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Using a dual-directional coupler to measure antenna matching Tony Lymer Satori Technology Ltd The use of wireless devices

has become very common in many companies and homes in recent years. Bluetooth connected computer peripherals, cell phones, wireless LAN links and cordless phones all depend upon antennas to make a connection. Often the antenna is inside the device and is invisible, but if an external antenna is used, perhaps to increase the range of the connection, it needs a cable to connect it to the device. Both antennas and their feeder cables are prone to damage. This is particularly true if any part of the system is located outdoors. Fault finding these systems can be more difficult than say testing a DC system like an electric door bell. This is because the loss of the cable varies with frequency. It may be perfectly connected when tested with an ohmmeter, but still show a high loss when transmitting power at a frequency of Gigahertz or two, like some of the systems mentioned above. Measurement of the match of the antenna and the cable loss are part of the answer. This article explains what is involved, and how they are measured with a dual directional coupler. Why is Matching important? The RF voltage at any point on a transmission line consists of the sum of two waves travelling in opposite directions. One is the forward wave that travels from the source to the load, and the other is the reflected wave from the load back to the source. The ratio of the amplitudes of the two waves is known as the voltage reflection coefficient or VRC, and is an indicator of the quality of the match of the load to the transmission line. The power radiated by the antenna is the forward power less any reflected power, minus any losses in the antenna. So it is logical to reduce the reflected power to a minimum. This having been said, that minimum may still be a substantial proportion of the forward power. Anything up to 25% of the forward power is common, and nothing to be alarmed at. Perhaps counter intuitively, an experienced antenna engineer will be suspicious of an antenna with little reflected power, because this may be due to excessive feeder losses. An antenna that has gain over a dipole or isotropic radiator, a theoretical reference antenna, is also directional. It is important that the antenna points in the appropriate direction so that maximum use is made of the directional properties, otherwise such an antenna may perform worse than one that is smaller and simpler.

The Return Loss, VSWR (voltage standing wave ratio) or VRC (voltage reflection coefficient) are all terms used to describe the matching of the load impedance to a transmission-line, and they are used interchangeably. Conversion between the quantities is straight-forward and illustrated in table 1. All three quantities are in current use, but the return loss is simplest to measure directly with a directional coupler. Although best measured with a calibrated vector network analyzer, the return loss is determined more easily, but with lower accuracy, with two power sensors and a directional coupler, and the value simply converted to VRC or VSWR, if required, accuracy is not an issue because the return loss of an antenna is rarely better than 10 dB or so. It also tends to vary with physical movement caused by wind and by the weather: be it icing, rain or even high humidity. Voltage Reflection Coefficient Magnitude, is equal to
ZL Z0 . Zl + Z0

Here the impedances are in ohms and are the load impedance, ZL, and the characteristic impedance of the transmission line, Z0. The magnitude of the reflection coefficient is somewhat easier to measure with a simpler and cheaper test arrangement that consists of a pair of power meters measuring the outputs of a dual directional coupler (figure 1). The reflection coefficient magnitude, || or , is the ratio of the amplitude of the reflected wave to the amplitude of the incident wave at the junction of a transmission line and the terminating impedance. || has a value between 0 and 1. A || of 0 means the line is perfectly matched, and a value of 1 means that the line is either shorted or opencircuit. Return Loss || can be expressed in various ways. Often the return loss is calculated from it. The Return Loss, RL, is the magnitude of the reflection coefficient expressed in dB.
R L = 20 log10 dB.

Here a return loss of 0 dB means the line is either shorted, or, open-circuit, and a value of -dB means the line is perfectly matched. It is useful to be able to connect a short or open circuit in place of the item being tested this allows the measurement of a reference level and calibrates the measurement. Voltage Standing Wave Ratio

An alternative way to express || is as a VSWR or SWR. When the transmission line is not terminated in its characteristic impedance standing waves are set up. The Voltage Standing Wave Ratio (VSWR) is the ratio of the maximum RF voltage seen on a transmission line to the minimum voltage. Measurements of VSWR can be made directly with a slotted-line, moving probe and RF voltmeter. However, this is seldom done these days. The VSWR is easily calculated from || as follows:
VSWR = 1+ 1

A || value of 0.1 20 dB return loss equates to a 20 dB return loss and a VSWR of 1.22. A table of conversion between ||, RL, and VSWR is given in table 1. Equipment Required The usual technique is to use two power meters connected to a dual-directional coupler. In this way the reflected power is divided by the forward power to give ||2. Put another way, the voltage reflection coefficient can be measured as: Pr = where Pr is the power in the reflected wave, and Pf is the power in the Pf forward wave, both measured in Watts. Ideally, the transmitter should provide a continuous sinusoidal output often termed a carrier wave or CW. However, useful measurements may also be possible with modulated transmissions, or with pulsed signals, especially if the duty cycle is known, even approximately, and is not too small (say > 5%). However, the peak power rating of the sensors must adhered to otherwise damage may result. Dual-directional couplers available are from audio frequencies to optical frequencies and everything in between. In general, they have a limited frequency range, although this may cover a considerable slice of spectrum. For example, the model used for these measurements was an Amplifier research DC3010. This covers five decades from 10 kHz to 1 GHz. The key number here is the coupling factor, which is 40 dB. This implies that if the maximum rated power of 100 watts (or 50 dBm) is present on the main line, then 10 dBm will be coupled to the test port. +10 dBm is compatible with many common power meters and sensors and is a sensible power level since it is unlikely to cause permanent damage. If the power level that is coupled to the meter exceeds say +23 dBm, then it may be sensible to check carefully that the meter or sensor can tolerate this amount of power before going any further. Of course, smaller power levels can be used, so long as the power exceeds the zero-set of the power meter by about 10 dB or so. The smallest power measured is always the reflected power. Zeroing the power meter is important if the reflected power is close to the zero-set of the power meter. Usually though, this is only really necessary when the

arrangement is assembled. After the temperature differences between the instruments have decayed, most power sensors will be fairly stable and will seldom need to be zeroed.

Antenna Transmitter
Dual Directional Coupler


Reverse power meter

Forward power meter

PC, Laptop or PDA

Figure 1. Measuring the SWR of a feeder and antenna using a dual directional coupler.

Figure 1 shows a typical antenna system with the dual-directional coupler connected between the feeder and the antenna. The system consists of a transmitter or transmitter / receiver or signal generator, which is necessary to generate some kind of signal at the frequency of interest to enable the measurement to take place; a feeder which is probably a coaxial cable, but might equally be any other kind of feeder such as twin feeder or a waveguide; a dual-directional coupler that operates with the same characteristic impedance as the feeder, and finally, the antenna. There are two possible positions for the measurement plane in this system.

Antenna Transmitter Feeder

Dual Directional Coupler

Reverse power meter

Forward power meter

PC, Laptop or PDA

Figure 2. Measuring the SWR of the antenna, alone, using a dual directional coupler.

Figure 2 shows a similar system where the coupler has been moved so it is next to the antenna. The difference between the two systems is that measurements of antenna return loss made with the second system are immune to changes in the feeder loss that would seriously affect the measurements made by the first system. The measurement plane for this system is at the junction between the antenna and the dual directional coupler. If measurements are made at both positions, the feeder loss can be calculated as the change in forward power. If only one position must be chosen, then the preferred location for sensing the forward and reflected power is directly in front of the antenna as shown in figure 2, because the feeder loss can be monitored on the forward power meter, and doesnt affect the VRC measurement. However, there may be circumstances when the arrangement shown in figure 1 is more practical, such as when the antenna is located in an inaccessible place. Changing the load on a transmitter may well alter the forward power, because of the high VSWR protection circuitry built into many transmitters. If a high VSWR antenna is connected, the forward power may be reduced to protect the output devices in the transmitter. This means that the ratio of the forward and reflected powers must be used calculate the antenna VRC, rather than just the reflected power, assuming the forward power was constant during a tuning operation for example.

Allowing the transmitter to operate into a very high VSWR can also be very dangerous as abnormally high voltages can easily be developed and this cannot be recommended as it could cause damage to the transmitter or feeder. Consequently, it may be necessary to insert an attenuator into the feeder at the transmitter output connector to ensure that the transmitter is protected if there is a strong possibility that the antenna may be faulty, for example, during installation of the antenna. A value of around 6dB should be sufficient to prevent any damage, and the attenuator needs to be able to dissipate the transmitter rated output power. This attenuator should be left in situ for the duration of the test. Antenna return-loss measurement does not usually tax the accuracy of measurement equipment because the antenna itself provides a match that varies with movement of the antenna elements with respect to each other, and with the movement of nearby conductive materials and even with the weather. Expected Performance of an antenna There is a great deal of variation in the return loss of antennas, and it would be difficult to set clear guidelines as to what constitutes a failure. Many antennas have reflection coefficients of around 0.5 (return loss of 6 dB) when operating normally. There is no necessity for an antenna to have what might be considered a good match in other circumstances. Sometimes, a narrow frequency range may have a very good match. It is perhaps more important to understand what is happening if the return loss improves over time, as this may be caused by excessive feeder loss, perhaps caused by water ingress into the feeder. There are several common antenna failure modes. These include damaged connectors, deformed or damaged cables and mechanical damage to the antenna. Shortening any of the elements changes the resonant frequency of the antenna system and will generally worsen the match which often depends on a narrowband resonance. If a directional antenna, like a yagi array or parabolic dish, is damaged, so that the axis points in a different direction, it will have less gain in the desired direction, but may well have a perfectly good SWR. Only a check on the signal level, perhaps using any built in signal level meter or with a spectrum analyzer, will indicate the problem. Surprisingly, some antennas may appear to work perfectly and have fairly good SWR, even when visibly damaged. This may be true for long yagi antennas with broken directors, or for discone antennas with missing elements. Usually resonant antennas, like dipoles and the driven elements of yagi arrays, are the most sensitive to mechanical damage. In the final analysis, an expensive repair may not be necessary if the system is still working well. However, it may be wise to schedule an antenna or feeder replacement or repair before the radio link is degraded by further damaging weather.
Return Loss (dB)


VSWR 1.00

0.05 0.1 0.15 0.2 0.25 0.3 0.35 0.4 0.45 0.5 0.55 0.6 0.65 0.7 0.75 0.8 0.85 0.9 0.95 1

1.11 1.22 1.35 1.50 1.67 1.86 2.08 2.33 2.64 3.00 3.44 4.00 4.71 5.67 7.00 9.00 12.33 19.00 39.00

-26.02 -20.00 -16.48 -13.98 -12.04 -10.46 -9.12 -7.96 -6.94 -6.02 -5.19 -4.44 -3.74 -3.10 -2.50 -1.94 -1.41 -0.92 -0.45 0.00

Table 1: Conversion from or || to VSWR and return loss

Please email any comments to: tony.lymer@satori-technology.com