Link Budget

- summary, tutorial or overview about the essentials of link budget and how to calculate the link budget for satellite and other radio systems.

When designing a complete, i.e. end to end radio communications system, it is necessary to calculate what is termed the link budget. The link budget enables factors such as the required antennas gain levels, radio transmitter power levels, and receiver sensitivity figures to be determined. By assessing the link budget, it is possible to design the system so that it meets its requirements and performs correctly without being over designed at extra cost.

Link budgets are often used for satellite systems. In these situations it is crucial that the required signal levels are maintained to ensure that the received signal levels are sufficiently high above the noise level to ensure that signal to noise levels or bit error rates are within the required limits. However larger antennas, high transmitter power levels that required add considerably to the cost, so it is necessary to balance these to minimise the cost of the system while still maintaining performance.

In addition to satellite systems, link budgets are also used in many other radio communications systems. For example, link budget calculations are used for calculating the power levels required for cellular communications systems, and for investigating the base station coverage.

Link budget style calculations are also used within wireless survey tools. These wireless survey tools will not only look at the way radio signals propagate, but also the power levels, antennas and receiver sensitivity levels required to provide the required link quality.


What is link budget?

As the name implies, a link budget is an accounting of all the gains and losses in a transmission system. The link budget looks at the elements that will determine the signal strength arriving at the receiver. The link budget may include the following items:

  • Transmitter power.
  • Antenna gains (receiver and transmitter).
  • Antenna feeder losses (receiver and transmitter).
  • Path losses.
  • Receiver sensitivity (although this is not part of the actual link budget, it is necessary to know this to enable any pass fail criteria to be applied.

Where the losses may vary with time, e.g. fading, and allowance must be made within the link budget for this - often the worst case may be taken, or alternatively an acceptance of periods of increased bit error rate (for digital signals) or degraded signal to noise ratio for analogue systems.

In essence the link budget will take the form of the equation below:


Received power (dBm)   =   Transmitted power (dBm)   +   gains (db)   -   losses (dB)


The basic calculation to determine the link budget is quite straightforward. It is mainly a matter of accounting for all the different losses and gains between the transmitter and the receiver.


Link budget equation

In order to devise a link budget equation, it is necessary to investigate all the areas where gains and losses may occur between the transmitter and the receiver. Although guidelines and suggestions can be made regarding the possible areas for losses and gains, each link has to be analysed on its own merits..

A typical link budget equation for a radio communications system may look like the following:


PRX   =   PTX   +   PTX   +   GTX   +   GRX   -   LTX   -   LFS   -   LP   -   LRX


Where:
    PRX  = received power (dBm)
    PTX  = transmitter output power (dBm)
    GTX  = transmitter antenna gain (dBi)
    GRX  = receiver antenna gain (dBi)
    LTX  = transmit feeder and associated losses (feeder, connectors, etc.) (dB)
    LFS  = free space loss or path loss (dB)
    LP  = miscellaneous signal propagation losses (these include fading margin, polarization mismatch, losses associated with medium through which signal is travelling, other losses...) (dB)
    LRX  = receiver feeder and associated losses (feeder, connectors, etc.) (d)B

NB for the sake of showing losses in the link budget equation is "minus" actual loss figures, e.g. LTX or LFS, etc should be taken as the modulus of the loss.


Antenna gain and link budget

The basic link budget equation where no levels of antenna gain are included assumes that the power spreads out equally in all directions from the source. In other words the antenna is an isotropic source, radiating equally in all directions.

This assumption is good for theoretical calculations, but in reality all antennas radiate more in some directions than others. In addition to this it is often necessary to use antennas with gain to enable interference from other directions to be reduced at the receiver, and at the transmitter to focus the available transmitter power in the required direction.

In view of this it is necessary to accommodate these gains into the link budget equation as they have been in the equation above because they will affect the signal levels - increasing them by levels of the antenna gain, assuming the gain is in the direction of the required link.When quoting gain levels for antennas it is necessary to ensure they are gains when compared to an isotropic source, i.e. the basic type of antenna assumed in the equation when no gain levels are incorporated. The gain figures relative to an isotropic source are quoted as dBi, i.e. dB relative to an isotropic source. Often gain levels given for an antenna may be the gain relative to a dipole where the figures may be quoted as dBd, i.e. dB relative to a dipole. However a dipole has gain relative to an isotropic source, so the dipole gain of 2.1 dBi needs to be accommodated if figures relative to a dipole are quoted for an antenna gain..


Effect of multipath propagation

For true free space propagation such as that encountered for satellites there will be no noticeable reflections and there will only be one major path. However for terrestrial systems, the signal may reach the receiver via a number of different paths as a result of reflections, etc that will occur as a result of the objects around the path. Buildings, trees, objects around the office and home can all cause reflections that will result in the signal variations.

The multipath propagation will cause variations of the signal strength when compared to that calculated from the free space path loss. If the signals arrive in phase with the direct signal, then the reflected signals will tend to reinforce the direct signal. If they are out of phase, then they will tend to cancel the signal. If either the transmitter or receiver moves, then the signal strength will be seen to vary as the relative strengths and phases of the different signals change.

In order to allow for this in a link budget, a link margin is added into the equation to allow for this.

Link budget calculations are an essential step in the design of a radio communications system. The link budget calculation enables the losses and gains to be seen, and devising a link budget enables the apportionment of losses, gains and power levels to be made if changes need to be made to enable the radio communications system to meet its operational requirements. Only by performing a link budget analysis is this possible. .......

By Ian Poole


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