Transmission line measurements – learning from failure

Introduction

A recent article questioned the accuracy of measurement of Matched Line Loss (MLL) for a modified commercial transmission line. The published results were less than half the loss of an equivalent line in air using copper conductors and lossless dielectric, when in fact there would be good reason to expect that the line modification would probably increase loss.

How do you avoid the pitfalls of using analysers and VNAs to measure line loss?

Lets walk through a simple exercise that you can try at home with a good one port analyser (or VNA). Measuring something that is totally unknown does not provide an external reference point for judging the reasonableness of the results, so will use something that is known to a fair extent,

Experiment

For this exercise, we will measure the Matched Line Loss (MLL) of a 6m length of uniform transmission line, RG58C/U cable, using an AIMUHF analyser. The AIM manual describes the method.

If you need to know the cable loss at other frequencies, enable the Return Loss display using the Setup menu and click Plot Parameters -> Return Loss and then do a regular scan of the cable over the desired frequency range with the far end of the cable open. Move the blue vertical cursor along the scan and the cable loss will be displayed on the right side of the graph for each frequency point

Note the one-way cable loss is numerically equal to one-half of the return loss. The return loss is the loss that the signal experiences in two passes, down and back along the open cable.

Our measurements will show that this is a naively simple explanation, and to take it literally as complete may lead to serious errors. Yes, it IS the equipment manual, but it is my experience that the designers of equipment, and writers of the manuals often show only a superficial knowledge of the relevant material.

Datasheet

Above is an extract of the datasheet for Belden 8262 RG58C/U type cable, our test cable should have similar characteristics. Continue reading Transmission line measurements – learning from failure

Inferring Matched Line Loss from Half Return Loss measurements – Zo error

At On Witt’s calculation of Matched Line Loss from Return Loss I discussed the common but flawed thinking that Matched Line Loss (MLL) can be calculated as half of the Return Loss of either a S/C or O/C section of transmission line.

The article discusses Witt’s calculation (half the average of Return Loss for S/C and O/C conditions) and notes that it can be a good approximation where the actual Zo is very close to the Zo on which the Return Loss measurement is based, and that the line loss is low.

This article looks at a case study of a section of low loss nominally 75Ω line is measured on a 50Ω instrument to illustrate sensitivity to Zo error.

A 3.1m section of RG6 was measured with O/C then S/C termination using a 50Ω VNA, and HalfReturnLoss (HRL), |S11| and phase of S11 is plotted.

Above, the O/C termination. Continue reading Inferring Matched Line Loss from Half Return Loss measurements – Zo error

VSWR meter trap for the unwary

From time to time one sees discussion online about consistency of ‘measured’ VSWR at different power levels (on the same instrument).

A question often asked is:

I tune up at 10W and achieve VSWR=1.5, and when I increase power to 100W, the VSWR increases. Which should I believe?

The first thing to note is that good antenna systems SHOULD be linear, VSWR should be independent of power, it is if the system IS linear.

For the most part they are linear, even though many antenna systems contain elements such as ferrite cored inductors that may exhibit some small level of non-linearity in ‘normal’ operation.

Non-linearity caused by for instance saturation of magnetic materials, loss of permeability where the temperature of ferrite cores reaches Curie point, arcing of capacitors or other insulating materials is NOT normal linear operation of a GOOD antenna system. If high indicated VSWR at high power is caused by any of these effects, it is flagging a problem that requires attention.

That said, a significant non-linear element may be the VSWR meter itself.

A common, if not most common way to make these meters is to use a half wave detector to convert the direction coupler RF outputs into DC to drive an ordinary moving coil meter. These meters commonly assume that the detector DC output voltage is exactly proportional to the RF input voltage.

Lets look at the accuracy of that process.

Above is a plot of the detector output vs RF input voltage for a commercial 200W VSWR meter. The measurements cover input power from 10 to 100W.
Continue reading VSWR meter trap for the unwary

80m voltage fed Half Square matching workup

A correspondent wrote asking about the design of a matching network for a Half Square antenna for 80m, voltage fed at one end.

Above is the current distribution on the half square voltage fed. It is essentially two in-phase vertical quarter waves separated a half wavelength, a broadside array.

Feed point impedance at resonance is very high 5700Ω, and being a high Q antenna, they are very sensitive to dimensions, nearby clutter etc. Note that this is calculated for an antenna in the clear, it will be different where trees or conductive mast exist nearby. Continue reading 80m voltage fed Half Square matching workup

Checkout of SimSmith v16.3 – spot check of transmission line database – further discussion

The article Checkout of SimSmith v16.3 – spot check of transmission line database raises an issue with SimSmith’s modelling of transmission lines.

The case chosen was Belden 8216, a RG174 type line with silver clad steel stranded inner conductor.

Fully developed skin effect

Most practical transmission lines used for HF and above have fully developed skin effect above some frequency, and are well represented by the loss model MLL=k1*f^0.5+k2*f. For an RLGC model, the R is given by the first term and with fully developed skin effect, it is proportional to square root of f. The loss of good dielectrics is usually simply proportional to f and indicated by the second term.

Under this model, L and C are independent of frequency.

Many calculators use this model, and it works fine where skin effect is fully, or even well developed. The model coefficients are commonly discovered by performing a regression on measured matched loss at a range of frequencies, and the quality of the regression fit is a good indicator of the quality of the model for that particular line. Continue reading Checkout of SimSmith v16.3 – spot check of transmission line database – further discussion

Ham grade analysers and VNAs often use unconventional meanings for well known terms

Lets use a simple test circuit to review the meaning of some oft misused terms associated with VNA and antenna analyser measurements.

Above, the test circuit is a nominally 220pF COG capacitor connected between tx and rx ports of a two port VNA. An extra 1Ω series resistance is included to model the likely effect of capacitor ESR. Continue reading Ham grade analysers and VNAs often use unconventional meanings for well known terms

Checkout of SimSmith v16.3 – spot check of transmission line database

I am not a SimSmith user, and with upgrade of my desktop computer, I have lost access to the Smith chart application I have used for 20+ years. That has given me reason to evaluate various Smith chart applications for a replacement.

Smith charts are about modelling problems in transmission line terms, and what better test than a simple transmission line problem.

Above, a model of Belden 8216 (an RG-174 type cable) picked from SimSmith’s library of transmission line data (source KN5L). The model is at 1MHz and essentially indicates the Matched Line Loss of 100m by deducting the left hand dBW figure from the next one to the right, -5.88228e-3–2.33357=2.33dB. (Duh, I could not copy and paste these values, they had to be read and typed in by hand which is not only laborious but more importantly gives scope for error.)

Lets check the Manufacturer’s data sheet. Continue reading Checkout of SimSmith v16.3 – spot check of transmission line database

Surecom SW-102 VSWR meter review – v2.6

At Surecom SW-102 VSWR meter review I wrote a review of a meter which I had purchased a little over a year ago, it was at v4.5.

One of the many problems identified was inconsistency of displayed values.

v2.6

Surecom’s versions are confusing, the highest number is not necessarily the latest version. It appears a partial version history from their current page advertising the SW-102 is:

OLD VERSION : V3.3 ,V3.8 ,V4.5,V4.9 ,V5.0,V5.1
2017-8 NEW VERSION : V2.02 ,V2.03

The following image is from Surecom’s current page advertising the SW-102, and I assume that the version shown here (v2.6) is the latest at time of writing.

The image captures the outputs of two tests with poor and good dummy loads.

Let’s check the displayed values for internal consistency. Continue reading Surecom SW-102 VSWR meter review – v2.6

Finding velocity factor of coaxial transmission line using the velocity factor solver

This article is a tutorial in use of Velocity factor solver to find the velocity factor of a sample coaxial transmission line using an antenna analyser.

Example 1: Youkits FG-01

we have two lengths of H&S RG223 terminated in identical BNC connectors at both ends. Let’s connect each in turn to a Youkits FG-01 antenna analyser and find the quarter wave resonance of each (ie the lowest frequency at which measured X passes through zero).

Above, the line sections are connected to the Youkits, and the length overall is measured from the case of the analyser to the of the cable.
Continue reading Finding velocity factor of coaxial transmission line using the velocity factor solver