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What Are the Pros and Cons of PCB Antennas?

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.

What Are PCB Antennas?

A PCB is a printed circuit board. A PCB antenna is a printed circuit board antenna is an antenna built into a circuit board. PCB antennas are more accurately called printed circuit board trace antennas. That is because the antenna is a conductive trace in the printed circuit board, though the board may contain other elements, as well.

What Are the Advantages of PCB Antennas?

A PCB antenna takes advantage of a common form of mass production. This results in relatively low manufacturing costs, though there are cheap ways to make antennas from coffee cans and metal poles. However, the PCB antenna can include circuit paths, resistors, and electrical components in one package. We can say that printed circuit board antennas are cheaper than ceramic chip antennas.

Printed circuit board antennas are rugged. They’re typically built around a fiberglass or metal sheet, making them much more durable than fine wire. The elements can’t be bent or moved on exposure to the elements. The same is true of soldered SMA and other types of connectors used with the PCB antenna.

These antennas are easy to tune. That is the opposite of chip antennas, the biggest alternative to PCB antennas.

The printed circuit board or PBC trace antenna is compact, since it is literally a flat board. It will take up relatively little space.

2 types of PCB antennas

2 types of PCB antennas

What Are the Disadvantages of PCB Antennas?

PCB antennas are almost always a flat plane, though they can be stacked up to create an omni-directional antenna. While a wheel antenna receives signals from 360 degrees in the horizontal plane, it won’t be able to receive signals in the vertical plane.

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PCB antennas require the use of a printed circuit board factory. This means they’re going to be mass produced by a factory. Yagi antennas and bow tie antennas can be made by bending wire or mounting specific lengths of wire on a simple metal support and connecting it to a feed. This allows hobbyists to make them at home and modify them at will.

PCB antenna designs may use well known antenna specifications, but the design of the board has to go through the PCB design process, and that can add to the antenna’s design cost. This is especially true if you’re including feeds and electrical components. On the other hand, the antenna can include SMA connectors and fuses to protect the antenna via built-in components.

Observations about PCB Antennas

Ceramic antennas have fewer issues with interference than PCB antennas, making them the better choice when you need to put several antennas in the same device such as a software defined radio. However, a log periodic or planar PCB antenna can work well in a software defined radio antenna. Furthermore, with a PCB antenna, you only need a single antenna.

Printed circuit board antennas can be built into flexible materials like plastic, though that dramatically increases their cost. Most are made out of fiberglass.

PCB trace antennas can be anywhere from an inch to several feet across, though the cost is proportional to size. The cost is very low when you’re able to fit many antennas on a single printed board that’s cut into many single antennas.

When an antenna is built into a printed circuit board, it should be designed so that the antenna doesn’t interfere with the rest of the circuits in the printed circuit board. High speed clocks and switching digital signals will create a lot of radio frequency interference or RFI. Digital and analog circuits in the same PCB need to be kept separate from each other.

© 2019 Tamara Wilhite

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