of the load impedance rather than the load voltage reflection coefficient:
For a lossless transmission line, the propagation constant is purely imaginary, , so the above formulas can be rewritten as
where is the wavenumber.
In calculating the wavelength is generally different inside the transmission line to what it would be in free-space. Consequently, the velocity factor of the material the transmission line is made of needs to be taken into account when doing such a calculation.
For the special case where where n is an integer (meaning that the length of the line is a multiple of half a wavelength), the expression reduces to the load impedance so that
for all This includes the case when , meaning that the length of the transmission line is negligibly small compared to the wavelength. The physical significance of this is that the transmission line can be ignored (i.e. treated as a wire) in either case.
For the case where the length of the line is one quarter wavelength long, or an odd multiple of a quarter wavelength long, the input impedance becomes
Another special case is when the load impedance is equal to the characteristic impedance of the line (i.e. the line is matched), in which case the impedance reduces to the characteristic impedance of the line so that
for all and all .
For the case of a shorted load (i.e. ), the input impedance is purely imaginary and a periodic function of position and wavelength (frequency)
For the case of an open load (i.e. ), the input impedance is once again imaginary and periodic
A stepped transmission line is used for broad range impedance matching. It can be considered as multiple transmission line segments connected in series, with the characteristic impedance of each individual element to be .^{ [8] } The input impedance can be obtained from the successive application of the chain relation
where is the wave number of the -th transmission line segment and is the length of this segment, and is the front-end impedance that loads the -th segment.
Because the characteristic impedance of each transmission line segment is often different from the impedance of the fourth, input cable (only shown as an arrow marked on the left side of the diagram above), the impedance transformation circle is off-centred along the axis of the Smith Chart whose impedance representation is usually normalized against .
The stepped transmission line is an example of a distributed-element circuit. A large variety of other circuits can also be constructed with transmission lines including filters, power dividers and directional couplers.
Coaxial lines confine virtually all of the electromagnetic wave to the area inside the cable. Coaxial lines can therefore be bent and twisted (subject to limits) without negative effects, and they can be strapped to conductive supports without inducing unwanted currents in them. In radio-frequency applications up to a few gigahertz, the wave propagates in the transverse electric and magnetic mode (TEM) only, which means that the electric and magnetic fields are both perpendicular to the direction of propagation (the electric field is radial, and the magnetic field is circumferential). However, at frequencies for which the wavelength (in the dielectric) is significantly shorter than the circumference of the cable other transverse modes can propagate. These modes are classified into two groups, transverse electric (TE) and transverse magnetic (TM) waveguide modes. When more than one mode can exist, bends and other irregularities in the cable geometry can cause power to be transferred from one mode to another.
The most common use for coaxial cables is for television and other signals with bandwidth of multiple megahertz. In the middle 20th century they carried long distance telephone connections.
A microstrip circuit uses a thin flat conductor which is parallel to a ground plane. Microstrip can be made by having a strip of copper on one side of a printed circuit board (PCB) or ceramic substrate while the other side is a continuous ground plane. The width of the strip, the thickness of the insulating layer (PCB or ceramic) and the dielectric constant of the insulating layer determine the characteristic impedance. Microstrip is an open structure whereas coaxial cable is a closed structure.
A stripline circuit uses a flat strip of metal which is sandwiched between two parallel ground planes. The insulating material of the substrate forms a dielectric. The width of the strip, the thickness of the substrate and the relative permittivity of the substrate determine the characteristic impedance of the strip which is a transmission line.
A coplanar waveguide consists of a center strip and two adjacent outer conductors, all three of them flat structures that are deposited onto the same insulating substrate and thus are located in the same plane ("coplanar"). The width of the center conductor, the distance between inner and outer conductors, and the relative permittivity of the substrate determine the characteristic impedance of the coplanar transmission line.
A balanced line is a transmission line consisting of two conductors of the same type, and equal impedance to ground and other circuits. There are many formats of balanced lines, amongst the most common are twisted pair, star quad and twin-lead.
Twisted pairs are commonly used for terrestrial telephone communications. In such cables, many pairs are grouped together in a single cable, from two to several thousand.^{ [9] } The format is also used for data network distribution inside buildings, but the cable is more expensive because the transmission line parameters are tightly controlled.
Star quad is a four-conductor cable in which all four conductors are twisted together around the cable axis. It is sometimes used for two circuits, such as 4-wire telephony and other telecommunications applications. In this configuration each pair uses two non-adjacent conductors. Other times it is used for a single, balanced line, such as audio applications and 2-wire telephony. In this configuration two non-adjacent conductors are terminated together at both ends of the cable, and the other two conductors are also terminated together.
When used for two circuits, crosstalk is reduced relative to cables with two separate twisted pairs.
When used for a single, balanced line, magnetic interference picked up by the cable arrives as a virtually perfect common mode signal, which is easily removed by coupling transformers.
The combined benefits of twisting, balanced signalling, and quadrupole pattern give outstanding noise immunity, especially advantageous for low signal level applications such as microphone cables, even when installed very close to a power cable.^{ [10] }^{ [11] }^{ [12] }^{ [13] }^{ [14] } The disadvantage is that star quad, in combining two conductors, typically has double the capacitance of similar two-conductor twisted and shielded audio cable. High capacitance causes increasing distortion and greater loss of high frequencies as distance increases.^{ [15] }^{ [16] }
Twin-lead consists of a pair of conductors held apart by a continuous insulator. By holding the conductors a known distance apart, the geometry is fixed and the line characteristics are reliably consistent. It is lower loss than coaxial cable because the characteristic impedance of twin-lead is generally higher than coaxial cable, leading to lower resistive losses due to the reduced current. However, it is more susceptible to interference.
Lecher lines are a form of parallel conductor that can be used at UHF for creating resonant circuits. They are a convenient practical format that fills the gap between lumped components (used at HF/VHF) and resonant cavities (used at UHF/SHF).
Unbalanced lines were formerly much used for telegraph transmission, but this form of communication has now fallen into disuse. Cables are similar to twisted pair in that many cores are bundled into the same cable but only one conductor is provided per circuit and there is no twisting. All the circuits on the same route use a common path for the return current (earth return). There is a power transmission version of single-wire earth return in use in many locations.
Electrical transmission lines are very widely used to transmit high frequency signals over long or short distances with minimum power loss. One familiar example is the down lead from a TV or radio aerial to the receiver.
Transmission lines are also used as pulse generators. By charging the transmission line and then discharging it into a resistive load, a rectangular pulse equal in length to twice the electrical length of the line can be obtained, although with half the voltage. A Blumlein transmission line is a related pulse forming device that overcomes this limitation. These are sometimes used as the pulsed power sources for radar transmitters and other devices.
If a short-circuited or open-circuited transmission line is wired in parallel with a line used to transfer signals from point A to point B, then it will function as a filter. The method for making stubs is similar to the method for using Lecher lines for crude frequency measurement, but it is 'working backwards'. One method recommended in the RSGB's radiocommunication handbook is to take an open-circuited length of transmission line wired in parallel with the feeder delivering signals from an aerial. By cutting the free end of the transmission line, a minimum in the strength of the signal observed at a receiver can be found. At this stage the stub filter will reject this frequency and the odd harmonics, but if the free end of the stub is shorted then the stub will become a filter rejecting the even harmonics.
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The characteristic impedance or surge impedance (usually written Z_{0}) of a uniform transmission line is the ratio of the amplitudes of voltage and current of a single wave propagating along the line; that is, a wave travelling in one direction in the absence of reflections in the other direction. Alternatively, and equivalently, it can be defined as the input impedance of a transmission line when its length is infinite. Characteristic impedance is determined by the geometry and materials of the transmission line and, for a uniform line, is not dependent on its length. The SI unit of characteristic impedance is the ohm.
The propagation constant of a sinusoidal electromagnetic wave is a measure of the change undergone by the amplitude and phase of the wave as it propagates in a given direction. The quantity being measured can be the voltage, the current in a circuit, or a field vector such as electric field strength or flux density. The propagation constant itself measures the change per unit length, but it is otherwise dimensionless. In the context of two-port networks and their cascades, propagation constant measures the change undergone by the source quantity as it propagates from one port to the next.
In radio engineering and telecommunications, standing wave ratio (SWR) is a measure of impedance matching of loads to the characteristic impedance of a transmission line or waveguide. Impedance mismatches result in standing waves along the transmission line, and SWR is defined as the ratio of the partial standing wave's amplitude at an antinode (maximum) to the amplitude at a node (minimum) along the line.
In electronics, impedance matching is the practice of designing the input impedance of an electrical load or the output impedance of its corresponding signal source to maximize the power transfer or minimize signal reflection from the load. A source of electric power such as a generator, amplifier or radio transmitter has a source impedance which is equivalent to an electrical resistance in series with a reactance. An electrical load, such as a light bulb, transmission line or antenna similarly has an impedance which is equivalent to a resistance in series with a reactance. The maximum power theorem says that maximum power is transferred from source to load when the load resistance equals the source resistance and the load reactance equals the negative of the source reactance. Another way of saying this is that the load impedance must equal the complex conjugate of the source impedance. If this condition is met the two parts of the circuit are said to be impedance matched.
In radio and telecommunications a dipole antenna or doublet is the simplest and most widely used class of antenna. The dipole is any one of a class of antennas producing a radiation pattern approximating that of an elementary electric dipole with a radiating structure supporting a line current so energized that the current has only one node at each end. A dipole antenna commonly consists of two identical conductive elements such as metal wires or rods. The driving current from the transmitter is applied, or for receiving antennas the output signal to the receiver is taken, between the two halves of the antenna. Each side of the feedline to the transmitter or receiver is connected to one of the conductors. This contrasts with a monopole antenna, which consists of a single rod or conductor with one side of the feedline connected to it, and the other side connected to some type of ground. A common example of a dipole is the "rabbit ears" television antenna found on broadcast television sets.
The Smith chart, invented by Phillip H. Smith (1905–1987), and T. Mizuhashi, is a graphical calculator or nomogram designed for electrical and electronics engineers specializing in radio frequency (RF) engineering to assist in solving problems with transmission lines and matching circuits. The Smith chart can be used to simultaneously display multiple parameters including impedances, admittances, reflection coefficients, scattering parameters, noise figure circles, constant gain contours and regions for unconditional stability, including mechanical vibrations analysis. The Smith chart is most frequently used at or within the unity radius region. However, the remainder is still mathematically relevant, being used, for example, in oscillator design and stability analysis. While the use of paper Smith charts for solving the complex mathematics involved in matching problems has been largely replaced by software based methods, the Smith chart is still a very useful method of showing how RF parameters behave at one or more frequencies, an alternative to using tabular information. Thus most RF circuit analysis software includes a Smith chart option for the display of results and all but the simplest impedance measuring instruments can plot measured results on a Smith chart display.
Acoustic impedance and specific acoustic impedance are measures of the opposition that a system presents to the acoustic flow resulting from an acoustic pressure applied to the system. The SI unit of acoustic impedance is the pascal second per cubic metre or the rayl per square metre, while that of specific acoustic impedance is the pascal second per metre or the rayl. In this article the symbol rayl denotes the MKS rayl. There is a close analogy with electrical impedance, which measures the opposition that a system presents to the electrical flow resulting from an electrical voltage applied to the system.
The Heaviside condition, named for Oliver Heaviside (1850–1925), is the condition an electrical transmission line must meet in order for there to be no distortion of a transmitted signal. Also known as the distortionless condition, it can be used to improve the performance of a transmission line by adding loading to the cable.
In microwave and radio-frequency engineering, a stub or resonant stub is a length of transmission line or waveguide that is connected at one end only. The free end of the stub is either left open-circuit, or short-circuited. Neglecting transmission line losses, the input impedance of the stub is purely reactive; either capacitive or inductive, depending on the electrical length of the stub, and on whether it is open or short circuit. Stubs may thus function as capacitors, inductors and resonant circuits at radio frequencies.
Ripple in electronics is the residual periodic variation of the DC voltage within a power supply which has been derived from an alternating current (AC) source. This ripple is due to incomplete suppression of the alternating waveform after rectification. Ripple voltage originates as the output of a rectifier or from generation and commutation of DC power.
The telegrapher's equations are a pair of coupled, linear partial differential equations that describe the voltage and current on an electrical transmission line with distance and time. The equations come from Oliver Heaviside who developed the transmission line model starting with an August 1876 paper, On the Extra Current. The model demonstrates that the electromagnetic waves can be reflected on the wire, and that wave patterns can form along the line.
The transmission coefficient is used in physics and electrical engineering when wave propagation in a medium containing discontinuities is considered. A transmission coefficient describes the amplitude, intensity, or total power of a transmitted wave relative to an incident wave.
The Π pad is a specific type of attenuator circuit in electronics whereby the topology of the circuit is formed in the shape of the Greek letter "Π".
Constant k filters, also k-type filters, are a type of electronic filter designed using the image method. They are the original and simplest filters produced by this methodology and consist of a ladder network of identical sections of passive components. Historically, they are the first filters that could approach the ideal filter frequency response to within any prescribed limit with the addition of a sufficient number of sections. However, they are rarely considered for a modern design, the principles behind them having been superseded by other methodologies which are more accurate in their prediction of filter response.
m-derived filters or m-type filters are a type of electronic filter designed using the image method. They were invented by Otto Zobel in the early 1920s. This filter type was originally intended for use with telephone multiplexing and was an improvement on the existing constant k type filter. The main problem being addressed was the need to achieve a better match of the filter into the terminating impedances. In general, all filters designed by the image method fail to give an exact match, but the m-type filter is a big improvement with suitable choice of the parameter m. The m-type filter section has a further advantage in that there is a rapid transition from the cut-off frequency of the pass band to a pole of attenuation just inside the stop band. Despite these advantages, there is a drawback with m-type filters; at frequencies past the pole of attenuation, the response starts to rise again, and m-types have poor stop band rejection. For this reason, filters designed using m-type sections are often designed as composite filters with a mixture of k-type and m-type sections and different values of m at different points to get the optimum performance from both types.
A signal travelling along an electrical transmission line will be partly, or wholly, reflected back in the opposite direction when the travelling signal encounters a discontinuity in the characteristic impedance of the line, or if the far end of the line is not terminated in its characteristic impedance. This can happen, for instance, if two lengths of dissimilar transmission lines are joined together.
The primary line constants are parameters that describe the characteristics of conductive transmission lines, such as pairs of copper wires, in terms of the physical electrical properties of the line. The primary line constants are only relevant to transmission lines and are to be contrasted with the secondary line constants, which can be derived from them, and are more generally applicable. The secondary line constants can be used, for instance, to compare the characteristics of a waveguide to a copper line, whereas the primary constants have no meaning for a waveguide.
Metal-mesh optical filters are optical filters made from stacks of metal meshes and dielectric. They are used as part of an optical path to filter the incoming light to allow frequencies of interest to pass while reflecting other frequencies of light.
A loop-gap resonator (LGR) is an electromagnetic resonator that operates in the radio and microwave frequency ranges. The simplest LGRs are made from a conducting tube with a narrow slit cut along its length. The LGR dimensions are typically much smaller than the free-space wavelength of the electromagnetic fields at the resonant frequency. Therefore, relatively compact LGRs can be designed to operate at frequencies that are too low to be accessed using, for example, cavity resonators. These structures can have very sharp resonances making them useful for electron spin resonance (ESR) experiments, and precision measurements of electromagnetic material properties.
Performance modelling is the abstraction of a real system into a simplified representation to enable the prediction of performance. The creation of a model can provide insight into how a proposed or actual system will or does work. This can, however, point towards different things to people belonging to different fields of work.
Part of this article was derived from Federal Standard 1037C.