RF is an acronym for “radio frequency”, which consists of electromagnetic waves that oscillate in the radio spectrum in frequencies of 3 KHz to 300 GHz. Frequencies in these ranges are categorized into low frequencies (3-30 GHz) and high frequencies (30-300 GHz). Radio spectrum frequencies between 300 MHz and 300 GHz are also referred to as microwave frequencies.
In order for radio frequencies to be utilized by technologic applications, they must be received by an antenna. The antenna must capture the electric RF signals and convert them into radio waves. The radio waves are then sent to a tuner, which is set to amplify a certain frequency or range of frequencies while ignoring all other frequencies. The data carried on the frequency is then processed by a microcontroller and the system responds to its information.
The nature of RF currents differs from other electrical currents in many ways, the primary difference being that RF signals have the ability to radiate freely into space from a conductor. Another key difference is the manner in which RF signals travel through a conductive material. Unlike other currents, RF signals travel along the surface of a conductor rather than deep within it. This behavior necessitates the use of transmission line or coaxial cable.
Coaxial cable houses specialized shielding to prevent the signal from bouncing back through the cable. It is available in many types. Thicker cables generally transmit more signals and are more durable. Some coax cables are double shielded to reduce signal loss during transmission.
Specialized components called RF connectors are also required by RF applications. These connectors mate with one another to carry RF frequencies between different components of an electrical system and are unmated to terminate the connection. Connectors are typically mated and unmated several hundred times over their lifetimes, and as such must be built for durability and reliability.
RF connectors differ in size, frequency range, durability, and mating ability. Most RF connectors were originally designed by the military around World War II and are still required to conform to military standards. A host of other trends and standards dictate the creation and design of RF connectors. These trends and standards influence the materials used in creating connectors, the acceptable tolerances and frequency ranges of the connectors, and their size and profile (in RF terminology, the profile refers to the height of the connector when installed).
The recent trend of miniaturization in RF devices has required the creation of micro-miniature RF connectors, such as the IPX line offered by Lighthorse Technologies, Inc. These tiny connectors save space and have the ability to operate continuously at higher frequencies. As technology advances and devices become smaller, this trend is expected to continue.
The amazing nature of RF signals allow them to be used in our everyday lives for a multitude of applications. Everything from your cell phone to your supermarket checkout makes use of RF technology on a daily basis to help make your life easier. While these parts aren’t exactly household names, they are an essential component to a vast range of modern technologies.