What is a Microwave Antenna?

Mal Baxter

A microwave antenna is designed to receive and transmit electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths between infrared (IR) radiation and radio waves. Microwave radiation can travel through the atmosphere or space; the antennas pick up those signals in broadband, a specified band, or single frequency. The technology comes in many sizes and shapes, linking voice and data wireless transmissions for applications such as radar, radio astronomy, and telephone networks.

One type of common microwave antenna is used in cell phones.
One type of common microwave antenna is used in cell phones.

Microwave antenna applications vary from radio, television, and data communications to radiolocation along the ultra-high frequency (UHF) and military super-high frequency (SHF) bands of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. As such, these antennas come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. These can include small helical antennas such as the type found on automobiles, and wireless fidelity (WiFi) antennas for computers and cell phones.

Cell towers may use different types of microwave antennas for voice and data transmissions.
Cell towers may use different types of microwave antennas for voice and data transmissions.

Others are designed in compact lozenge shapes. Larger WiFi antennas are placed on telephone poles and rooftops around cities, universities, and commercial and residential properties in order to transmit data where mobile computing is required. Parabolic dish antennas are high-gain reflectors used to transmit massive amounts of data for media transmission, radio astronomy, and radiolocation (radar).

One type of common microwave antenna is used in cell phones. This mobile communications device transmits in microwave frequencies by radiating energy in every direction. A base station receives the transmission and sends it through relays in a telecommunications network until it reaches its destination. Signals can include data that carry voice, video, and text. Weather effects can influence the performance of the signal, including all types of precipitation, atmospheric conditions, and even physical obstructions that prevent line of sight communication with relay links.

Other factors influencing the utilization of microwave technology include security and casual snooping. Another problem can be channel pollution, that is, commercial competition for limited bandwidths. Additional factors include hardware designs, range, and piggy-backing onto other parties' network subscriptions.

Whatever size or shape of microwave antenna, these powerful transmitters emit radiation in various states of intensity. This includes WiFi and Bluetooth® antennas within networked hot spots often found in public areas. For cell phones, research has shown that these transmission signals are strongest in the initial connecting process, but emit continuously while the phone is powered. Other similar radiating devices include microwave ovens and cordless telephones; these units consistently emit signals. Today's wireless inhabited area continually exposes people to a continuous low field of electromagnetic radiation, with varied degrees of potential health risk.

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Discussion Comments


The government used to think cigarettes were good for you, and put them into soldier's field rations in World War II. It took a long time to convince people that it is bad for you. I met people from China in the 1980's who smoked cigarettes constantly, and when I told them it is really bad for you, they insisted I was mistaken.

I used to work for the Navy as a civilian, and workers were still allowed to smoke in our office in 1990 when I left. So much for government concern over our health -- even when the health threats are known.

It will come to light over the next century or so exactly how bad electromagnetic radiation is for us. Back in 1983, I read newspaper articles that showed how working at microwave repeater stations was affecting people's memories. Detrimental effects are constantly popping up.

A new commission established by the EU government is recommending that wireless routers and other microwave emissions be halted in schools.

Exposure to various types of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) can cause depression, memory loss, reduced immune response, increased cancer rates, etc. There are studies supporting this. Of course there are studies disproving this, but look at who's funding the studies.

Unfortunately, one of the only growing sectors of our economy has been telecommunications; thus, it is one of the only sectors of the economy providing growing tax revenues vs. shrinking taxes. So, don't expect any governments to be quick to prove it is bad for you. They literally can't afford it.

Be safe. Err way on the side of caution.


The comment, "with varied degrees of potential health risk," makes you wonder, doesn't it. It seems that one day something is bad, and the next day it's not. Because microwaves can be harmful in varying degrees, people used to be, and sometimes still are, concerned about the use of a microwave oven.

But the microwaves don't leave the oven because the material used to make the oven keeps them inside of it. Moreover, the FDA says any leakage is not enough to be harmful. So, I guess all you have to do is figure out where the other microwaves are that are coming from other sources and duck them.

But seriously, the government regulates microwave levels to keep them safe. Additionally, microwaves, unlike radiation, are non-ionizing, meaning they are not powerful enough to ionize cells, which could alter cells and kill them off, like in cancer therapy. The microwaves bouncing around you every day won't do that.

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