Countless online discussions have online experts describing their various preferred methods for estimating the characteristic impedance of a transmission line… often without really testing whether their simple results are realistic, ie believable. Of course, being social media, it would be unsocial for another participant to question the results, so the unchallenged becomes part of ham lore.

Apparent gross failures are often wrongly attributed to factors like manufacturing tolerances, polluted line surface, other esoteric factors etc that might imply a knowledgeable author… but that is social media, an unreliable source of information.

Let’s explore an estimate using measurements with a nanoVNA using the popular eighth wavelength (λ/8) method.

## λ/8 method

The λ/8 method relies upon the property of a lossless line terminated in an open circuit that differential impedance \(Z_d=\jmath X=- \jmath \left| Z_0 \right| cot \left(\pi/4\right)=- \jmath\left| Z_0 \right|\). So, if you measure the reactance looking into the λ/8 (\(\frac{\piᶜ}{4} \:or\: 45°\)), you can estimate Zo as equal to the magnitude of the reactance.

A similar expression can be written for the case of a short circuit termination and it leads to the same result that you can estimate Zo as equal to the magnitude of the reactance (an exercise for the reader).

The fact that the two cases lead to the same result can be used to verify that the line length is in fact λ/8 (they will not be equal if the length is a little different to λ/8)… though writeups rarely mention this, or perform the test.

So, the method depends critically on:

- whether the line length is λ/8;
- whether it is sufficiently low loss; and
- whether the differential impedance measurement is valid.

Most online articles do not include details of the measurement setup, perhaps thinking that it not all that relevant. Of course, one of the greatest failings in experiments is to ignore some factor that is in fact relevant. Continue reading Failure estimating transmission line Zo – λ/8 method – nanoVNA