Chu–Harrington limit

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In electrical engineering and telecommunications the Chu–Harrington limit or Chu limit sets a lower limit on the Q factor for a small radio antenna.[1] The theorem was developed in several papers between 1948 and 1960 by Lan Jen Chu,[2] Harold Wheeler,[3] and later by Roger Harrington.[4] The definition of a small antenna is one that can fit inside a sphere of radius . For a small antenna the Q is proportional to the reciprocal of the volume of a sphere that encloses it. In practice this means that there is a limit to the bandwidth of data that can be sent to and received from small antennas such as are used in mobile phones.

Chu established the limit on Q for a lossless antenna as for a linear polarized antenna, where and is the radius of the smallest sphere containing the antenna and its current distribution. A circular polarized antenna can be half the size.[5] Harrington extended the theory of Chu to the circularly polarized case.[6] As antennas are made smaller, the bandwidth shrinks and radiation resistance becomes smaller compared to loss resistances that may be present, thus reducing the radiation efficiency. For users this decreases the bitrate, limits range, and shortens battery life.


Chu expressed the electromagnetic field in terms of evanescent modes with a real component and no propagating modes. The fields were expressed as a spherical harmonic series with the components being Legendre functions and spherical Bessel functions. The impedance could be expressed as a series of a ratio of a derivative of a Hankel function to other Hankel functions An equivalent circuit is a ladder line with the rungs (shunts) being inductors and the capacitors running in series. The number of elements used in the mathematical series matches the number of capacitor - inductor pairs in the equivalent circuit.[7]

Practical implications[edit]

In practice an electrically small antenna is one that is operated at a frequency below its natural resonance.[8] Small antennas are characterised by low radiation resistance and relatively high reactance, so that a tuning component must be added in series with the antenna to cancel its reactance and assist matching to the circuit to which it is connected. The addition of this extra component creates a tuned circuit, with a Q-factor that potentially limits the instantaneous bandwidth available for signals passing through the antenna. This is a fundamental limit that sets a minimum size for any antenna used at a given frequency and with a given required bandwidth.[9]

The Chu limit gives the minimum Q, and by implication the maximum bandwidth, for an antenna of a given size on the assumption that it is lossless. However any antenna can be made to show a larger bandwidth than suggested by the Chu limit if there is additional resistance present to reduce the Q, and this has led to claims for antennas that have breached the limit, but none has so far been substantiated.

Designs close to the limit[edit]

  • The Goubau antenna from 1976 has a size ratio of 1 and bandwidth of 80%. Q is 1.5 times the limit.[10]
  • The Foltz drawing pin like antenna from 1998 size .62 and 22% bandwidth.
  • The Rogers cone from 2001 is .65 size and right on the limit.
  • Lina and Choo Planar spirals in size ration range from 0.2 to 0.5
  • The fractal Koch curve antenna approaches the limit.[11]
  • A meander line antenna optimizes the size for narrower bandwidths of the order 10%.[12]
  • Underhill and Harper show that an electrically small loop antenna can violate the Chu limit[13]


  1. ^ Bing, Benny (2008). Emerging Technologies in Wireless LANs: Theory, Design, and Deployment. UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 567. ISBN 0521895847. 
  2. ^ Chu, L. J. (December 1948). "Physical limitations of omni-directional antennas". Journal Applied Physics. 19: 1163–1175. doi:10.1063/1.1715038. 
  3. ^ Wheeler, Harold (1975). "Small antennas". IEEE Antennas and Propagation. Inst. of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. AP-24 (4): 462–469. doi:10.1109/tap.1975.1141115. 
  4. ^ Harrington, R. F. (1960). "Effects of antenna size on gain, bandwidth, and efficiency". Jour. Nat'l Bureau of Standards. Washington D.C. USA: US National Bureau of Standards. 64–D: 1–12. 
  5. ^ Carles Puente Baliarda (November 2000). "The Koch Monopole: A Small Fractal Antenna". IEEE Transactions on Antennas and Propagation. 48 (11): 1733–1781. doi:10.1109/8.900236. 
  6. ^ Jahoda, Joseph R. (August 2006). "JTRS/SINCGARS ultrabroadband airborne blade antenna for subsonic aircraft and helicopters". RFDesign. pp. 20–22. Retrieved 28 August 2011. 
  7. ^ R. C. Hansen (February 1981). "Fundamental Limitations in Antennas" (PDF). Proceedings of the IEEE. 69 (2): 170–182. doi:10.1109/proc.1981.11950. 
  8. ^ Hansen, R.C. Electrically Small, Superdirective and Superconductive Antennas, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ, USA, 2006
  9. ^ James S. McLean: A Re-Examination of the Fundamental Limits on the Radiation Q of Electrically Small Antennas
  10. ^ "Chu Limit". 
  11. ^ Carles Puente Baliarda; Jordi Romeu & Angel Cardama (November 2000). "The Koch Monopole: A Small Fractal Antenna" (PDF). IEE Transactions on Antennas and Propagation. 48 (11). 
  12. ^ Caimi, Frank (August 2002). "Meander Line Antennas" (PDF). Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  13. ^ Underhill, M.J; Harper, M. (2003). "Small antenna input impedances that contradict Chu-Wheeler Q criterion". Electronics Letters. 39 (11): 828–830. doi:10.1049/el:20030540. 

Further reading[edit]