Antenna polarisation or polarization

- overview, summary, tutorial about RF antenna or aerial polarisation and the effect polarization has on RF antennas and radio communications.

Polarisation is an important factor for RF antennas and radio communications in general. Both RF antennas and electromagnetic waves are said to have a polarization.

For the electromagnetic wave the polarization is effectively the plane in which the electric wave vibrates. This is important when looking at antennas because they are sensitive to polarisation, and generally only receive or transmit a signal with a particular polarization.

For most antennas it is very easy to determine the polarization. It is simply in the same plane as the elements of the antenna. So a vertical antenna (i.e. one with vertical elements) will receive vertically polarised signals best and similarly a horizontal antenna will receive horizontally polarised signals.

Polarisation of an electromagnetic wave
An electromagnetic wave

It is important to match the polarization of the RF antenna to that of the incoming signal. In this way the maximum signal is obtained. If the RF antenna polarization does not match that of the signal there is a corresponding decrease in the level of the signal. It is reduced by a factor of cosine of the angle between the polarisation of the RF antenna and the signal.

Accordingly the polarisation of the antennas located in free space is very important, and obviously they should be in exactly the same plane to provide the optimum signal. If they were at right angles to one another (i.e. cross-polarised) then in theory no signal would be received.

For terrestrial radio communications applications it is found that once a signal has been transmitted then its polarisation will remain broadly the same. However reflections from objects in the path can change the polarisation. As the received signal is the sum of the direct signal plus a number of reflected signals the overall polarisation of the signal can change slightly although it remains broadly the same.

Polarisation catagories

Vertical and horizontal are the simplest forms of antenna polarization and they both fall into a category known as linear polarisation. However it is also possible to use circular polarisation. This has a number of benefits for areas such as satellite applications where it helps overcome the effects of propagation anomalies, ground reflections and the effects of the spin that occur on many satellites. Circular polarisation is a little more difficult to visualise than linear polarisation. However it can be imagined by visualising a signal propagating from an RF antenna that is rotating. The tip of the electric field vector will then be seen to trace out a helix or corkscrew as it travels away from the antenna. Circular polarisation can be seen to be either right or left handed dependent upon the direction of rotation as seen from the transmitter.

Another form of polarisation is known as elliptical polarisation. It occurs when there is a mix of linear and circular polarisation. This can be visualised as before by the tip of the electric field vector tracing out an elliptically shaped corkscrew.

However it is possible for linearly polarised antennas to receive circularly polarised signals and vice versa. The strength will be equal whether the linearly polarised antenna is mounted vertically, horizontally or in any other plane but directed towards the arriving signal. There will be some degradation because the signal level will be 3 dB less than if a circularly polarised antenna of the same sense was used. The same situation exists when a circularly polarised antenna receives a linearly polarised signal.

Applications of antenna polarization

Different types of polarisation are used in different applications to enable their advantages to be used. Linear polarization is by far the most widely used for most radio communications applications. Vertical polarisation is often used for mobile radio communications. This is because many vertically polarized antenna designs have an omni-directional radiation pattern and it means that the antennas do not have to be re-orientated as positions as always happens for mobile radio communications as the vehicle moves. For other radio communications applications the polarisation is often determined by the RF antenna considerations. Some large multi-element antenna arrays can be mounted in a horizontal plane more easily than in the vertical plane. This is because the RF antenna elements are at right angles to the vertical tower of pole on which they are mounted and therefore by using an antenna with horizontal elements there is less physical and electrical interference between the two. This determines the standard polarisation in many cases.

In some applications there are performance differences between horizontal and vertical polarization. For example medium wave broadcast stations generally use vertical polarisation because ground wave propagation over the earth is considerably better using vertical polarization, whereas horizontal polarization shows a marginal improvement for long distance communications using the ionosphere. Circular polarisation is sometimes used for satellite radio communications as there are some advantages in terms of propagation and in overcoming the fading caused if the satellite is changing its orientation.

By Ian Poole

<< Previous   |   Next >>

Share this page

Want more like this? Register for our newsletter

Perpetual Motion Machines - Always Giving 110% Mark Patrick | Mouser Electronics
Perpetual Motion Machines - Always Giving 110%
The perpetual motion machine is something that has been sought by inventors from the very earliest days of science . . . . but does the concept have links to the IIoT?
Online - Transmission Lines, S-Parameters & Smith Chart
Understand these essential concepts without complex mathematics

More training courses

Using Digital Control Designs for Stable Power Supplies
Find out how to achieve stable power supply designs with fast transient response by using digital control techniques in this whitepaper from Intersil.

More whitepapers
 is operated and owned by Adrio Communications Ltd and edited by Ian Poole. All information is © Adrio Communications Ltd and may not be copied except for individual personal use. This includes copying material in whatever form into website pages. While every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information on, no liability is accepted for any consequences of using it. This site uses cookies. By using this site, these terms including the use of cookies are accepted. More explanation can be found in our Privacy Policy