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Microwave Antenna Design Considerations

Key Takeaways

  • Microwave antennas operate in the microwave frequency range, spanning from about 1 GHz to 300 GHz, and play a crucial role in various applications, including satellite communications, cellular networks, and radar systems.

  • Antenna selection is a critical aspect of microwave antenna design, with different antenna types offering specific advantages for various applications, such as high gain in parabolic antennas and compact designs in slot antennas.

  • The design parameters of microwave antennas, including frequency, gain, beamwidth, polarization, and radiation resistance, are essential to ensure efficient and reliable communication systems. 

Large microwave antenna on a cell tower

Large microwave antenna on a cell tower.

Microwave antennas are electromagnetic devices that transmit or receive electromagnetic waves in the microwave frequency range. This frequency range typically spans from about 1 GHz (Gigahertz) to 300 GHz and is widely used in various applications, including satellite communications, cellular networks, and radar systems. This discussion delves into the intricacies of microwave antenna design, encompassing antenna types, key components, and essential design parameters, offering valuable insights for engineers, designers, and industry professionals seeking to optimize communication and radar system performance.

Antenna Type Name



Horn Antennas

  • Wide bandwidth

  • Low standing wave ratio

  • Moderate directivity

  • Gain up to 25 dB

Waveguide with flared end walls.  Appearance of a megaphone

Parabolic Antennas

  • High gain

  • Narrow beamwidth

  • High directivity

  • Ideal for long-distance communication

Consists of a dish and a feed antenna and utilizes a parabolic reflector. Also known as dish antennas

Slot Antennas

  • Efficient radiation of electromagnetic waves

  • Compact and low-profile design

Narrow openings or slots in metal sheets or waveguides. Often used in applications requiring compact antennas

Helical Antennas

  • Circularly polarized wave generation

  • Axial or normal modes

  • Used in satellite communications and radio direction finding

Constructed by winding wires into helix shapes. Mounted on cylindrical or conical supports

Patch Antennas

  • Low fabrication cost

  • Compact form factor

  • Lightweight design

  • Linear and circular polarization options

Affixed to a dielectric substrate. Comes in various shapes. Microstrip patch antennas are a subtype with a radiating patch, ground plane, and dielectric substrate

Understanding Microwave Antenna Types

When designing a microwave antenna, the antenna type directly impacts the system's functionality. Below, we explore some of the most common types of microwave antennas, their advantages, and specific application areas.

Key Components of  Microwave Antenna

  • Reflector Dish: The reflector dish is a fundamental component of many microwave antennas, such as parabolic antennas. It collects and focuses electromagnetic waves onto the feed horn or antenna element.
  • Feed System: The feed system sends or receives signals to/from the reflector. It can be a feed horn, a dipole, or other antennas. The choice of feed system significantly impacts the antenna's performance.
  • Antenna Element: The antenna element is the part of the antenna that directly interacts with the electromagnetic waves. Depending on the specific design, it can be a dipole, patch antenna, or an array of elements.
  • Radome: A protective covering that shields the antenna components from environmental factors like wind, rain, and dust. It also helps maintain the antenna's electrical characteristics.

Horn Antenna

Horn antennas, often called microwave horns, are characterized by moderate gain and a larger bandwidth. These antennas take the form of a waveguide with flared end walls, giving them the appearance of a megaphone. Horn antennas are widely employed for microwave frequencies exceeding 300 MHz, including ultra-high frequencies. Some notable advantages of horn antennas include their wide bandwidth, low standing wave ratio, and moderate directivity. With gains reaching up to 25 dB, they are frequently used in microwave applications where moderate power gain is essential.

Parabolic Antenna

Parabolic antennas consist of two key components: a dish and a feed antenna, offering high gain and a narrow beamwidth, ideal for long-distance communication. These antennas leverage a parabolic reflector, a curved surface resembling a dish, to precisely direct radio waves. Given their dish-like shape, they are commonly referred to as parabolic dishes or dish antennas. A significant advantage of parabolic antennas is their high directivity, making them well-suited for applications such as radio telescopes and point-to-point communication. In the case of parabolic microwave antennas, such as satellite dishes for residential use, proper alignment involves orienting the dish unit towards the equator, where the orbiting feeder satellite is located in space, and fine-tuning the adjustments.

Parabolic antennas operate based on optical principles, capitalizing on the fact that microwaves reside in the transitional region between ordinary radio waves and the infrared/visible light spectrum. The central component of a parabolic reflector antenna, often called a dish antenna, is the parabolic reflector itself, which serves as a reflector rather than an antenna. For it to function effectively, it must be coupled with a radiating element positioned at the focal length. This radiating element can be a dipole or a horn radiator. The parabolic shape of the reflector is integral, as it converges incoming parallel rays to a focal point. Conversely, radiated waves from a signal point placed at this focal point are reflected by the surface, forming outgoing parallel rays. Thus, a parabolic antenna can serve as both a transmitter and a receiving device, facilitating various communication needs. These parabolic antennas have a high gain, narrow beamwidth, and long-distance solid coverage.

Slot Antenna

Slot antennas are narrow openings or slots carved into metal sheets or waveguides and serve as complementary antennas to dipoles or patches. These slots efficiently radiate electromagnetic waves. They are especially adept at transmitting and receiving signals and are often found in applications requiring compact, low-profile antennas.

Helical Antenna

Helical antennas are constructed by winding wires into helix shapes on cylindrical or conical supports. These antennas are known for their ability to generate circularly polarized waves, with the option for axial or normal modes. Helical antennas are commonly used in satellite communications, radio direction finding, and other applications requiring circular polarization.

Patch Antenna

Patch antennas come in various shapes, such as flat rectangles or circles, and are affixed to a dielectric substrate. They offer both linear and circular polarization and possess a moderate bandwidth. A notable subtype is the microstrip patch antenna, consisting of a radiating patch connected to a ground plane on one side and a dielectric substrate on the other. These patches are typically composed of conducting metals like gold or copper. Patch antennas operate effectively within a frequency range from 100 MHz to 100 GHz.

Patch antenna advantages include low fabrication cost, a compact form factor, and a lightweight design. Their extensive usage and reliable performance have positioned them as potential replacements for conventional antennas, especially in applications with critical space and weight constraints. Patch antennas find applications across various fields, including personal communication systems, cellular phones, and global positioning satellites.

Considerations for Antenna Design Parameters

There are a number of considerations to keep in mind when designing microwave antennas. 

Antenna Feature


Impact on Performance


  • Lower frequencies: Better obstacle penetration

  • Higher frequencies: Increased data capacity, shorter wavelengths

  • Lower frequencies provide better coverage.

  • Higher frequencies allow for more data transmission


  • Measures effectiveness in focusing energy in a specific direction. 

  • Higher gain antennas have increased range and signal strength

Higher gain enhances range and signal strength


  • Determines coverage area.

  • Narrower beamwidth: Ideal for long-distance point-to-point communications.

  • Wider beamwidth: Suitable for broader coverage.

  • Narrower beamwidth focuses the signal over long distances. 

  • Wider beamwidth offers a larger coverage area.


  • Alignment of the antenna's electromagnetic wave polarization with transmitted/received signals for efficient communication. 

  • Horizontal polarization: Parallel to Earth's surface. 

  • Vertical polarization: Perpendicular to Earth.

Proper polarization alignment optimizes signal strength and clarity.

Radiation Resistance

  • Correlates with the power radiated by the antenna, denoted as I²R. 

  • Provides efficient power emission.

Higher radiation resistance indicates more effective power radiation by the antenna.

in High Frequencies

  • Narrow bandwidths limit flexibility.

  • Wide bandwidth antennas meet modern telecommunication demands.

Impedance Matching

Matching the antenna's impedance with the receiver's input impedance for maximum power transfer, expressed as PR (max) = V² / 4Ri watts.

Impedance matching is crucial for maximum power transfer and optimal performance of the receiver.

Antenna Simulation

The final phase in microwave antenna design involves utilizing specialized software tools and numerical methods to simulate and analyze its performance and behavior. This pivotal step empowers engineers and designers to thoroughly examine and fine-tune essential antenna parameters, including gain, impedance, radiation pattern, and efficiency, well before the physical prototype is constructed and tested. Simulation aids in ensuring that the antenna meets the desired specifications and operates optimally, minimizing the need for costly and time-consuming iterations during the physical development stage.

In simulating your microwave antenna designs, using cutting-edge tools like Cadence AWR software can help optimize your designs. This powerful software empowers engineers to fine-tune antenna parameters with precision and accuracy before building the physical prototype. If you strive for antenna designs that truly excel in efficiency and performance, leap into the world of simulation with Cadence AWR software.

Leading electronics providers rely on Cadence products to optimize power, space, and energy needs for a wide variety of market applications. To learn more about our innovative solutions, talk to our team of experts or subscribe to our YouTube channel.