Radio Wave Diffraction

Like other forms of electromagnetic wave, radio signals can be diffracted when they travel past sharp corners.

Radio Propagation Tutorial Includes:
Radio propagation basics     Radio signal path loss     Free space propagation & path loss     Link budget     Radio wave reflection     Radio wave refraction     Radio wave diffraction     Multipath propagation     Multipath fading     Rayleigh fading     The atmosphere & radio propagation    

Electromagnetic waves can be diffracted when they meet a sharp obstacle.

As radio waves are a form of electromagnetic wave, it means that they can also be diffracted.

Radio wave diffraction

As radio waves undergo diffraction it means that a signal from a transmitter may be received from a transmitter even though it may be "shaded" by a large object between them.

To understand how this happens it is necessary to look at Huygen's Principle. This states that each point on a spherical wave front can be considered as a source of a secondary wave front.

Even though there will be a shadow zone immediately behind the obstacle, the signal will diffract around the obstacle and start to fill the void. It is found that diffraction is more pronounced when the obstacle becomes sharper and more like a "knife edge".

For a radio signal the definition of a knife edge depends upon the frequency, and hence the wavelength of the signal.

For low frequency signals a mountain ridge may provide a sufficiently sharp edge. A more rounded hill will not produce such a marked effect. It is also found that low frequency signals diffract more markedly than higher frequency ones. It is for this reason that signals on the long wave band are able to provide coverage even in hilly or mountainous terrain where signals at VHF and higher would not.

Radio wave diffraction
Radio wave diffraction

The effect may also be important for very high frequency signals where items of furniture in the home may have a sufficiently sharp edge to enable diffraction to be seen. This may give slightly better coverage to items like mobile phones or for Wi-Fi systems.

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