Effective radiated power

Effective radiated power (ERP), synonymous with equivalent radiated power, is an IEEE standardized definition of directional radio frequency (RF) power transmitted from a theoretical half-wave dipole antenna. It is differentiated from effective (or equivalent) isotropic radiated power (EIRP) mainly by use of relative antenna gain instead of absolute gain in the calculation. In the case of ERP, antenna gain is calculated as compared to the maximum directivity of a half-wave dipole antenna, whereas EIRP is calculated using antenna gain referenced to an ideal isotropic radiator, otherwise known as "absolute" gain. The term "antenna gain" is assumed to be absolute (referenced to isotropic) unless specifically stated to be relative. The gain is then multiplied by the power actually accepted by the antenna to result in the actual ERP value (or EIRP). Power losses which occur prior to the antenna, e.g., in the transmission line or from inefficiency in the generator itself are therefore not included in the calculation of ERP or EIRP.[1]

Antenna gain and directivity

Antenna gain is closely related to directivity and often incorrectly used interchangeably. However, gain is always less than directivity by a factor called radiation efficiency, η. Whereas directivity is entirely a function of wavelength and the geometry and type of antenna, gain takes into account the losses that always occur in the real world. Specifically, accelerating charge (time varying current) causes electromagnetic radiation per Maxwell's equations. Therefore, antennas use a current distribution on radiating elements to generate electromagnetic energy that propagates away from the antenna. This coupling is never 100% efficient (by Laws of Thermodynamics), and therefore antenna gain will always be less than directivity by this efficiency factor.

Dipole vs. isotropic radiators

Because ERP is calculated as antenna gain (in a given direction) as compared to the maximum directivity of a half-wave dipole antenna, it creates a mathematically virtual effective dipole antenna oriented in the direction of the receiver. In other words, a notional receiver in a given direction from the transmitter would receive the same power if the source were replaced with an ideal dipole oriented with maximum directivity and matched polarization towards the receiver and with an antenna input power equal to the ERP. The receiver would not be able to determine a difference. Maximum directivity of an ideal half-wave dipole is a constant, i.e., 0 dBd = 2.15 dBi. Therefore, ERP is always 2.15 dB less than EIRP. The ideal dipole antenna could be further replaced by an isotropic radiator (a purely mathematical device which cannot exist in the real world), and the receiver cannot know the difference so long as the input power is increased by 2.15 dB.

Unfortunately, the distinction between dBd and dBi is often left unstated and the reader is sometimes forced to infer which was used. For example, a Yagi-Uda antenna is constructed from several dipoles arranged at precise intervals to create better energy focusing (directivity) than a simple dipole. Since it is constructed from dipoles, often its antenna gain is expressed in dBd, but listed only as dB. Obviously this ambiguity is undesirable with respect to engineering specifications. A Yagi-Uda antenna's maximum directivity is 8.77 dBd = 10.92 dBi. Its gain necessarily must be less than this by the factor η, which must be negative in units of dB. Neither ERP nor EIRP can be calculated without knowledge of the power accepted by the antenna, i.e., it is not correct to use units of dBd or dBi with ERP and EIRP. Let us assume a 100 Watt (20 dBW) transmitter with losses of 6 dB prior to the antenna. ERP < 22.77dBW and EIRP < 24.92dBW, both less than ideal by η in dB. Assuming that the receiver is in the first side-lobe of the transmitting antenna, and each value is further reduced by 7.2 dB, which is the decrease in directivity from the main to side-lobe of a Yagi-Uda. Therefore, anywhere along the side-lobe direction from this transmitter, a blind receiver could not tell the difference if a Yagi-Uda was replaced with either an ideal dipole (oriented towards the receiver) or an isotropic radiator with antenna input power increased by 1.57 dB.[2]


Polarization has not been taken into account so far, but properly it must be. When considering the dipole radiator previously we assumed that it was perfectly aligned with the receiver. Now assume, however, that the receiving antenna is circularly polarized, and there will be a minimum 3 dB polarization loss regardless of antenna orientation. If the receiver is also a dipole, it is possible to align it orthogonally to the transmitter such that theoretically zero energy is received. However, this polarization loss is not accounted for in the calculation of ERP or EIRP. Rather, the receiving system designer must account for this loss as appropriate. For example, a cellular telephone tower has a fixed linear polarization, but the mobile handset must function well at any arbitrary orientation. Therefore, a handset design might provide dual polarization receive on the handset so that captured energy is maximized regardless of orientation, or the designer might use a circularly polarized antenna and account for the extra 3 dB of loss with amplification.

FM example

An antenna tower consisting of a high-gain collinear antenna array.

For example, an FM radio station which advertises that it has 100,000 watts of power actually has 100,000 watts ERP, and not an actual 100,000-watt transmitter. The transmitter power output (TPO) of such a station typically may be 10,000 to 20,000 watts, with a gain factor of 5 to 10 (5× to 10×, or 7 to 10 dB). In most antenna designs, gain is realized primarily by concentrating power toward the horizontal plane and suppressing it at upward and downward angles, through the use of phased arrays of antenna elements. The distribution of power versus elevation angle is known as the vertical pattern. When an antenna is also directional horizontally, gain and ERP will vary with azimuth (compass direction). Rather than the average power over all directions, it is the apparent power in the direction of the antenna's main lobe that is quoted as a station's ERP (this statement is just another way of stating the definition of ERP). This is particularly applicable to the huge ERPs reported for shortwave broadcasting stations, which use very narrow beam widths to get their signals across continents and oceans.

United States regulatory usage

ERP for FM radio in the United States is always relative to a theoretical reference half-wave dipole antenna. (That is, when calculating ERP, the most direct approach is to work with antenna gain in dBd). To deal with antenna polarization, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lists ERP in both the horizontal and vertical measurements for FM and TV. Horizontal is the standard for both, but if the vertical ERP is larger it will be used instead.

The maximum ERP for US FM broadcasting is usually 100,000 watts (FM Zone II) or 50,000 watts (in the generally more densely populated Zones I and I-A), though exact restrictions vary depending on the class of license and the antenna height above average terrain (HAAT).[3] Some stations have been grandfathered in or, very infrequently, been given a waiver, and can exceed normal restrictions.

Microwave band issues

For most microwave systems, a completely non-directional isotropic antenna (one which radiates equally and perfectly well in every direction a physical impossibility) is used as a reference antenna, and then one speaks of EIRP (effective isotropic radiated power) rather than ERP. This includes satellite transponders, radar, and other systems which use microwave dishes and reflectors rather than dipole-style antennas.

Lower-frequency issues

In the case of medium wave (AM) stations in the United States, power limits are set to the actual transmitter power output, and ERP is not used in normal calculations. Omnidirectional antennas used by a number of stations radiate the signal equally in all directions. Directional arrays are used to protect co- or adjacent channel stations, usually at night, but some run directionally 24 hours. While antenna efficiency and ground conductivity are taken into account when designing such an array, the FCC database shows the station's transmitter power output, not ERP.

Related terms


The height above average terrain for VHF and higher frequencies is extremely important when considering ERP, as the signal coverage (broadcast range) produced by a given ERP dramatically increases with antenna height. Because of this, it is possible for a station of only a few hundred watts ERP to cover more area than a station of a few thousand watts ERP, if its signal travels above obstructions on the ground.

See also


  1. "IEEE Std 145-2013". IEEE. 11 December 2013.
  2. Cheng, David K. (1992). Field and Wave Electromagnetics, 2nd Ed. Addison-Wesley. pp. 648–650.
  3. 47 CFR 73.211
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