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Efficiency Measurements of

Portable-Handset Antennas
Using the Wheeler Cap
By Darioush Agahi and William Domino
Conexant Systems Inc.

n the design of wireless portable devices,


antenna efficiency is a variable that can
have a great effect on overall system performance, and yet it may not always receive the
attention it deserves. For example, RF engineers must frequently make critical tradeoffs in
receiver design in order to improve sensitivity
by mere fractions of a dB, but a poor antenna
efficiency can easily cause a degradation of several dB. This pitfall can occur in systems such
as GSM, where many tests are performed using
a cable connection to the antenna port. A handset may easily pass such tests, only to be later
hampered by its antenna when used in the
field. This article is targeted at the very important parameter of antenna efficiency, and a
measurement technique that can be used to
quantify it.
Antenna efficiency must be distinguished
from antenna gain. Antenna gain is a directional quantity that refers to the signal strength
that can be obtained from an antenna relative to
a reference level, typically either an isotropic
source or a dipole. Efficiency, on the other hand,
quantifies the resistive loss of the antenna, in
terms of the proportion of power that is actually radiated versus the power that is first delivered to it. It is not a directional quantity.

The model
We model the antennas loss as a resistor
placed in series with the radiation resistance, as
shown in Figure 1. Since the model includes no
reactances, there is an implicit assumption that
the measurements must be taken at resonance.
The equations to be derived later require this
assumption.
The antenna efficiency (see Appendix) is
34 APPLIED MICROWAVE & WIRELESS

Figure 1. Circuit model of an antenna showing


radiation and loss resistances.

PRAD
PRAD
RRAD
=
=
Pin
PRAD + PLOSS RRAD + RLOSS

(1)

Note that it is immaterial whether the antenna is matched to the source resistance RS. While
it is certainly desirable and necessary to match
the antenna in actual use, the match is not part
of the problem of finding the above resistance
ratio. Therefore, we need only to relate the radiated power to that which is transferred forward
at the point shown in Figure 1. What is needed,
then, is a way to effectively separate the resistances RLOSS and RRAD by way of measurement,
so that the efficiency can be calculated.

The Wheeler cap


Wheeler [1] sets forth just such a method,
where a hollow conductive sphere is placed over
the antenna at the radius of transition between
the antennas energy-storing near-field and its

radiating far-field. This transition


radius occurs at a distance of /2,
and thus the sphere is referred to as
the radiansphere. The role of the
conductive sphere is to reflect all of
the antennas radiation while causing minimal disturbance to the
near-field. In theory, a complete
sphere is appropriate for reflecting
the radiation of a small dipole,
which is an approximation of an
isotropic antenna. In practice, a
monopole with a ground plane can
be capped with a half-sphere. The
half-spherical Wheeler cap is
shown in Figure 2. For 900 MHz, Figure 2. Half-spherical Wheeler cap.
Figure 3. Cylindrical Wheeler cap.
the caps radius is 5.3 cm.
If all of the power radiated by
the antenna is reflected back by the cap and not allowed
PLOSS
= 1 S11WC 2
to escape, then in our model this is the equivalent of set(3)
PAVAIL
ting RRAD to zero. By making separate S11 measurements with the cap in place and with the cap removed,
we gather enough information to find the resistances
Cap off The radiation resistance is that of the
and the antennas efficiency.
antenna radiating into free space, and the antenna
The spherical or half-spherical cap is intended for reflection coefficient is measured and referred to as
physically small antennas; simple dipole or monopole S11FS. Then
antennas must therefore also be electrically short. Given
the caps radius, it is not possible to fit a monopole of
PRAD + PLOSS
= 1 S11FS 2
length /4 below it. To test such an antenna, we replace
(4)
PAVAIL
the half-spherical cap with a cylindrical cap, keeping the
radius at /2. Such a cylindrical cap is illustrated in
Figure 3.
We need only measure the magnitudes (and not the
signs) of S11WC and S11FS. The antenna efficiency
Efficiency of short antennas:
becomes

the constant-power-loss method


For an electrically short antenna (</10), the radiation resistance is typically small in comparison to the 50
ohm source resistance of the measuring system. The
radiation resistance of an ideal short monopole [2] is
L
RRAD MONO = 160 2

L <<

(2)

So, for example, a 1/20-wavelength monopole, which


fits comfortably under the half-spherical cap, exhibits
about a 4 ohm radiation resistance. With such a small
value of RRAD, the power lost in the resistance RLOSS is
about the same whether the cap is in place or removed,
that is, with zero or finite RRAD. With the assumption of
constant power loss, we can make use of S11 magnitude
measurements with the cap on and off as follows:
Cap on The radiation resistance is zero, and the
antenna reflection coefficient is measured and referred
to as S11WC. Then
36 APPLIED MICROWAVE & WIRELESS

PRAD
=
PRAD + PLOSS
S11WC

S11FS

1 S11FS

2
2
1 S

11FS 1 S11WC

2
1 S
11
FS

(5)

(6)

The efficiency can therefore be found directly from


the reflection coefficient magnitude measurements,
without any need to actually determine RRAD and RLOSS.
It should still be noted that the measurements must be
made at resonance, because the loss model is based on
vector S11 values that are all-real, even though only
their magnitudes are needed in the above equations.
Equation (6) appears in [3] in a survey of previous
techniques. This method was likely developed to make it
possible to obtain an antenna efficiency measurement
using only reflectometer-type reflection-coefficient measurements, where only the magnitude of S11 is measured. In this case the method further depends on the

close proximity of the minimum of |S11| to its all-real


point. For our example of a 1/20-wavelength monopole,
suppose the measurements are
S11

WC

= 0.966

S11

FS

= 0.823

Cap off The radiation resistance is that of the


antenna radiating into free space, and the antenna
reflection coefficient is S11FS. Then
S11FS =

Then the efficiency calculated from Equation (6) is


= 79.3%

( RRAD + RLOSS ) RS
( RRAD + RLOSS ) + RS

(9)

(7) and (8) are transposed to become

This antenna causes ateh radio to have a performance


penalty of

RLOSS 1 + S11WC
=
1 S11WC
RS

(10)

10 log(79.3%) = 1.0 dB
Such an efficiency is not atypical, and some antennas
have been measured to be even less than 50 percent efficient, which corresponds to a power loss of more than 3
dB. This power loss is a direct degradation of the receiver sensitivity and the transmitter output power, relative
to a cable-connection test. Such a transmitter power loss
would greatly degrade the handset s battery life, and, in
cellular systems that tend to be uplink-limited, it would
affect the ability of the handset to obtain service in marginal areas. In a 1/8-duty-cycle GSM system operating at
full transmit power of 2 ohms with a 50 percent efficient
antenna, the resistive heating of the antenna would
amount to 1/8 ohm!

As the antenna becomes longer, its radiation resistance increases, and the assumption of constant power
loss with and without the cap breaks down. In this case
a method of efficiency measurement that directly makes
use of the quantities RRAD and RLOSS is preferred.
Fortunately, modern vector network analyzers can provide a direct display of the impedance of a measured
device when performing a reflection coefficient measurement. So we make use of the resistance ratio in (1)
rather than the power ratio:
RRAD
RRAD + RLOSS

(11)

FS

1 S11FS

RS

And the efficiency is

RRAD
=
RRAD + RLOSS

= 1

Efficiency of moderate-length antennas:


the constant-loss-resistor method

( RRAD + RLOSS ) = 1 + S11

1 + S11FS 1 + S11WC
1 S
1 S

11FS
11WC
1 + S11FS
1 S

11FS

(1 S )(1 + S )
(1 + S )(1 S )
11FS

11WC

11FS

11WC

(12)

(13)

Equation (13) is actually more accurate then


Equation (6) regardless of the absolute value of RRAD
(and thereby of the antenna length). Its one disadvantage lies in the fact that the signs of the (all-real) S11
measurements must be retained and accounted for in
the calculation, making for somewhat less convenience.
But it exactly reproduces the resistance ratio at any
level of antenna efficiency, as opposed to Equation (6)
which becomes less accurate at lower efficiencies.
As an example, consider a low-efficiency monopole,
where the S11 measurements are:

(7)
S11

Here the key assumption is that RLOSS itself, rather


than the power lost in it, remains constant with the cap
in place or removed. If desired, we can still express the
efficiency in terms of the reflection coefficients:

WC

= 0.626

S11

FS

= 0.325

Then the efficiency calculated from eq. (13) is


= 54.9% = 2.6 dB
while that calculated from eq. (6) is

Cap on The radiation resistance is zero, and the


antenna reflection coefficient is S11WC. Then
S11WC =

RLOSS RS
RLOSS + RS

38 APPLIED MICROWAVE & WIRELESS

(8)

= 32.0% = 4.9 dB
The value of efficiency calculated by the constantpower-loss method is unnecessarily pessimistic. This
discrepancy between the methods occurs with longer

value of RLOSS, in order to further compare


the two methods of calculation. Figure 4 is
plotted for an RRAD of 4 ohms (our shortantenna case) while Figure 5 is for an RRAD
of 14 ohms (a longer antenna). In the 4 ohm
case the curves agree down to about 75 percent, while in the 14 ohm case they quickly
diverge. In either case the constant-lossresistor method is more accurate, as it
agrees with the resistance ratio. This illustrates that the constant-power-loss method
is accurate only for small radiation resistances and high efficiency.

Making the measurements:


practical considerations
Figure 4. Efficiency vs. RLOSS for an antenna with 4 ohms radiation
In the above derivations it was assumed
resistance.
that the radiation and loss resistances are
not accompanied by any reactive impedances; therefore the S11 measurements
need to be made at the antenna's actual
resonance, as defined by the point where
S11 is all-real. For an ideal lossless antenna
and perfectly-reflecting Wheeler cap, the
S11 measurements would be 1 with the cap
on and zero with the cap off, and we need to
find the points of all-real impedance that
most closely approach these. They may or
may not be precisely the same as where the
magnitude |S11| is minimized, as illustrated in Figure 6, and so it is advisable to view
the measurements on a Smith chart display
rather than a log-magnitude grid. These
points should not be too far apart.
It is especially true that the free space
measurement should be done at the actual
Figure 5. Efficiency vs. RLOSS for an antenna with 14 ohms radiation resonance instead of the antenna's nominal
resistance.
operating frequency F0. This is because the
antenna is normally loaded down when
installed on the handset, and it is expected
antennas that inherently exhibit a large RRAD.
that there should be a small shift when it is removed
Next we plot the calculated efficiency vs. a swept and placed on a different ground plane. A rule of thumb

Figure 6. Smith chart display of free-space S11.


40 APPLIED MICROWAVE & WIRELESS

Figure 7. Allowable de-tuning for measurement.

Appendix
The derivation of Equation (1), which also appears
in [2], page 48, is duplicated here. In the ideal case,
with no disturbances to the antenna, and a perfect
match, the input resistance represents the dissipation
loss of the antenna. This resistance represents the
sum of radiation resistance and ohmic resistance.
Rin = RRAD + RLOSS

(a1)

Given that the peak current flowing in to the


antenna is Iin then the average power dissipated in an
antenna is
Pin =
Figure 8. A pictorial diagram of the fixture used for measurements with and without the Wheeler cap.

that is normally used for the maximum limit of this


shift is 10% of F0. De-tuning beyond this could impact
the accuracy of the measurement, as it means the actual-usage environment differs too much from the measuring setup.

Conclusion
The Wheeler cap provides a convenient and reasonably accurate method of determining antenna efficiency.
For practical use, it consists of a cap over a ground
plane, usually of a simpler shape than the ideal halfsphere, such as a cylinder, maintaining the /2 radius.
Figure 8 shows a test fixture with a removable Wheeler
cap. The efficiency is best determined by measurement
of the antenna resistance with the cap in place and
removed, each taken at the resonance defined as the allreal impedance point.

Author information
Darioush Agahi is the Director of RF Systems
Engineering at Conexant Systems in Newport Beach,
CA. He may be reached via email at darioush.
agahi@conexant.com.

42 APPLIED MICROWAVE & WIRELESS

(a2)

Inserting (a1) into (a2) yields,


1
( RRAD + RLOSS ) Iin 2
2
1
1
2
2
= RRAD Iin + RLOSS Iin
2
2

Pin =

Or equivalently,
PRAD =

1
2
RRAD Iin
2

(a3)

PLOSS =

1
2
RLOSS Iin
2

(a4)

Using the efficiency equation and inserting (a3)


and (a4) yields,

References
1. H. A. Wheeler, The Radiansphere Around a Small
Antenna, Proceedings of the IRE, Vol. 47, August 1959.
2. W. L. Stutzman and G. A. Thiele, Antenna Theory
and Design, Wiley, New York, 1981.
3. R. H. Johnston, L. P. Ager, and J. G. McRory, A
New Small Antenna Efficiency Measurement Method,
IEEE 1996 Antennas and Propagation Society
International Symposium, Vol. 1.

1
2
Rin Iin
2

PRAD
PRAD
=
Pin
PRAD + PLOSS
1
2
RRAD Iin
2
=
1
1
2
2
RRAD Iin + RLOSS Iin
2
2

After canceling similar terms, it yields,

PRAD
PRAD + PLOSS

William Domino is a Principal Engineer for RF


Systems Engineering at Conexant Systems. He may be
reached via email at william.domino@conexant.com.