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Directivity and Gain

Directivity is the ability of an antenna to focus energy in a particular direction when transmitting, or to receive energy from a particular direction when receiving. If a wireless link uses fixed locations for both ends, it is possible to use antenna directivity to concentrate the radiation beam in the wanted direction. In a mobile application where the transceiver is not fixed, it may be impossible to predict where the transceiver will be, and so the antenna should ideally radiate as well as possible in all directions. An omnidirectional antenna is used in these applications.

Gain is not a quantity which can be defined in terms of a physical quantity such as the Watt or the Ohm, but it is a dimensionless ratio. Gain is given in reference to a standard antenna. The two most common reference antennas are the isotropic antenna and the resonant half-wave dipole antenna. The isotropic antenna radiates equally well in all directions. Real isotropic antennas do not exist, but they provide useful and simple theoretical antenna patterns with which to compare real antennas. Any real antenna will radiate more energy in some directions than in others. Since antennas cannot create energy, the total power radiated is the same as an isotropic antenna. Any additional energy radiated in the directions it favors is offset by equally less energy radiated in all other directions.

The gain of an antenna in a given direction is the amount of energy radiated in that direction compared to the energy an isotropic antenna would radiate in the same direction when driven with the same input power. Usually we are only interested in the maximum gain, which is the gain in the direction in which the antenna is radiating most of the power. An antenna gain of 3dB compared to an isotropic antenna would be written as 3dBi. The resonant half-wave dipole can be a useful standard for comparing to other antennas at one frequency or over a very narrow band of frequencies. To compare the dipole to an antenna over a range of frequencies requires a number of dipoles of different lengths. An antenna gain of 3dB compared to a dipole antenna would be written as 3dBd.

The method of measuring gain by comparing the antenna under test against a known standard antenna, which has a calibrated gain, is technically known as a gain transfer technique. Another method for measuring gain is the 3 antennas method, where the transmitted and received power at the antenna terminals is measured between three arbitrary antennas at a known fixed distance.

Last Update: 2007-01-24