Via fence

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Figure 1. A microstrip line shielded by via fences on a printed circuit board Via fence line.jpg
Figure 1. A microstrip line shielded by via fences on a printed circuit board

A via fence, also called a picket fence, is a structure used in planar electronic circuit technologies to improve isolation between components which would otherwise be coupled by electromagnetic fields. It consists of a row of via holes which, if spaced close enough together, form a barrier to electromagnetic wave propagation of slab modes in the substrate. Additionally if radiation in the air above the board is also to be suppressed, then a strip pad with via fence allows a shielding can to be electrically attached to the top side, but electrically behave as if it continued through the PCB.

Electromagnetic field Electric and magnetic fields produced by moving charged objects

An electromagnetic field is a physical field produced by moving electrically charged objects. It affects the behavior of non-comoving charged objects at any distance of the field. The electromagnetic field extends indefinitely throughout space and describes the electromagnetic interaction. It is one of the four fundamental forces of nature.

Wave propagation is any of the ways in which waves travel.


Modern electronics have components and sub-units at high densities to achieve small size. Typically, many functions are integrated on to the same board or die. If these are not properly shielded from each other, many problems can result including poor frequency response, noise performance, and distortion.

Die (integrated circuit) an unpackaged integrated circuit

A die, in the context of integrated circuits, is a small block of semiconducting material on which a given functional circuit is fabricated. Typically, integrated circuits are produced in large batches on a single wafer of electronic-grade silicon (EGS) or other semiconductor through processes such as photolithography. The wafer is cut (diced) into many pieces, each containing one copy of the circuit. Each of these pieces is called a die.

Via fences are used to shield microstrip and stripline transmission lines, guard edges of printed circuit boards, shield functional circuit units from each other, and to form the walls of waveguides integrated into a planar format. Via fences are cheap and easy to implement, but use up board space and are not as effective as solid metal walls.

Microstrip electrical transmission line for microwave-frequency signals on printed circuit board

Microstrip is a type of electrical transmission line which can be fabricated using printed circuit board technology, and is used to convey microwave-frequency signals. It consists of a conducting strip separated from a ground plane by a dielectric layer known as the substrate. Microwave components such as antennas, couplers, filters, power dividers etc. can be formed from microstrip, with the entire device existing as the pattern of metallization on the substrate. Microstrip is thus much less expensive than traditional waveguide technology, as well as being far lighter and more compact. Microstrip was developed by ITT laboratories as a competitor to stripline.

Stripline transverse electromagnetic (TEM) transmission line

Stripline is a transverse electromagnetic (TEM) transmission line medium invented by Robert M. Barrett of the Air Force Cambridge Research Centre in the 1950s. Stripline is the earliest form of planar transmission line.

Transmission line specialized cable or other structure designed to carry alternating current of radio frequency

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, distributing cable television signals, trunklines routing calls between telephone switching centres, computer network connections and high speed computer data buses.


Planar technologies are used at microwave frequencies and make use of printed circuit tracks as transmission lines. As well as interconnections, these lines can be used to form components of functional units such as filters and couplers. Planar lines readily couple to each other when in close proximity, an effect called parasitic coupling. The coupling is due to fringing fields spreading from the edges of the line and intersecting adjacent lines or components. This is a desirable feature within the unit where it is made use of as part of the design. It is not desirable, however, that the fields couple to adjacent units. Modern electronic devices are usually required to be small. That, and the drive to keep down costs, leads to a high degree of integration and circuit units in less than desirable proximity. Via fences are one method that can be used to reduce parasitic coupling between such units. [1]

Microwave form of electromagnetic radiation

Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from about one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (1 m) and 300 GHz (1 mm). Different sources define different frequency ranges as microwaves; the above broad definition includes both UHF and EHF bands. A more common definition in radio engineering is the range between 1 and 100 GHz. In all cases, microwaves include the entire SHF band at minimum. Frequencies in the microwave range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.

Distributed element filter

A distributed element filter is an electronic filter in which capacitance, inductance and resistance are not localised in discrete capacitors, inductors and resistors as they are in conventional filters. Its purpose is to allow a range of signal frequencies to pass, but to block others. Conventional filters are constructed from inductors and capacitors, and the circuits so built are described by the lumped element model, which considers each element to be "lumped together" at one place. That model is conceptually simple, but it becomes increasingly unreliable as the frequency of the signal increases, or equivalently as the wavelength decreases. The distributed element model applies at all frequencies, and is used in transmission line theory; many distributed element components are made of short lengths of transmission line. In the distributed view of circuits, the elements are distributed along the length of conductors and are inextricably mixed together. The filter design is usually concerned only with inductance and capacitance, but because of this mixing of elements they cannot be treated as separate "lumped" capacitors and inductors. There is no precise frequency above which distributed element filters must be used but they are especially associated with the microwave band.

Amongst the many problems that can be caused by parasitic coupling are reducing bandwidth, degrading passband flatness, reducing amplifier output power, increasing reflections, worsening noise figure, causing amplifier instability, and providing undesirable feedback paths. [2]

Bandwidth (signal processing) difference between the upper and lower frequencies in a continuous set of frequencies

Bandwidth is the difference between the upper and lower frequencies in a continuous band of frequencies. It is typically measured in hertz, and depending on context, may specifically refer to passband bandwidth or baseband bandwidth. Passband bandwidth is the difference between the upper and lower cutoff frequencies of, for example, a band-pass filter, a communication channel, or a signal spectrum. Baseband bandwidth applies to a low-pass filter or baseband signal; the bandwidth is equal to its upper cutoff frequency.

A passband is the range of frequencies or wavelengths that can pass through a filter. For example, a radio receiver contains a bandpass filter to select the frequency of the desired radio signal out of all the radio waves picked up by its antenna. The passband of a receiver is the range of frequencies it can receive.

Signal reflection

Signal reflection occurs when a signal is transmitted along a transmission medium, such as a copper cable or an optical fiber. Some of the signal power may be reflected back to its origin rather than being carried all the way along the cable to the far end. This happens because imperfections in the cable cause impedance mismatches and non-linear changes in the cable characteristics. These abrupt changes in characteristics cause some of the transmitted signal to be reflected. In radio frequency (RF) practice this is often measured in a dimensionless ratio known as voltage standing wave ratio (VSWR) with a VSWR bridge. The ratio of energy bounced back depends on the impedance mismatch. Mathematically, it is defined using the reflection coefficient.

In stripline, via fences running parallel to the line on either side serve to tie together the groundplanes, so preventing the propagation of parallel-plate modes. [3] A similar arrangement is used to suppress unwanted modes in metal-backed coplanar waveguide.

Coplanar waveguide type of planar transmission line

Coplanar waveguide is a type of electrical planar transmission line which can be fabricated using printed circuit board technology, and is used to convey microwave-frequency signals. On a smaller scale, coplanar waveguide transmission lines are also built into monolithic microwave integrated circuits. Conventional coplanar waveguide (CPW) consists of a single conducting track printed onto a dielectric substrate, together with a pair of return conductors, one to either side of the track. All three conductors are on the same side of the substrate, and hence are coplanar. The return conductors are separated from the central track by a small gap, which has an unvarying width along the length of the line. Away from the central conductor, the return conductors usually extend to an indefinite but large distance, so that each is notionally a semi-infinite plane.


Figure 2. Diagram of a microstrip via fence Via fence diagram.png
Figure 2. Diagram of a microstrip via fence

A via fence consists of a row of via holes, that is, holes that pass through the substrate and are metallised on the inside to connect to pads on the top and bottom of the substrate. In a stripline format both the top and bottom of the dielectric sheet are covered with a metal ground plane so any via holes are automatically grounded at both ends. In other planar formats such as microstrip there is a ground plane only at the bottom of the substrate. In these formats it is the usual practice to connect the top pads of the via fence with a metal track (see figure 2). This still does not completely fence off the field as can be done in stripline. In stripline the field can only propagate between the ground planes, but in microstrip it is able to leak over the top of the via fence. Nevertheless, connecting the top pads improves isolation by 6-10 dB. [2] In some technologies it is more convenient to form the fence from conducting posts rather than vias. [4]

Figure 3. Casting providing the metal walls for placing over microstrip via fences Via fence top casting.jpg
Figure 3. Casting providing the metal walls for placing over microstrip via fences

Isolation can be further improved by placing a metal wall on top of the via fence. These walls commonly form part of the device enclosure. The large holes in the via fences seen in figures 1 and 5 are screw holes for clamping these walls in place. The wall casting belonging to this circuit is shown in figure 3. [5]

Figure 4. Via hole equivalent circuit Via hole equivalent circuit.svg
Figure 4. Via hole equivalent circuit

The design of the fence needs to consider the size and spacing of the vias. Ideally, vias should act as short circuits, but they are not ideal and a via equivalent circuit can be modelled as a shunt inductance. Sometimes, a more complex model is required such as the equivalent circuit shown in figure 4. L1 is due to the inductance of the pads and C is the capacitance between them. R and L2 are, respectively, the resistance and inductance of the via hole metallisation. Resonances must be considered, in particular the parallel resonance of C and L2 will allow electromagnetic waves to pass at the resonant frequency. This resonance needs to be placed outside the operating frequencies of the equipment concerned. Spacing of the fences needs to be small in comparison to a wavelength (λ) in the substrate dielectric so as to make the fence appear solid to impinging waves. If too large, waves will be able to pass through the gaps. A common rule of thumb is to make the spacing less than λ/20 at the maximum operating frequency. [6]


Figure 5. Via fences shielding the edge of a printed circuit Via fence edge.jpg
Figure 5. Via fences shielding the edge of a printed circuit

Via fences are used primarily at RF and microwave frequencies wherever planar formats are being applied. They are used in printed circuit technologies such as microstrip, ceramic technologies such as low temperature co-fired ceramic, monolithic microwave integrated circuits, and system-on-a-package technology. [7] They are especially important in isolating circuit units operating at different frequencies.

Also called via stitching, via fences can be used around the edge of a printed circuit board, an example can be seen in figure 5. This may be done to prevent electromagnetic interference with other equipment, or even to block radiation re-entering from elsewhere on the same circuit. [8]

Via fences are also used in post-wall waveguide, also known as laminated waveguide (LWG). [9] In LWG, two parallel via fences form the sidewalls of a waveguide. Between them, and the upper and lower groundplanes of the substrate, is an electromagnetically isolated space. There is no electrical conductor within this space, but electromagnetic waves can exist within the enclosed dielectric material of the substrate and their direction of propagation is guided by the LWG. This technology is typically used at millimetre band frequencies and consequently dimensions are quite small. Furthermore, good isolation requires that the vias are closely spaced. Typically, 60 dB isolation is required between guides, that is 30 dB per fence. A typical W band (75-110 GHz) fence specification meeting this requirement in LWG is .003-inch (76 μm) vias spaced .006 inches (150 μm) between centres. This can be challenging to manufacture, and a higher density of vias is sometimes achieved by constructing the fence from two staggered rows of vias. [10]

Advantages and disadvantages

Via fences are cheap and convenient. When used on planar formats they require no additional processes to manufacture. On a printed circuit for instance, they are made in the same process that creates the track patterns. However, via fences are not able to approach the isolation achievable with unbroken metal walls. [11]

Via fences use up a lot of valuable substrate real estate and so will increase the overall size of the assembly. Via fences too close to the line being guarded can degrade the isolation otherwise achievable. In stripline, a rule of thumb is to place the fences at least four times the trace to groundplane distance away from the line being guarded. [12]

Related Research Articles

Waveguide structure that guides waves, typically electromagnetic waves

A waveguide is a structure that guides waves, such as electromagnetic waves or sound, with minimal loss of energy by restricting expansion to one dimension or two. There is a similar effect in water waves constrained within a canal, or guns that have barrels which restrict hot gas expansion to maximize energy transfer to their bullets. Without the physical constraint of a waveguide, wave amplitudes decrease according to the inverse square law as they expand into three dimensional space.

Resonator Device or system that exhibits resonance

A resonator is a device or system that exhibits resonance or resonant behavior. That is, it naturally oscillates with greater amplitude at some frequencies, called resonant frequencies, than at other frequencies. The oscillations in a resonator can be either electromagnetic or mechanical. Resonators are used to either generate waves of specific frequencies or to select specific frequencies from a signal. Musical instruments use acoustic resonators that produce sound waves of specific tones. Another example is quartz crystals used in electronic devices such as radio transmitters and quartz watches to produce oscillations of very precise frequency.

Unbalanced line

In electrical engineering, an unbalanced line is a transmission line, often coaxial cable, whose conductors have unequal impedances with respect to ground; as opposed to a balanced line. Microstrip and single-wire lines are also unbalanced lines.

Power dividers and directional couplers

Power dividers and directional couplers are passive devices used mostly in the field of radio technology. They couple a defined amount of the electromagnetic power in a transmission line to a port enabling the signal to be used in another circuit. An essential feature of directional couplers is that they only couple power flowing in one direction. Power entering the output port is coupled to the isolated port but not to the coupled port. A directional coupler designed to split power equally between two ports is called a hybrid coupler.

Radio frequency (RF) and microwave filters represent a class of electronic filter, designed to operate on signals in the megahertz to gigahertz frequency ranges. This frequency range is the range used by most broadcast radio, television, wireless communication, and thus most RF and microwave devices will include some kind of filtering on the signals transmitted or received. Such filters are commonly used as building blocks for duplexers and diplexers to combine or separate multiple frequency bands.

Radio-frequency engineering, or RF engineering, is a subset of electrical and electronic engineering involving the application of transmission line, waveguide, antenna and electromagnetic field principles to the design and application of devices that produce or utilize signals within the radio band, the frequency range of about 20 kHz up to 300 GHz.

Phase shift module microwave network module

A phase shift module is a microwave network module which provides a controllable phase shift of the RF signal. Phase shifters are used in phased arrays.

A post-wall waveguide is a synthetic rectangular electromagnetic waveguide formed in a dielectric substrate by densely arraying metallized posts or via-holes which connect the upper and lower metal plates of the substrate. The waveguide can be easily fabricated with low-cost and mass-production using through-hole techniques where the post walls consists of via fences. The post-wall waveguide is known to have similar guided wave and mode characteristics to the conventional rectangular waveguide with equivalent guided wavelength.

Metamaterial antenna

Metamaterial antennas are a class of antennas which use metamaterials to increase performance of miniaturized antenna systems. Their purpose, as with any electromagnetic antenna, is to launch energy into free space. However, this class of antenna incorporates metamaterials, which are materials engineered with novel, often microscopic, structures to produce unusual physical properties. Antenna designs incorporating metamaterials can step-up the antenna's radiated power.

Tunable metamaterial

A tunable metamaterial is a metamaterial with a variable response to an incident electromagnetic wave. This includes remotely controlling how an incident electromagnetic wave interacts with a metamaterial. This means the capability to determine whether the EM wave is transmitted, reflected, or absorbed. In general, the lattice structure of the tunable metamaterial is adjustable in real time, making it possible to reconfigure a metamaterial device during operation. It encompasses developments beyond the bandwidth limitations in left-handed materials by constructing various types of metamaterials. The ongoing research in this domain includes electromagnetic materials that are very meta which mean good and has a band gap metamaterials (EBG), also known as photonic band gap (PBG), and negative refractive index material (NIM).

Waveguide filter electronic filter that is constructed with waveguide technology

A waveguide filter is an electronic filter that is constructed with waveguide technology. Waveguides are hollow metal tubes inside which an electromagnetic wave may be transmitted. Filters are devices used to allow signals at some frequencies to pass, while others are rejected. Filters are a basic component of electronic engineering designs and have numerous applications. These include selection of signals and limitation of noise. Waveguide filters are most useful in the microwave band of frequencies, where they are a convenient size and have low loss. Examples of microwave filter use are found in satellite communications, telephone networks, and television broadcasting.

Photoimageable thick-film technology

Photoimageable thick-film technology is a combination of conventional thick film technology with elements of thin film technology, and it provides a low cost solution to producing high quality microwave circuits. The ability to directly photoimage the printed layers means that the technology can provide the high line and gap resolution required by high frequency planar components. It provides a feasible fabrication process to produce circuits operating at microwave and millimetre-wave frequencies. Circuits made using this technology meet the modern requirements for high density packaging, whilst yielding the high quality components required for very high frequency applications, including wireless communication, radar and measurement systems.

Planar transmission line Transmission lines with flat ribbon-like conducting or dielectric lines

Planar transmission lines are transmission lines with conductors, or in some cases dielectric (insulating) strips, that are flat, ribbon-shaped lines. They are used to interconnect components on printed circuits and integrated circuits working at microwave frequencies because the planar type fits in well with the manufacturing methods for these components. Transmission lines are more than simply interconnections. With simple interconnections, the propagation of the electromagnetic wave along the wire is fast enough to be considered instantaneous, and the voltages at each end of the wire can be considered identical. If the wire is longer than a large fraction of a wavelength, these assumptions are no longer true and transmission line theory must be used instead. With transmission lines, the geometry of the line is precisely controlled so that its electrical behaviour is highly predictable. At lower frequencies, these considerations are only necessary for the cables connecting different pieces of equipment, but at microwave frequencies the distance at which transmission line theory becomes necessary is measured in millimetres. Hence, transmission lines are needed within circuits.

Air stripline is a form of electrical planar transmission line whereby a conductor in the form of a thin metal strip is suspended between two ground planes. The idea is to make the dielectric essentially air. Mechanical support of the line may be a thin substrate, periodical insulated supports, or the device connectors and other electrical items.

Distributed element circuit Electrical circuits composed of lengths of transmission lines or other distributed components

Distributed element circuits are electrical circuits composed of lengths of transmission lines or other distributed components. These circuits perform the same functions as conventional circuits composed of passive components, such as capacitors, inductors, and transformers. They are used mostly at microwave frequencies, where conventional components are difficult to implement.


  1. Bahl, pages 290-291
  2. 1 2 Bahl, page 291
  3. Harper, page 3.21
  4. Harper, page 3.20
  5. Ponchak et al., page 349
  6. Multiple sources:
    • Bahl, pages 290, 296
    • Harper, pages 3.20-3.21
  7. Bahl, pages 290, 291
  8. Archambeault, pages 215-216
  9. Pao & Aguirre, page 585
  10. Pao & Aguirre, pages 586-589
  11. Archambeault, page 216
  12. Joffe & Lock, page 838