To understand the details behind antennas, the vital interface between free space and a transmit/receive system, it is important to fully understand the basic properties of antennas in order to understand their performance.

One of the main properties of an antenna is its radiation or antenna pattern. This is defined as a mathematical function of the radiation properties of the antenna as a function of space coordinates. It is important to note that this pattern is determined in the far field region (there are three main regions when studying antenna radiation: reactive near field, radiating near field, and far field). This can be a trace of the Electric or magnetic field (field pattern) or the spatial variation of the power density (power pattern). These are generally normalized with respect to the maximum value and typically are plotted in decibel scale to accentuate minor lobes. Minor lobes are any lobes that are not the major lobe. In split beam antennas, there can be multiple major lobes. The following image shows a directive antenna’s radiation pattern. Side lobes are generally undesirable and should be minimized if possible.

The Half Power Beamwidth (HPBW or sometimes just beamwidth) can be determined by drawing two lines from the origin point to the -3dB (half power) point and seeing the resultant angle.

Antennas are generally compared to “isotropic” antennas. These are hypothetical antennas that radiate power equally in all directions. This is not to be confused with omnidirectional antennas, which radiate power equally in the azimuthal direction. The E and H planes are defined as the plane containing the electric field vector and direction of maximum radiation and the plane containing the H vector respectively.

The three main regions around an antenna are the reactive near field, radiating near field and far field. In the reactive near field, the radiation is reactive (eg. the E and H fields are out of phase by 90 degrees. Because the waves are not in phase and transverse, they do not propagate. In the radiating near field, the waves are not purely reactive and propagate, however the shape varies with distance. In the far field (where the radiation pattern originates from), the radiation pattern does not change with distance and the waves are transverse.

One of the major characterizing aspects of antennas is the directivity. This is equivalent to the ratio of the radiation intensity in a certain direction over the hypothetical isotropic radiator intensity.

The denominator represents the average power radiated in all directions. The function is the normalized radiation pattern as a function of both the elevation and azimuthal angles. It is also possible to calculate partial directivities in either the theta direction or the phi direction and total directivity is the sum of these two. For a highly directive antenna with a very narrow major lobe and negligible minor lobes, the solid angle can be approximated by the product of the half power beamwidths in two different planes.

Another important property is antenna efficiency, which is the product of reflection efficiency, conduction efficiency, and dielectric efficiency. This takes into account all possible loss: either from a VSWR greater than 1 due to an impedance mismatch between the feedline and the antenna and conductive losses due to Joule heating from both the dielectric and the conductive parts. The antenna gain can be defined as the product of the antenna efficiency and directivity.