What Is Standing Wave Ratio (SWR)?

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Impedance mismatch is the bane of all radio engineers and those who work with them. Standing waves along the transmission line can cause poor transmission efficiency, which means less data can be sent over that line. It is where the standing wave ratio (SWR) comes in. It's a measurement of how well-matched your impedance is to your load impedance. You might have heard of SWR when tuning up your car stereo or amplifier. It's like an alert system that tells you whether you're getting an optimal signal. It works because SWR measures the amount of voltage standing across a load when no current flows through it. If there are no standing waves, then only small amounts of power are dissipated through heat and radiation. However, if there are large amounts of voltage, energy will be wasted as heat and radiation instead of being transmitted over the line at high speed and efficiency! A standing wave is a neat little trick of the universe. It's a wave that oscillates in time but includes a peak amplitude profile that does not move in space. Michael Faraday first observed standing waves in the 19th century. He noticed that when he sent an alternating current through two wires with identical lengths, he got these weird little rings that vibrated back and forth between the ends of his wires without ever actually moving forward or backward. The only thing that happened was that they would slide up and down along the wire. This behavior was later explained by Lord Rayleigh, who mathematically showed that standing waves could only exist if some kind of boundary were present at one end of the wire. He also showed us how to calculate the wavelengths of standing waves using this boundary condition. SWR stands for "standing wave ratio," a measurement of impedance. It's used in a lot of radio technology, especially when it comes to measuring the efficiency of antenna systems. SWR meters are usually pretty simple to plug into your radio or antenna system and watch an indicator or readout on the meter change as you move the antenna around.

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