What is Defined Impedance?
Defined impedance is a critical concept in electrical engineering, particularly in the design and analysis of transmission lines, such as coaxial cables, twisted pair cables, and printed circuit board (PCB) traces. It refers to the characteristic impedance of a transmission line, which is determined by its physical properties, such as conductor geometry, dielectric material, and spacing between conductors. When a transmission line is properly terminated with a load that matches its characteristic impedance, it ensures maximum power transfer and minimizes signal reflections, leading to optimal signal integrity.
Characteristic Impedance
The characteristic impedance (Z0) of a transmission line is the ratio of the voltage to the current traveling along the line in the absence of reflections. It is an intrinsic property of the transmission line and depends on its physical dimensions and the materials used. The characteristic impedance is given by the following equation:
Z0 = √(L/C)
Where:
– L is the inductance per unit length of the transmission line
– C is the capacitance per unit length of the transmission line
For a lossless transmission line, the characteristic impedance is purely real and is typically expressed in ohms (Ω). Common values for defined impedance in various applications include:
Application  Characteristic Impedance (Ω) 

Coaxial cables (RF)  50, 75 
Twisted pair (Ethernet)  100 
PCB traces (highspeed)  50, 75, 90, 100, 120 
Telephone lines (voice)  600 
Importance of Defined Impedance
Maintaining defined impedance throughout a transmission line is crucial for several reasons:

Signal integrity: When a signal encounters an impedance mismatch, a portion of the signal is reflected back to the source, causing signal distortion, ringing, and overshoots. By ensuring that the transmission line and the load impedance match, reflections are minimized, preserving signal integrity.

Power transfer: Maximum power transfer occurs when the load impedance matches the source impedance. In the case of transmission lines, the source impedance is the characteristic impedance of the line. Matching the load impedance to the defined impedance of the transmission line ensures efficient power transfer and minimizes power loss due to reflections.

Electromagnetic compatibility (EMC): Proper impedance matching helps to reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI) by minimizing the amount of energy radiated from the transmission line. Mismatched impedances can cause standing waves along the line, leading to increased EMI and potential interference with nearby electronic devices.

Bandwidth: Transmission lines with welldefined impedance characteristics enable the propagation of signals over a wide frequency range. This is particularly important in highspeed digital and RF applications, where maintaining signal integrity across a broad bandwidth is essential.
Designing for Defined Impedance
To achieve defined impedance in a transmission line, several factors must be considered during the design process:
Conductor Geometry
The crosssectional geometry of the conductors in a transmission line plays a significant role in determining its characteristic impedance. For example, in a coaxial cable, the diameter of the inner conductor and the inner diameter of the outer conductor (shield) determine the impedance. In PCB traces, the width of the trace, the thickness of the copper, and the height above the reference plane (e.g., ground plane) all contribute to the impedance.
Dielectric Material
The dielectric material separating the conductors in a transmission line affects its capacitance per unit length, which in turn influences the characteristic impedance. The dielectric constant (relative permittivity) of the material is a key parameter. Common dielectric materials include:
Material  Relative Permittivity (εr) 

Air  1.0 
PTFE (Teflon)  2.1 
FR4 (PCB)  4.2 – 4.5 
Polyethylene  2.3 
Spacing between Conductors
The spacing between the conductors in a transmission line affects both the inductance and capacitance per unit length. Increasing the spacing between conductors reduces the capacitance and increases the inductance, resulting in a higher characteristic impedance. Conversely, decreasing the spacing lowers the impedance.
Simulation and Modeling
To ensure that a transmission line meets the desired defined impedance, designers often use electromagnetic simulation software to model the transmission line and optimize its geometry. These tools solve Maxwell’s equations to calculate the characteristic impedance and other parameters, such as propagation delay and loss. Some popular simulation software packages include:
 Keysight ADS (Advanced Design System)
 Ansys HFSS (HighFrequency Structure Simulator)
 Cadence Sigrity
 Mentor Graphics HyperLynx
Measuring and Verifying Defined Impedance
Once a transmission line is designed and manufactured, it is essential to measure and verify its impedance to ensure that it meets the target value. Several methods can be used to measure impedance:
Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR)
TDR is a technique that involves sending a fastrising pulse down the transmission line and measuring the reflections caused by impedance discontinuities. By analyzing the amplitude and timing of the reflections, the impedance profile along the line can be determined. TDR is widely used for characterizing PCB traces, cables, and connectors.
Vector Network Analyzer (VNA)
A VNA is an instrument that measures the scattering parameters (Sparameters) of a network, including transmission lines. By measuring the Sparameters across a range of frequencies, the characteristic impedance of the line can be derived. VNAs are commonly used for characterizing highfrequency transmission lines, such as those used in RF and microwave applications.
Impedance Test Coupons
In PCB manufacturing, impedance test coupons are often included on the panel alongside the actual circuit board. These coupons are designed to have the same stackup and trace geometry as the critical traces on the board. By measuring the impedance of the test coupons, manufacturers can verify that the PCB meets the specified impedance requirements without having to test the actual board.
Impedance Matching Techniques
When a transmission line is connected to a load with a different impedance, impedance matching techniques can be employed to minimize reflections and ensure maximum power transfer. Some common impedance matching techniques include:
Series Matching
In series matching, a series impedance (e.g., a resistor or inductor) is added between the transmission line and the load to match the impedances. This technique is simple but can result in power loss due to the added series component.
Shunt Matching
Shunt matching involves adding a parallel impedance (e.g., a resistor or capacitor) between the transmission line and the load. This technique is also relatively simple but can cause power to be diverted away from the load.
LNetwork Matching
An Lnetwork is a combination of two reactive components (inductors or capacitors) arranged in an Lshaped configuration. By selecting the appropriate values for the components, the impedance of the load can be matched to the characteristic impedance of the transmission line. Lnetworks are widely used in RF and microwave circuits.
Stub Matching
Stub matching involves adding a short or opencircuited transmission line (stub) in parallel with the main transmission line at a specific distance from the load. The stub acts as a reactive element and can be used to cancel out the reactive part of the load impedance, effectively matching it to the transmission line. Stub matching is commonly used in PCB design and RF circuits.
FAQ
What is the difference between characteristic impedance and defined impedance?
Characteristic impedance is the intrinsic impedance of a transmission line, determined by its physical properties. Defined impedance refers to the target impedance value that a transmission line is designed to have, which should match the characteristic impedance.
Why is it important to match the load impedance to the defined impedance of a transmission line?
Matching the load impedance to the defined impedance of a transmission line minimizes signal reflections, ensuring maximum power transfer and preserving signal integrity.
What factors determine the characteristic impedance of a transmission line?
The characteristic impedance of a transmission line is determined by its conductor geometry, dielectric material, and spacing between conductors.
How can I measure the impedance of a transmission line?
The impedance of a transmission line can be measured using techniques such as Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR) or a Vector Network Analyzer (VNA). In PCB manufacturing, impedance test coupons can be used to verify the impedance of critical traces.
What are some common impedance matching techniques?
Common impedance matching techniques include series matching, shunt matching, Lnetwork matching, and stub matching. These techniques involve adding impedance elements (e.g., resistors, inductors, or capacitors) to the circuit to match the load impedance to the characteristic impedance of the transmission line.
Conclusion
Defined impedance is a fundamental concept in the design and analysis of transmission lines, ensuring optimal signal integrity, power transfer, and electromagnetic compatibility. By carefully designing the physical properties of a transmission line and matching its impedance to the load, designers can minimize signal reflections and maximize performance. Various techniques, such as TDR and VNA measurements, can be used to verify that a transmission line meets its specified impedance requirements. When impedance mismatches occur, impedance matching techniques can be employed to minimize reflections and ensure efficient power transfer. As the demand for highspeed digital and RF systems continues to grow, understanding and implementing defined impedance principles will remain crucial for engineers and designers.