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Voltage Standing Wave Ratio is the ratio of the voltage maximum (antinode) to the adjacent voltage minimum (node) on a transmission line.
The standing wave is produced by the superposition of a forward travelling wave and a reflected travelling wave when the transmission line is terminated in other than its characteristic impedance. The reflected wave is created to reconcile the conditions at the end of the transmission line, including the load impedance and the natural ratio of V/I in the forward and reflected travelling waves. Γ is the ratio of V_{r}/V_{f}, and VSWR on a sufficiently long lossless line can be predicted as (1+Γ)/(1Γ) from the conditions at the termination or some other point. Γ, V_{r} and V_{f} are phasor quantities, ie can be expressed as complex numbers.
Direct measurement of VSWR requires observation of the voltage at a number of points along the line, but VSWR is more often estimated from observed conditions at a point, but such estimates typically assume a sufficiently long lossless line.
Indirect measurement of VSWR means observation of some other parameters than the voltage standing wave itself (eg using a voltage probe).
Indirect measurement has become the most common way of measuring VSWR, the term VSWR is often used to mean the "notional" result of an indirect measurement wrt a nominal Z_{o} rather than that which would be measured on a practical transmission line. That gives rise to the use of the term VSWR as a means of qualifying a tolerance range for a load impedance, eg a transmitter might be specified for a nominally 50Ω load with VSWR<1.5.
There are many methods of indirect measurement of VSWR, but one of the most common, and quite an ingenious device in its simplicity and usefulness is the Breune VSWR bridge. This article will use the Bruene circuit as a vehicle for explaining principles that are common to similar instruments.
Fig 1 shows a typical VSWR meter based on Bruene circuit. The circuit samples voltage and current in a very small region of the transmission line, sufficiently small to consider it a point sample at the frequencies of interest.
The circuit contains two directional samplers, one to indirectly sense the forward travelling wave, and the to indirectly sense the reflected travelling wave.
A sample of the line voltage is obtained by the voltage divider formed by the 10pF and 330pF capacitors.
A sample of the line current is taken by the current transformer, and the secondary current is passed through the 82Ω resistor to develop a voltage at each end of the secondary wrt the centre, that is proportional to the current in the main line, and opposite in phase at each end of the winding.
Since the voltage sample is connected to the centre of the secondary, the ends of the secondary will be a voltage that is proportional to the the line voltage plus line current times Z_{n} (the impedance for which the meter is calibrated), and the line voltage minus line current times Z_{n} for forward and reflected detectors respectively. The 10pF capacitor is adjusted so that in the reflected position with applied RF power, the meter shows zero deflection with a Z_{n} load (typically 50+j0Ω).
The following describes the circuit in detail in the general sense. V_{1} is the RF voltage at the lower end of the secondary (wrt ground) in the circuit above, V_{2} is the voltage at the upper end of the secondary (wrt ground), Z_{x} corresponds to half of the 82Ω resistor. The description assumes the components (capacitors, transformer, diodes) are ideal, and that the VSWR meter loading of the through line is insignificant.
V_{1}=k_{1}*V+k_{2}*I*Z_{x} ...(1)
V_{2}=k_{1}*Vk_{2}*I*Z_{x} ...(2)
The instrument is calibrated by adjustment of the value of k_{1} so that V_{2} is zero when Z_{l}=Z_{n}. It can be seen that for V_{2} to be zero, k_{1}*V=k_{2}*I*Z_{x}, therefore Z_{x}=k_{1}*V/k_{2}/I, and since V/I=Z_{n} then Z_{x}=k_{1}/k_{2}*Z_{n}. So, the two expressions can be rewritten as:
V_{1}=k_{1}*(V+I*Z_{n}) ...(3)
V_{2}=k_{1}*(VI*Z_{n}) ...(4)
Fig 2 shows the equivalent circuit, a voltage sample of k_{1}*V, and voltages proportional to current of k_{1}*I*Z_{n} .
Since V=V_{f} +V_{r} , and V_{r}=Γ*V_{f} and I=I_{f} I_{r} , and I_{r}=Γ*I_{f} eqn (3) can be rewritten as
V_{1}=k_{1}*(V_{f}*(1+Γ)+I_{f}*(1Γ)*Z_{n}) ...(5)
Substituting V_{f}/Z_{n} for I_{f}
V_{1}=k_{1}*(V_{f}*(1+Γ)+V_{f}*(1Γ)) ...(6)
V_{1}=k_{1}*V_{f}*((1+Γ)+(1Γ)) ...(7)
V_{1}=k_{1}*2*V_{f} ...(8)
Similarly, eqn (4) can be transformed to
V_{2}=k_{1}*2*Γ*V_{f} ...(8)
So
V_{2} /V_{1} =Γ ...(9)
Substituting ρ for Γ
ρ=V_{2} /V_{1} ...(10)
VSWR can be calculated from ρ , VSWR=(1+ ρ)/(1 ρ), so the indication of V2 relative to V1 can be scaled in VSWR. The instrument can be used to directly measure ρ at a point (being that of the instrument's sampler) and that knowledge can be used to predict the VSWR that would be observed on a sufficiently long length of adjacent lossless transmission line of the same Z_{o} as the instrument's calibration impedance Z_{n}
To analyse the circuit of Fig 1 at 100W connected to a 50+j0Ω load, for a current transformer of 1:25+25 turns bifilar, the peak current in the 82Ω resistor is 2^0.5*(100/50)^0.5/50 or 0.04A, yielding a peak half winding voltage of 0.04*82/2 or 1.65V. The 10pf capacitor would be adjusted for 0V on the REF switch terminal which will correspond to about 5.5pF for a voltage sample of 1.65Vpk on the 330pF capacitor. This would give a DC voltage about 2.7V (allowing for diode voltage drop) at the FOR switch terminal and 0V at the REF switch terminal.
It is key to note that the accuracy of the instrument in measuring ρ is dependent of the calibration impedance Z_{n} and less dependent on the Z_{o} of the sampler line section where is is relatively short (as it is usually).
There are other circuits of VSWR meters, the most common other type uses a pair of short loosely coupled transmission lines with detectors in the sampler line section. Differently to the Bruene circuit, the coupling is frequency dependent although some designs achieve compensation over a range of frequencies (eg Bird 43 elements). Frequency dependent samplers cannot be simply calibrated as directional wattmeters. Despite this difference, the same principles apply as explained for the Bruene circuit, in that the circuit samples voltage and current in a very small region of the transmission line, sufficiently small to consider it a point sample at the frequencies of interest. From there on, the explanation is the same (though k_{1} and k_{2} may be frequency dependent).
There are other methods for indirect measurement of VSWR that would not be classed as a VSWR meter, eg a true directional transmission line or waveguide coupler with power meters on the coupled ports. This configuration comes into its own on microwave frequencies where it is difficult to construct other types of samplers that are small enough to not disturb the system being measured.
Since the forward and reflected detectors in the instrument described above responds to V_{f} and V_{r} respectively, the question arises as to whether the instrument can be calibrated in power.
The power passing any point in a transmission line is given by P=real(V*conjugate(I)). When Z_{n} is real (lossless lines and distortionless lines), this can be simplified to V_{f}*I_{f}V_{r}*I_{r}, often expressed loosely as forward power less reflected power.
Instruments are usually calibrated to a nominal Z_{n} that is real (eg 50+j0), and in that case, with better quality instruments, the calibration of the scale(s) in Watts (where P_{f}=V_{f}^{2}/Z_{n} and P_{r}=V_{r}^{2}/Z_{n}), and calculation of power as P=P_{f}P_{r} is sound. The term directional wattmeter is a bit of a misnomer in that the values of P_{f} and P_{r} are not of themselves meaningful, but the difference of the two is the power at that point.
Beware, these comments apply to the type of directional detector described above, and not to a simple line RF voltmeter that is incorporated in some instruments and calibrated only for power when VSWR=1.
Fig 3 shows the conditions a a length of RG6/U terminated in a load of 60j26Ω. The model is based on a detailed lossy model of the line.
The VSWR meter captures ρ which is the magnitude of Γ, the phase of Γ is lost and so the VSWR meter is unable to be used to predict the value of Z at a point, except in the special case where VSWR=1 and therefore Z is Z_{n} . Fig 4 above shows the impedance along the line for the example. It can be seen that impedance continually changes along the line, and that is true in the general case except where VSWR=1.
There are many sources of errors in VSWR meters, the most common ones are:
The greatest error is probably the last. VSWR meters are widely used, and ingenious as they are, the results are often incorrectly interpreted.
It is possible to achieve a good null (ie low VSWR) on a nominal dummy load, even though an instrument might itself cause higher VSWR because of an inaccurate line section or excessive coupling.
Mismatch loss or loss due to standing waves can be determined accurately knowing the propagation constant (γ) of the line and the complex reflection coefficient (Γ) at a known point on the line. An approximation of the mismatch loss can be made using the propagation constant (γ) (in fact just the attenuation component) and VSWR (which depends only on the magnitude of the complex reflection coefficient (Γ) that is reasonably accurate only on medium length lines with low VSWR and low loss. This has affects the accuracy of a directional wattmeter of this type for assessing the matched line loss of a s/c or o/c length of line, but for most purposes the effect is small and the test gives good results (providing the VSWR meter gives accurate readings at high VSWR).
The tests here need to be interpreted in the context of whether the device under test (DUT) has only calibrated power scales, or a VSWR Set/Reflected mode of measurement, and whether directional coupler scales are identical for both directions.
It is not unusual for low grade instruments to pass Test 1, but to fail Test 6 (and some others, especially Test 3 and Test 4) towards the higher end of their specified frequency range.
Term  Meaning 
Distortionless line  R/L=G/C. A lossless line is a special case of a distortionless line. 
Γ  The reflection coefficient (a complex quantity with real and imaginary parts) 
Lossless line  R=0, G=0 
ρ  The magnitude of Γ 
VSWR  Voltage Standing Wave Ratio is the ratio of the voltage maximum (antinode) to the adjacent voltage minimum (node) on a transmission line 
Version  Date  Description 
1.01  05/06/2007  Initial. 
1.02  
1.03 
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