Twin-lead cable is a two-conductor flat cable used as a balanced transmission line to carry radio frequency (RF) signals. It is constructed of two stranded or solid copper or copper-clad steel wires, held a precise distance apart by a plastic (usually polyethylene) ribbon. The uniform spacing of the wires is the key to the cable's function as a transmission line; any abrupt changes in spacing would reflect some of the signal back toward the source. The plastic also covers and insulates the wires. It is available with several different values of characteristic impedance, the most common type is 300 ohm.

300 ohm twin-lead

Twin lead is mainly used as an antenna feedline at shortwave and VHF frequencies, to connect radio receivers and transmitters to their antennas. It can have significantly lower signal loss than miniature flexible coaxial cable, the main alternative type of feedline at these frequencies; for example, type RG-58 coaxial cable loses 6.6 dB per 100 metres (330 ft) at 30 MHz, while 300 ohm twin-lead loses only 0.55 dB.[1] 300 ohm twin lead is widely used to connect FM radios to their antennas, and was previously used to connect television antennas to televisions until it was replaced by coaxial cable. However, it is more vulnerable to interference; proximity to metal objects will inject signals into twin-lead that would be blocked out by coaxial cable. It therefore requires spacing around rain gutters, and standoff insulators along metal support masts.

Characteristics and uses edit

Twin lead and other types of parallel-conductor transmission line are mainly used to connect radio transmitters and receivers to their antennas. Parallel transmission line has the advantage that its losses per unit length are an order of magnitude smaller than that of coaxial cable, the main alternative form of transmission line. Its disadvantages are that it is more vulnerable to interference, and must be kept away from metal objects which can cause power losses. For this reason, when installed along the outside of buildings and on antenna masts, standoff insulators must be used. It is also common practice to twist the twin lead on long free standing lengths to further reject any induced imbalances to the line.

Twin-lead is supplied in several different sizes, with values of 600, 450, 300, and 75 ohm characteristic impedance. The most common, 300 ohm twin-lead, was once widely used to connect television sets and FM radios to their receiving antennas. 300 ohm twin-lead for television installations has been largely replaced with 75 ohm coaxial cable feedlines. Twin-lead is also used in amateur radio stations as a transmission line for balanced transmission of radio frequency signals.

The characteristic impedance of twin-lead is a function of the wire diameter and its spacing; in 300 ohm twin-lead, the most common type, the wire is usually 20 or 22 gauge (0.52 or 0.33 mm2), about 7.5 mm (0.30 inches) apart.[2] This is well matched with the natural impedance of a folded dipole antenna, which is normally around 275 ohms. Twin-lead generally has higher impedance than the other common transmission wiring, coaxial cable (coax). The widely used RG-6 coax has a characteristic impedance of 75 ohms, which requires the use of a balun to match impedance when used with common antenna types.

How it works edit

A 300-to-75-ohm balun, showing twin-lead on the right hand side

Twin lead is a form of parallel-wire balanced transmission line. The separation between the two wires in twin-lead is small compared to the wavelength of the radio frequency (RF) signal carried on the wire.[3] The RF current in one wire is equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to the RF current in the other wire. Therefore, in the far field region far from the transmission line, the radio waves radiated by one wire are equal in magnitude but opposite in phase (180° out of phase) to the waves radiated by the other wire, so they superpose and cancel each other.[3] The result is that almost no net radio energy is radiated by the line.

Similarly, any interfering external radio waves will induce equal, in phase RF currents, traveling in the same direction, in the two wires. Since the load at the destination end is connected across the wires, only differential, oppositely-directed currents in the wires create a current in the load. Thus the interfering currents are canceled out, so twin lead does not tend to pick up radio noise.

However, if a piece of metal is located sufficiently close to a twin-lead line, within a distance comparable to the wire spacing, it will be significantly closer to one wire than the other. As a result, the RF current induced in the metal object by one wire will be greater than the opposing current induced by the other wire, so the currents will no longer cancel. Thus nearby metal objects can cause power losses in twin lead lines, through energy dissipated as heat by induced currents. Similarly, radio noise originating in cables or metal objects located near the twin-lead line can induce unbalanced currents in the wires, coupling noise into the line. Therefore, the line must be kept at a distance from metal objects such as gutters and masts.

In order to prevent power from being reflected from the load end of the line, causing high SWR and inefficiency, the load must have an impedance which matches the characteristic impedance of the line. This causes the load to appear electrically identical to a continuation of the line, preventing reflections. Similarly, to transfer power efficiently into the line, the source must also match the characteristic impedance. To connect a balanced transmission line to an unbalanced line like coaxial cable, a device called a balun must be used.

Ladder line edit

300 Ω two wire ribbon cable, or twin lead. Note the plastic between the wires is unbroken – no "windows".

Parallel wire line comes in three distinct forms:

  • window line, a version of ribbon line with periodic holes cut along the insulator's center-line;
  • ladder line or open wire line, a pair of wires periodically spaced apart by insulating "rungs".

Window line edit

Nominal 450 ohm "window line". The opening cut between the wires is one of the "windows".

Window line is a variation on two-conductor ribbon cable; it is similarly built, except that the polyethylene ribbon between the wires holding them apart has regularly spaced rectangular openings ("windows") cut in it.[2][4]

Among the advantages to cutting "windows" in the ribbon is that the manufacturer can adjust the size of the cuts to make fine adjustments to the feedline's electrical properties. The windows lighten the line, and reduce the amount of surface on which dirt and moisture can accumulate, making window line somewhat less vulnerable to weather-induced changes in its characteristic impedance.[2] The most common type is nominal 450 Ω window line, which has a conductor spacing of about an inch (25 mm); its actual impedance may be closer to 400 Ω.[2] It is also made in nominal 350 Ω impedance.

Ladder line edit

500–600 Ω "ladder line", or "open wire line". The insulating spacers between the wires are the "rungs" of the ladder.

Ladder line is an older, simpler form of parallel-wire line, often called open wire line. The configuration looks like a rope ladder, hence the name. It can either be purchased already made by a cable company, or home-made; the construction is easy, though tedious, and originally all radio amateurs made their own open wire line. It consists of two wires, usually either clad in a DC insulator or coated with a durable lacquer, held a constant distance apart by insulated spacers.

500–600 Ω "open wire line" or "ladder line" feeding a high wire antenna.

These "ladder rungs" can be made out of any convenient insulating material – at present, usually short pieces cut from plastic plumbing pipe – formerly either long, thin ceramic insulators or dowel stubs of water-proofed wood were used. The "rungs" hold the wires at constant spacing, somewhere between a constant two to five inches (13 cm) apart, depending on the wire and the desired impedance. The rungs are spaced about every five to twelve inches (13–30 cm). Although it is important to ensure the wire separation is uniform, it doesn't matter if distances between the rungs is erratic, as long as the separation remains nearly constant in gusts of wind.

The ratio of chosen wire spacing to wire diameter determines the line's characteristic impedance – usually 500~600 Ω, but also depends on the wire insulation's relative permittivity and conductive loss in the rung insulators, if significant.[5] For example, for a 500 Ω line, two bare or lacquered wires should be spaced 32× the wires' individual diameters apart – about four inches (10 cm) in the case of common  1 / 8 ″ diameter wire (0.125 inches (3 mm)). If the wires are insulated, the separation may need to be a little different, depending on the insulating plastic. To get 600 Ω parallel line, the same wires would be spaced nine inches (23 cm); 600 Ω is roughly the practical limit for transmission lines made with wire rather than thicker copper clad steel cable, or with aluminum or copper pipe.

Impedance matching edit

As a transmission line, transmission efficiency will be maximum when the impedance of the antenna, the characteristic impedance of the twin-lead line and the impedance of the equipment are the same. For this reason, when attaching a twin-lead line to a coaxial cable connection, such as the 300 ohm twin-lead from a domestic television antenna to the television's 75 ohm coax antenna input, a balun with a 4:1 ratio is commonly used. Its purpose is double: first, it transforms twin-lead's 300 ohm impedance to match the 75 ohm coaxial cable impedance; and second, it transforms the balanced, symmetric transmission line to the unbalanced coax input. In general, when used as a feedline, twin-lead (especially ladder line versions) has a higher efficiency than coaxial cable when there is an impedance mismatch between the feedline and the source (or sink). For receive-only use this merely implies that the system can communicate under slightly less optimal conditions; for transmit use, this can often result in significantly less energy lost as heat in the transmission line.

Twin-lead also can serve as a convenient material with which to build a simple folded dipole antenna. Such antennas may be fed either by using a 300 ohm twin-lead feeder or by using a 300-to-75-ohm balun and using coaxial feedline and will usually handle moderate power loads without overheating.

Characteristic impedance edit

The characteristic impedance of a parallel-wire transmission line like twin lead or ladder line depends on its dimensions; the diameter of the wires  d  and their separation  D . This is derived below.

The characteristic impedance  Zo  of any transmission line is given by


where for twin-lead line the primary line constants are


where  d  is the wire diameter and  D  is the separation of the wires measured between their centre-lines,  ε  is the absolute permittivity between the wires,  l  is the length of the wire, and where the surface resistance of the wires is given by


Neglecting the wire resistance  R  and the leakage conductance  G , this gives


where  ζo  is the impedance of free space (approximately 376.74 Ω),  εR  is the relative permittivity (which for air is 1.00054).

When the separation  D  is many times greater than the wire diameter  d  then the arcosh function can be approximately replaced by a natural logarithm (with its argument doubled):


The exact and approximate formulas for the separation needed to achieve some given characteristic impedance   through a pair of wires are therefore


The dielectric material between the two conductors with either twin-lead or ladder line is not all air. The effect of a "mixed" dielectric, part air and part polyethylene or other plastic, is that the actual impedance will fall somewhere between the value calculated assuming all air or all polyethylene. Published, carefully measured values for Zo will typically be more accurate than estimates from formulas.

Antennas edit

Twin-lead can be connected directly to a suitably designed antenna:

Windom antenna
A multiply-resonant antenna whose resonant impedances cluster around 300 Ω.
Folded dipole
Double-wire dipole whose characteristic impedance in free space is around 300 Ω.
Although the center impedance at resonance is approximately 73 Ω in free space, in actual use it varies between 30 and 100 Ω, depending on height above ground, so with high-impedance feedline a T-match or Y-match feed will probably be necessary.
Yagi–Uda antenna
Yagi and the simpler Moxon antenna, and other directional antennas; some special impedance matching arrangement at the feedpoint is necessary for any cabling, since interference between the typically close-spacing of the parallel near-resonant antenna segments causes low feedpoint resistance as well as making the antenna more directional.

References edit

  1. ^ "Why ladder line?". Highveld Amateur Radio Club.
  2. ^ a b c d Straw, R. Dean, Ed. (2000). The ARRL Antenna Book, 19th Ed. USA: American Radio Relay League. pp. 24.16–17. ISBN 0-87259-817-9.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ a b Straw, R. Dean, Ed. (2000). The ARRL Antenna Book, 19th Ed. USA: American Radio Relay League. p. 24.1. ISBN 0-87259-817-9.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Ford, Steve (December 1993). "The Lure Of Ladder Line" (PDF). QST. ARRL. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 April 2012. Retrieved September 16, 2011.
  5. ^ Danzer, Paul (April 2004). "Open wire feed line — a second look". QST Magazine. Newington, CT: American Radio Relay League. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  6. ^ Stewart, Wes, N7WS. "Balanced transmission line in current amateur practice". ARRL Antenna Compendium. Vol. 6. Newington, CT: American Radio Relay League.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ ARRL Handbook for Amateur Radio. Newington, CT: American Radio Relay League. 2000. p. 19.3.