PCB Antenna: What is It and How to Calculate Parameters

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Introduction to PCB Antennas

A PCB (Printed Circuit Board) antenna is a type of antenna that is directly integrated into a printed circuit board. These antennas are designed to be compact, cost-effective, and easily mass-produced, making them an attractive choice for a wide range of wireless applications, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and cellular communication.

PCB antennas come in various shapes and sizes, depending on the frequency range and performance requirements. Some common types of PCB antennas include:

  • Microstrip patch antennas
  • Planar inverted-F antennas (PIFA)
  • Meandered line antennas
  • Inverted-L antennas
  • Slot antennas

Advantages of PCB Antennas

  1. Compact size: PCB antennas are small and can be easily integrated into the device’s PCB, saving space and reducing the overall size of the device.
  2. Low cost: Mass production of PCB antennas is cost-effective, as they can be manufactured alongside other PCB Components.
  3. Consistency: PCB antennas offer consistent performance across different devices due to the precision of the manufacturing process.
  4. Easy integration: Designing a PCB antenna as part of the device’s PCB simplifies the assembly process and reduces the number of components required.

Disadvantages of PCB Antennas

  1. Limited bandwidth: PCB antennas often have a narrow bandwidth compared to external antennas, which can limit their performance in certain applications.
  2. Lower gain: The compact size of PCB antennas can result in lower gain compared to larger external antennas.
  3. Susceptibility to interference: PCB antennas can be more susceptible to interference from nearby components and the device’s enclosure.

Designing a PCB Antenna

When designing a PCB antenna, several factors must be considered to ensure optimal performance:

  1. Frequency range: The antenna must be designed to operate within the desired frequency range, such as 2.4 GHz for Wi-Fi or 1.575 GHz for GPS.
  2. Antenna type: Choose the appropriate antenna type based on the application, space constraints, and performance requirements.
  3. Substrate properties: The PCB substrate’s dielectric constant and thickness influence the antenna’s performance and must be accounted for during the design process.
  4. Antenna dimensions: The size and shape of the antenna determine its resonant frequency and bandwidth. Accurate calculations and simulations are necessary to optimize the antenna’s performance.
  5. Feeding method: The method used to feed the antenna, such as microstrip line, coaxial cable, or coplanar waveguide, can impact its performance and must be carefully selected.
  6. Grounding: Proper grounding is essential for optimal antenna performance and to minimize interference from other components on the PCB.

Microstrip Patch Antenna Design

Microstrip patch antennas are popular for their simple design, low profile, and ease of fabrication. A basic microstrip patch antenna consists of a radiating patch on one side of a dielectric substrate and a ground plane on the other side.

To design a microstrip patch antenna, follow these steps:

  1. Choose the substrate material and thickness based on the desired frequency range and performance requirements.
  2. Calculate the width (W) of the patch using the following equation:

W = c / (2f√((εr + 1) / 2))

– c is the speed of light in vacuum
– f is the resonant frequency
– εr is the dielectric constant of the substrate

  1. Calculate the effective dielectric constant (εeff) using the following equation:

εeff = (εr + 1) / 2 + ((εr – 1) / 2) * (1 + 12h / W)^(-0.5)

– h is the thickness of the substrate

  1. Calculate the effective length (Leff) of the patch using the following equation:

Leff = c / (2f√εeff)

  1. Calculate the actual length (L) of the patch by accounting for the fringing fields:

L = Leff – 2ΔL

– ΔL = 0.412h * (εeff + 0.3) * (W / h + 0.264) / (εeff – 0.258) * (W / h + 0.8)

  1. Choose an appropriate feeding method, such as microstrip line, coaxial probe, or aperture coupling, and design the feed accordingly.

  2. Simulate the antenna design using electromagnetic simulation software to optimize its performance and make necessary adjustments.

Here’s an example of a microstrip patch antenna designed for Wi-Fi applications at 2.4 GHz:

Parameter Value
Frequency (f) 2.4 GHz
Substrate material FR-4
Dielectric constant (εr) 4.4
Substrate thickness (h) 1.6 mm
Patch width (W) 38.0 mm
Patch length (L) 29.4 mm
Feed type Microstrip line

Planar Inverted-F Antenna (PIFA) Design

PIFAs are another popular type of PCB antenna, known for their compact size, low profile, and multiband capabilities. A PIFA consists of a radiating element, a ground plane, a shorting pin, and a feeding point.

To design a PIFA, follow these steps:

  1. Determine the desired frequency range and the number of bands required.

  2. Choose the substrate material and thickness based on the performance requirements and available space.

  3. Calculate the dimensions of the radiating element using the following equations:

L + H = λ / 4

– L is the length of the radiating element
– H is the height of the radiating element
– λ is the wavelength at the lowest resonant frequency

W = λ / 10 to λ / 4

– W is the width of the radiating element

  1. Determine the position of the shorting pin and the feeding point. The shorting pin is typically placed near one end of the radiating element, while the feeding point is located near the other end.

  2. Adjust the dimensions and positions of the radiating element, shorting pin, and feeding point to achieve the desired frequency response and impedance matching.

  3. Simulate the PIFA design using electromagnetic simulation software and optimize its performance by fine-tuning the dimensions and positions of the antenna elements.

Here’s an example of a dual-band PIFA designed for cellular applications:

Parameter Value
Frequency bands 900 MHz, 1800 MHz
Substrate material Rogers RO4003C
Dielectric constant (εr) 3.38
Substrate thickness (h) 0.8 mm
Radiating element length (L) 20.0 mm
Radiating element width (W) 15.0 mm
Radiating element height (H) 6.0 mm
Shorting pin position (2.0 mm, 2.0 mm)
Feeding point position (18.0 mm, 7.5 mm)

Calculating PCB Antenna Parameters

To evaluate the performance of a PCB antenna, several key parameters must be calculated:

Resonant Frequency

The resonant frequency (fr) is the frequency at which the antenna exhibits the lowest return loss and the highest radiation efficiency. For a microstrip patch antenna, the resonant frequency can be calculated using the following equation:

fr = c / (2Leff√εeff)

– c is the speed of light in vacuum
– Leff is the effective length of the patch
– εeff is the effective dielectric constant

Input Impedance

The input impedance (Zin) of an antenna determines how well it is matched to the feeding network. A well-matched antenna minimizes reflections and maximizes power transfer. The input impedance can be calculated using the following equation:

Zin = R + jX

– R is the real part (resistance)
– X is the imaginary part (reactance)

The real part of the input impedance represents the power radiated by the antenna, while the imaginary part represents the power stored in the antenna’s near field.

Return Loss

Return loss (RL) is a measure of how much power is reflected back from the antenna due to impedance mismatch. A well-matched antenna has a high return loss, indicating minimal reflections. Return loss is typically expressed in decibels (dB) and can be calculated using the following equation:

RL = -20 log10(|Γ|)

– Γ is the reflection coefficient, which can be calculated as:

Γ = (Zin – Z0) / (Zin + Z0)

– Zin is the input impedance of the antenna
– Z0 is the characteristic impedance of the feeding network (typically 50 Ω)

A return loss of -10 dB or lower is generally considered acceptable, as it indicates that less than 10% of the power is reflected back from the antenna.


Bandwidth (BW) is the range of frequencies over which the antenna maintains acceptable performance, such as a return loss below -10 dB. The bandwidth can be calculated using the following equation:

BW = fH – fL

– fH is the upper frequency limit
– fL is the lower frequency limit

The fractional bandwidth (FBW) is another common metric, which expresses the bandwidth as a percentage of the center frequency:

FBW = (fH – fL) / fc × 100%

– fc is the center frequency, calculated as (fH + fL) / 2

Gain and Directivity

Gain (G) is a measure of the antenna’s ability to concentrate radiated power in a specific direction. It is expressed in decibels (dB) and can be calculated using the following equation:

G = η × D

– η is the radiation efficiency
– D is the directivity

Directivity (D) is a measure of the antenna’s ability to focus radiated power in a particular direction compared to an isotropic radiator. It can be calculated using the following equation:

D = 4π / ΩA

– ΩA is the beam solid angle, which represents the spatial angle over which the antenna radiates

Radiation Pattern

The radiation pattern is a graphical representation of the antenna’s radiated power as a function of direction. It is typically plotted in the far field and can be represented in 2D (polar or Cartesian coordinates) or 3D.

The radiation pattern provides information about the antenna’s main lobe, side lobes, and null regions. The main lobe is the direction of maximum radiated power, while side lobes are secondary lobes in undesired directions. Null regions are directions in which the radiated power is minimal.

Simulating and Optimizing PCB Antennas

Electromagnetic simulation software, such as CST Studio Suite, Ansys HFSS, or Keysight ADS, is essential for designing, simulating, and optimizing PCB antennas. These tools allow engineers to:

  1. Create accurate 3D models of the antenna and its surrounding environment
  2. Define material properties, boundary conditions, and excitation ports
  3. Perform electromagnetic simulations to evaluate the antenna’s performance, including S-parameters, radiation patterns, and near-field distributions
  4. Optimize the antenna design by parameterizing key dimensions and using built-in optimization algorithms
  5. Analyze the antenna’s performance in the presence of other components, such as the device enclosure, battery, or display
  6. Generate far-field data for antenna measurements and system-level simulations

By simulating and optimizing PCB antennas, engineers can identify and address potential issues early in the design process, reducing the need for costly and time-consuming physical prototypes.


  1. Q: What is the main difference between a PCB antenna and a conventional antenna?
    A: PCB antennas are directly integrated into the printed circuit board, while conventional antennas are separate components that are connected to the PCB. This integration allows PCB antennas to be more compact, cost-effective, and easier to mass-produce.

  2. Q: Can PCB antennas be used for all wireless applications?
    A: PCB antennas can be designed for a wide range of wireless applications, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and cellular communication. However, their compact size and limited bandwidth may make them less suitable for certain applications that require high gain or wide bandwidth, such as long-range communication or ultra-wideband systems.

  3. Q: How does the PCB substrate affect antenna performance?
    A: The PCB substrate’s dielectric constant and thickness have a significant impact on the antenna’s performance. A higher dielectric constant reduces the antenna’s size but also decreases its bandwidth and efficiency. The substrate thickness affects the antenna’s impedance and radiation characteristics, with thicker substrates generally providing better performance but also increasing the antenna’s size.

  4. Q: What is the purpose of a shorting pin in a PIFA?
    A: The shorting pin in a PIFA serves two main purposes: (1) it helps to reduce the antenna’s size by effectively folding the radiating element, and (2) it provides a low-impedance path to ground, which is necessary for impedance matching and multiband operation.

  5. Q: How can I improve the bandwidth of a PCB antenna?
    A: There are several techniques to improve the bandwidth of a PCB antenna:

  6. Use a thicker substrate with a lower dielectric constant
  7. Increase the size of the radiating element
  8. Employ parasitic elements or slots to create additional resonances
  9. Use a stacked or multilayer antenna configuration
  10. Implement a wideband feeding technique, such as a proximity-coupled feed or an L-probe feed


PCB antennas are an essential component in modern wireless devices, offering a compact, cost-effective, and easily integrated solution for various applications. Designing and optimizing PCB antennas requires a deep understanding of antenna theory, PCB materials, and electromagnetic simulation techniques.

By following the design guidelines and calculation methods outlined in this article, engineers can create high-performance PCB antennas that meet the specific requirements of their applications. However, it is essential to remember that PCB antenna design is an iterative process that involves continuous simulation, optimization, and testing to achieve the desired performance.

As wireless technology continues to evolve, with the advent of 5G networks and the Internet of Things (IoT), the demand for efficient and reliable PCB antennas will only increase. By staying up-to-date with the latest design techniques and tools, engineers can create innovative PCB antenna solutions that push the boundaries of wireless communication.