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Why does 1/4 wavelength have to have a ground plane and 1/2 doesn't?

I know that an antenna that has half a wavelength does not need the ground plane (example a dipole antenna) and when using a wavelength of 1/4 it is usually necessary to have the ground plane (planar antennas [PCB]). My problem: I can't understand why we need to use a ground plane at 1/4 wavelength and not at 1/2 wavelength.

Please could also provide source of relevant information, examples, books or scientific article, something like that.

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4 Answers 4

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I can't understand why we need to use a ground plane at 1/4 wavelength and 1/2 wavelength not needed.

A 1/2 \$\lambda\$ dipole has voltage and current waves like this: -

enter image description here

Picture from Wikipedia.

Now, if you focus your eye at dead centre of the picture you will see that the voltage is always zero volts. This is because a dipole is optimally driven with a balanced voltage source (\$V_O\$). A balanced voltage source is preferred for a dipole antenna. In fact, the voltage and electric field is zero all along the length of the green line below: -

enter image description here

This means you can optionally regard that green line as earth (providing the antenna is driven in a balanced way). Now if you were to cut the above picture in half you'd have a 1/4 \$\lambda\$ monopole driven with an unbalanced voltage source. An unbalanced voltage source is one that has typically 0 volts on one leg while the other leg does the voltage driving: -

enter image description here

And, not surprisingly, it has one half of the impedance presented by the half wave dipole. But, to keep the same radiation pattern you need to "force" an earth plane that does what the green line does.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you very much for the explanation \$\endgroup\$
    – LUFER
    Feb 12, 2020 at 13:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LUFER the proper thanks at the Stack Exchange network is to accept the answer that helped you the most (if any). You can do this by clicking the tick mark on the left of the answer (under its score). \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruslan
    Feb 12, 2020 at 19:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or wait a few more days as recent unaccepted questions tend to attract a little more attention than those that get accepted early. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andy aka
    Feb 12, 2020 at 20:01
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A quarter wave monopole antenna doesn't have to have a ground plane... unless you want it to radiate EM energy with a certain efficiency and pattern.

EM radiation requires accelerating electrical charges, which usually implies a voltage differential between two separated areas in space. A conductive ground plane is a particularly good region of voltage differential from the voltage on portions of a (short) monopole antenna.

Otherwise the voltage differential will occur somewhere else, for instance around the hand, arm and body of a person holding a VHF HT radio with only a quarter wave whip or "ducky" antenna. And your body is not as efficient a counterpose as a conductive ground plane.

With a half wave dipole antenna, each half acts as a nicely balanced counterpose for the other half, splitting the oscillating voltage differential between the two equal length halves, which leads to a nice symmetry in the pattern of the EM field, which helps create a more predictable RF (near and far field) radiation pattern. A conductive ground plane under a quarter wave monopole leads to a similar symmetry in conjunction with the EM field's mirror image.

If there is no ground plane (or other well designed set of counterposes) under a short vertical, that leads to the RF voltage differential being between various often randomly placed conductive objects (feed lines, radio case, ground straps, power supply wiring, rain gutters, and etc.) and lossy dirt. Which leads to an unpredictable antenna radiation pattern, ground losses, and possibly shocking "RF in the shack".

The ARRL Antenna Book and Antenna Physics book have information on this subject. Also many many textbooks on electromagnetics and antennas.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you very much for the explanation \$\endgroup\$
    – LUFER
    Feb 12, 2020 at 13:17
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A vertical quarter wave whip with ground plane applies a common trick in practical electromagnetics. The ground plane generates the mirror image of the whip and that mirror image behaves like it was feeded by inverted signal. The result is like a vertical half wave dipole in free space.

Theoretically the ground should be a large planar surface but even a bunch of separate rods which are connected to the shield of the feeding coax cable do the work acceptably.

If the ground plane is horizontal and the whip is vertical the resulted antenna directs the signal horizontally 360 degrees around the whip axis. The wave in the far field is vertically polarized (=vertical electric field). The communication would be weak with a station which has a horizontal half wave dipole.

The ground mirroring is true also with a half wave dipole. It's utilized in long distance short wave radio communication as a method to direct the beam a little upwards to get effective ionosphere reflections. The elevation of a horizontal dipole is adjusted for wanted landing zone for the ionosphere reflection. The activity of the sun varies, so reading carefully radio weather forecasts is essential for optimal shortwave communication.

MW radio stations around 1MHz often have vertical whips. The ground plane is the real ground.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you very much for the explanation \$\endgroup\$
    – LUFER
    Feb 12, 2020 at 13:17
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Why does 1/4 wavelength have to have a ground plane and 1/2 doesn't?

Here's how I think of it, a 1/2 wavelength dipole is just two 1/4 wavelength antennas back to back, and either can be considered the whip or ground plane.

Or, a 1/4 wavelength vertical is just 1/2 wavelength antenna with the ground plane as the other 1/4 wavelength element. In this case we simply start measuring at the middle instead of measuring both elements.

Or, they are both in actuality the same antenna only with different optimizations and compromises on getting the desired polarization, impedance, and directional characteristics. With the 1/2 wavelength dipole both elements are identical. With the 1/4 wavelength whip one element is a wire and the other a plane or cone. There's actually many variations on this theme, it's only that these two are the most common. Calling one 1/4 wavelength and the other 1/2 wavelength isn't exactly a precise description of either, but that's how we describe them and think of them because in practice this describes the most prominent dimension on how much space they take.

We might call these 1/4 wavelength antennas a "monopole" but they aren't, there are always two poles. With electromagnetic devices there is no north without a south, no left without a right, no voltage potential without a ground reference. The reason that these antennas are described as 1/2 wavelength is also a bit arbitrary, it's as long as it has to be to reach the two points of zero current flow for the frequency of interest.

Once I have come to understand that much of this is simply half arbitrary nomenclature then I don't worry about it too much. Perhaps it may be best to just learn the conventional names of things, keep the equations used for design where you can find them, and not worry too much on why it is the way it is. It's worked for me so far.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A plane or cone can be wire. \$\endgroup\$
    – RichieHH
    Nov 4, 2021 at 16:58

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