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Electronics Production | December 15, 2010

Ceramic chip antennas vs. PCB trace antennas: a comparison

Multi-purpose machine-to-machine devices require a high quality radio interface that will operate in the Zigbee, ISM, and cellular bands including LTE, bands which lie between 700 and 2500 MHz.
A trace antenna on a printed circuit board (PCB) is often the first type of interface considered for one of these applications. However, using a ceramic antenna can be a good or even better alternative. The purpose of a trace
antenna on a PCB is to provide a method of wireless communication. During the manufacture of the PCB, the trace is
laminated on the PCB’s surface or, in some cases, the traces can occupy several layers of a multilayer board. In these
cases, vias are used to interconnect the traces on each layer. Feeding the antenna is normally arranged with a micro-strip
line from the radio module.

Using a trace antenna has several advantages:

• Manufacturing costs are relatively low as the trace is applied as part of the PCB assembly process.

• The structure is extremely simple and, because the antenna is on the surface of the PCB, the structure profile is very thin.

• Optimally designed trace antennas have a large bandwidth.

• They’re a good solution for sized-optomized PCBs in a stable environment. Some of the disadvantages are that trace solutions do not work well if:

• The available PCB area for the antenna is small.

• Objects are too close to the antenna area on the PCB.

• They come in contact with, or are in close proximity to, people

• The antenna performance and tuning are significantly affected by the PCB design. Because of this, the tuning needs to be checked/adjusted after each change made to the PCB layout.

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About the Author
Jouni Lifländer, RF designer for Pulse Finland Oy, has worked at Pulse Kempele since 2008. He has a Bachelor of
Engineering from Rovaniemi Polytechnic and a Masters in Engineering, specializing in radio engineering, from the
University of Oulu in Finland.

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