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COMM123 Transmission Media and Antenna System


In general, propagation methods refer to how
a radio wave arrives from a radio transmitting
antenna into the receiving antenna. Several methods
are available but there are three basic methods
namely: ground wave method, space wave
method, and sky-wave method.

The ground wave signal should be vertically

polarized (vertical antennas are used) for it to
propagate along Earths ground. Horizontally
polarized waves are shorted by the Earths ground (a
conductor). Marconi antenna (grounded /4 antenna)
is typically the antenna employed. The field strength
at a distance from a transmitting antenna is given by:

Tropospheric scatter method is another
method but sometimes considered a special case of
sky wave. Propagation by using satellites is yet
another way of receiving a radio wave but actually
employing the principle of space wave method of

1) Ground (surface) wave propagation method

In ground wave method, the radio wave is
radiated directly towards the ground (Earths ground
is a good reflector provided it is a good conductor
ground). The ground reflects the radio wave towards
the upper region of the Earths atmosphere for it to
be refracted back. Series of reflection by the ground
and refraction by the atmosphere results into
propagation following the Earths curvature. It is
otherwise known as beyond the horizon means of
propagation. It is used for world-wide
communications in the VLF and LF bands and for
broadcasting in the MF bands. Generally effective
only up to 2 MHz.

120 characteristic impedance of free space
ht and hr effective height of the transmitting and
receiving antenna, respectively
I antenna current
r distance from the transmitting antenna
The signal received at that distance if a receiving
antenna is in place is:

V = hr

2) Sky-wave (ionospheric) propagation method

The sky wave is directed upwards from the
Earth into the upper atmosphere where, if certain
conditions are satisfied, it will be returned to Earth at
the required location. Used for HF communication
systems, including long-distance radio-telephony and
sound broadcasting. Generally effective above 2
MHz up to 30 MHz. Beyond 30 MHz, radio waves
are not refracted, they penetrate F2 layer because at
higher frequencies, electromagnetic waves have
shorter wavelengths and become more penetrating.

COMM123 Transmission Media and Antenna System

The ionosphere is from the upper limit if the
stratosphere to a distance of approximately 400
kilometers. Beyond the ionosphere is outer space or
free space. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun entering
the atmosphere of the Earth supplies energy to the
gas molecules in the atmosphere. This energy is
sufficient to ionize some of the molecules; i.e.
remove some electrons from their parent atoms.
Each atom losing an electron in this way has a
resultant positive charge and is said to be ionized.
The refractive index of the ionosphere is given by

N number of free electrons per m3
n frequency of radio wave (Hz)

Layers of Ionosphere

Earths Atmosphere
With respect to radio wave propagation, there
are only three layers of the atmosphere: the
troposphere, the stratosphere, and the
The troposphere extends from the Earths
surface up to approximately 10 kilometers.
The stratosphere is next in height that
extends from the upper limit of the troposphere to an
approximate elevation of 50 kilometers. This layer
has a constant non-fluctuating temperature (also
called the isothermal region) and therefore is not
subject to temperature inversions nor can it cause
significant refractions of radio waves.

D Layer
The D layer is the lowest layer of the
ionosphere existing at an average daytime height of
70 km and with an average daytime thickness of 10
km. Generally, the degree ionization in the
ionosphere depends on the altitude of the sun above
the horizon thus this layer is the least ionized layer
since this is the farthest layer from the sun but the
closest to Earths ground. This layer disappears at
night due to recombination process. The D layer is
not an important layer for HF propagation for its main
effect is to aid surface wave propagation. This layer
can refract back to earth VLF and LF waves.

COMM123 Transmission Media and Antenna System

D - Layer
Ion Density:


2x105 free electrons/m3

70 km average
(50 to 90 km)
10 km
Disappears at night
Least important layer for
3 kHz 60 kHz
VLF and LF
HF by partial absorption

E Layer
The E layer is next to D layer in height. It is
existing at about 100 km during the day and with a
thickness of roughly 25 km. Its main effect is to aid
MF surface-wave propagation but it can also reflect
some HF waves in daytime up to approximately 20
E - Layer
Ion Density:

2x105 free electrons/m3

100 km average
25 km
Disappears at night due to
recombination of ions into

F1 Layer
The F1 layer exists at a height of 180 km in
daytime and combines with the F2 layer at night; its
daytime thickness is about 20 km. Although some
HF waves are reflected from it, most pass through to
be reflected from the F2 layer. Thus the main effect
of F1 layer is to provide more absorption for HF
F1 - Layer
Ion Density:

4x105 free electrons/m3

180 km at daytime
20 km
Combines with F2 at night

F2 Layer
The F2 layer is the most important layer of the
ionosphere for refracting HF radio waves. Its daytime
thickness is approximately 200 km with height that
ranges from 250 400 km during the day. At night it
combines with F1 layer and falls to a height or around
300 km.
F2 - Layer
Ion Density:

6x105 free electrons/m3

250 to 400 km
200 km at day time
300 km at night time
Ionization density remain high at

Note that heights of ionosphere layers are not

constant but vary both daily and seasonally as the
intensity of the suns radiation fluctuates. The heights
given above are average virtual heights and not
actual heights of ionized layers.

COMM123 Transmission Media and Antenna System

Factors affecting the ability of ionosphere to

refract radio waves
a) Ion density
The refractive ability of the ionosphere
increases with the degree of ionization. The bending
of a wave at any given frequency or wavelength and
angle of radiation will increase with increase in
ionization density.
The degree of ionization is greater in summer
than in winter and is also greater during the day than
at night.
b) Frequency of the radio wave
The bending of a wave at any given
ionization density and angle of radiation will increase
with a decrease in frequency. The lower the
frequency, the more easily the signal is refracted.
The higher the frequency, the more difficult is the
refracting or bending process.

Sky-Wave Propagation Parameters

a) Virtual height (hv)
The virtual height is the apparent height of an
ionized layer, as determined from the time interval
between the transmitted signal and the ionospheric
echo at vertical incidence. The virtual height of the
ionospheric layer is given by:

d distance between the transmitting and receiving

i angle of incidence (degrees)

c velocity of light (m/s)
T round-trip propagation time (s)

b) Critical Frequency (fc)

The critical frequency is the highest
frequency that will be returned down to earth by that
layer after having beamed vertically straight upward
or at normal incidence. It is determined by the
maximum number of free electrons per m3 or
electron density in the ionosphere.

MUF maximum usable frequency (Hz)
Nmax maximum number of free electrons per m3
c) Angle of radiation (AOR) or angle of
transmission (AOT)
The bending of a wave at any given
frequency and ionization density will increase with
increase in the angle of radiation (that is, the wave is
farther from the horizon).

c) Maximum Usable Frequency (MUF)

The maximum usable frequency is the
highest frequency wherein the signal is able to return
back to earth when beamed at a certain angle other
than normal or vertical incidence. Normal values of
MUF range from 8 MHz to 35 MHz but may increase
to as high as 50 MHz under unusual solar activities.

COMM123 Transmission Media and Antenna System

d) Optimum Working Frequency (OWF) or

Frequency of Optimum Transmission (FOT) or
Optimum Usable Frequency (OUF)
OWF or FOT or OUF is the best frequency
used to operate a sky-wave link which is found to be
85% of the MUF. This frequency gives the most
stable link between transmitters and receivers in sky
wave propagation.

OWF = FOT = OUF = 0.85MUF

e) Lowest Usable Frequency (LUF)
LUF is the lower limit of the range of
frequencies that provide useful communications
between the two given points by ionospheric
refraction. Absorption increases at lower
frequencies. The frequency nearest the point where
reception becomes unusable would be the LUF.
f) Gyrofrequency (fg)
Electrons moving in an ionized layer take a
helix path. At this frequency, where the periodic time
of the wave is equal to the time required for one
complete revolution about the magnetic axis, the
path of the electrons becomes a very wide single
g) Critical Angle (c)
Critical angle is the highest angle of radiation
that will return the wave to the earth at a given
density of ionization in the layer for the frequency or
wavelength under consideration.

h) Skip distance and Skip zone

The skip distance is the minimum distance
over which communication at a given frequency
(usually the MUF of the link) can be established by
means of the sky wave. This distance is a function of
both frequency and the angle of radiation (AOR) or
angle of transmission (AOT). To maximize the skip
distance is to use the highest frequency and the
smallest angle possible.
The skip zone is the area that lies between
the outer limit of the ground wave range and the
inner edge of energy return from the ionosphere. It is
an area where no signal can be heard.
The refracting and reflecting action of the
ionosphere and the ground is called skipping.
i) Hop
Hop refers to a single reflection of a radio
wave from the ionosphere back to earth. Multi-hop
means multiple reflections and refractions thus
increasing the coverage along earths ground in sky
wave propagation.

Factors affecting optimum operating frequency

a) Location and geography
Intensity of ionizing radiation varies with
locations and altitudes. The intensity is greatest in
equatorial regions, where the sun is more directly
overhead than in the higher altitudes.
b) Seasonal variations
Seasonal variations are variations brought
about by the revolution of the earth around the sun.
Earth orbits the sun with an orbital period of 1 year
bringing about the four seasons: spring, summer,
autumn, and winter. The sun is the major controlling
element on the behavior of the ionosphere thus
ionization is stronger in summer than in winter.
c) Diurnal variations
Diurnal variations are variations brought
about by the rotation of the earth around its axis. The
earth rotates around its own axis within a 24-hour
period that is broken up into three distinct time
periods: day, transition and night. Transition periods
occur twice: once around sunrise and again once
around sunset. Ionization is maximum during

COMM123 Transmission Media and Antenna System

daylight hours and minimum during the hours of

d) Cyclical variations
Cyclical variations are variations brought
about by the solar cycle like the sunspot activities.
Solar activities are characterized by sunspot
numbers. Sunspots appear on the suns surface and
are tremendous eruptions of whirling electrified gas.
Sunspots cycle is every 11 years.

Ionospheric Irregularities
a) Sudden Ionospheric Disturbances (SIDs)
SIDs are also known as Dellinger Fadeouts
or Mogel-Dellinger Fadeouts. They are caused by
solar flares which are gigantic emissions of hydrogen
from the sun.
b) Traveling Ionospheric Disturbances (TIDs)
TIDs are disturbances that seriously affect
the accuracy of high-frequency direction finders due
to irregularities of electron densities in the
c) Ionospheric storms
Ionospheric storms are caused by particle
emissions from the sun, generally Alpha and Beta
rays. At these conditions, the ionosphere behaves
erratically causing signal strengths to drop and
fluctuate rapidly. They take about 36 hours to reach
the earth.
d) Fading
Fading is the fluctuation of signal strength at
the receiver. It can occur because of interference
between the lower and upper rays of a sky wave,
between sky waves arriving by a different number of
hops or different paths, or even between a ground
wave and a sky wave especially at the lower end of
the HF band. In analog system, fading results in a
degradation of speech quality. In digital system,
error- correction circuitry will be able to correct any
errors, provided that the bit error rate is not too high.

3) Space wave (tropospheric) propagation

The space wave propagation method
becomes compulsory when frequency generally
exceeds 30 MHz and beyond up to 300 GHz. A
space wave signal has two general components:
(1) one of which travels in a very nearly straight line
between the transmitting and receiving antennas
(direct space wave), and
(2) the other which travels by means of a single
reflection from the earth (ground reflected space
The space wave propagation method is used
for sound and television broadcasting for radio relay
systems, and for various mobile systems operating in
the VHF, UHF, and SHF bands. This wave is limited
(a) earths curvature (line-of-sight dependent) and
(b) heights of transmitting and receiving antennas.

Parameters of space wave propagation

a) Radio horizon distance or maximum radio
The maximum radio range (line-of-sight
distance between transmitter and receiver towers) is
given by

Note that the radio horizon distance is longer than

the geometric or optical or visual horizon by 15% due
to refraction phenomenon or bending of radio waves.

COMM123 Transmission Media and Antenna System

b) Effective earths radius (Re)

Re = kRo
Ro Earths true radius 3960 mi 6370 km
c) Correction factor for Earths radius (k factor)

d) Surface refractivity

N mean sea level refractivity
hs altitude above mean sea level (km)
Irregularities of space wave propagation
a) Super refraction or Ducting
Super refraction occurs when the refractive
index of the air decreases with height much more
rapidly than normal. An increase in temperature with
height (known as temperature inversion) gives rise to
super refraction or ducting, as does the increase of
humidity with height. A duct is a region in which
super refraction occurs. It is formed in the
troposphere when a layer of cool air becomes
trapped underneath a layer of warmer air, or when a
layer of cool air becomes sandwiched between two
layers of warmer air. For the duct effect to provide
communications, both the transmitting and receiving
antennas must be located within the same duct, and
this duct must be present continuously between two

b) Sub-refraction
Sub-refraction reduces signal strength by
bending the ray away from the receiving point.
Propagation by Satellites
Communication satellites are orbiting around
the earth at approximately 22,300 miles above.
These satellites receive a signal from an earth
station, amplify it and then transmit it at a different
frequency towards the earth. Basically, they are
acting as radio repeater in outer space. They are
commonly used to carry international telephony
systems and television signals.