Propagation constant

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The propagation constant of an electromagnetic wave is a measure of the change undergone by the amplitude of the wave as it propagates in a given direction. The quantity being measured can be the voltage or current in a circuit or a field vector such as electric field strength or flux density. The propagation constant itself measures change per metre but is otherwise dimensionless.

The propagation constant is expressed logarithmically, almost universally to the base e, rather than the more usual base 10 used in telecommunications in other situations. The quantity measured, such as voltage, is expressed as a sinusiodal phasor. The phase of the sinusoid varies with distance which results in the propagation constant being a complex number, the imaginary part being caused by the phase change.


Alternative names

The term propagation constant is somewhat of a misnomer as it usually varies strongly with ω. It is probably the most widely used term but there are a large variety of alternative names used by various authors for this quantity. These include, transmission parameter, transmission function, propagation parameter, propagation coefficient and transmission constant. In plural, it is usually implied that α and β are being referenced separately but collectively as in transmission parameters, propagation parameters, propagation coefficients, transmission constants and secondary coefficients. This last occurs in transmission line theory, the term secondary being used to contrast to the primary line coefficients. The primary coefficients being the physical properties of the line; R,C,L and G, from which the secondary coefficients may be derived using the telegrapher's equation. Note that, at least in the field of transmission lines, the term transmission coefficient has a different meaning despite the similarity of name. Here it is the corollary of reflection coefficient.


The propagation constant, symbol γ, for a given system is defined by the ratio of the amplitude at the source of the wave to the amplitude at some distance x, such that,

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