Cutoff frequency

In physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 and electrical engineering
Electrical engineering
Electrical engineering is a field of engineering that generally deals with the study and application of electricity, electronics and electromagnetism. The field first became an identifiable occupation in the late nineteenth century after commercialization of the electric telegraph and electrical...

, a cutoff frequency, corner frequency, or break frequency is a boundary in a system's frequency response
Frequency response
Frequency response is the quantitative measure of the output spectrum of a system or device in response to a stimulus, and is used to characterize the dynamics of the system. It is a measure of magnitude and phase of the output as a function of frequency, in comparison to the input...

 at which energy flowing through the system begins to be reduced (attenuated
In physics, attenuation is the gradual loss in intensity of any kind of flux through a medium. For instance, sunlight is attenuated by dark glasses, X-rays are attenuated by lead, and light and sound are attenuated by water.In electrical engineering and telecommunications, attenuation affects the...

 or reflected) rather than passing through.

Typically in electronic systems such as filters
Filter (signal processing)
In signal processing, a filter is a device or process that removes from a signal some unwanted component or feature. Filtering is a class of signal processing, the defining feature of filters being the complete or partial suppression of some aspect of the signal...

 and communication channels, cutoff frequency applies to an edge in a lowpass, highpass, bandpass, or band-stop characteristic – a frequency characterizing a boundary between a passband and a stopband. It is sometimes taken to be the point in the filter response where a transition band
Transition band
The transition band is a range of frequencies, that allows a transition between a passband and a stopband of a signal processing filter. The transition band is defined by a passband and a stopband cutoff frequency or corner frequency....

 and passband meet, for example as defined by a 3 dB
The decibel is a logarithmic unit that indicates the ratio of a physical quantity relative to a specified or implied reference level. A ratio in decibels is ten times the logarithm to base 10 of the ratio of two power quantities...

 corner, a frequency for which the output of the circuit is −3 dB of the nominal passband value. Alternatively, a stopband
A stopband is a band of frequencies, between specified limits, through which a circuit, such as a filter or telephone circuit, does not allow signals to pass, or the attenuation is above the required stopband attenuation level...

 corner frequency may be specified as a point where a transition band and a stopband meet: a frequency for which the attenuation is larger than the required stopband attenuation, which for example may be 30 dB or 100 dB.

In the case of a waveguide
A waveguide is a structure which guides waves, such as electromagnetic waves or sound waves. There are different types of waveguides for each type of wave...

 or an antenna
Antenna (radio)
An antenna is an electrical device which converts electric currents into radio waves, and vice versa. It is usually used with a radio transmitter or radio receiver...

, the cutoff frequencies correspond to the lower and upper cutoff wavelengths.

Cutoff frequency can also refer to the plasma frequency.


In electronics
Electronics is the branch of science, engineering and technology that deals with electrical circuits involving active electrical components such as vacuum tubes, transistors, diodes and integrated circuits, and associated passive interconnection technologies...

, cutoff frequency or corner frequency is the frequency
Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency.The period is the duration of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency...

 either above or below which the power output
Output is the term denoting either an exit or changes which exit a system and which activate/modify a process. It is an abstract concept, used in the modeling, system design and system exploitation.-In control theory:...

 of a circuit
Electronic circuit
An electronic circuit is composed of individual electronic components, such as resistors, transistors, capacitors, inductors and diodes, connected by conductive wires or traces through which electric current can flow...

, such as a line
Telephone line
A telephone line or telephone circuit is a single-user circuit on a telephone communication system...

, amplifier, or electronic filter
Electronic filter
Electronic filters are electronic circuits which perform signal processing functions, specifically to remove unwanted frequency components from the signal, to enhance wanted ones, or both...

 has fallen to a given proportion of the power in the passband
A passband is the range of frequencies or wavelengths that can pass through a filter without being attenuated.A bandpass filtered signal , is known as a bandpass signal, as opposed to a baseband signal....

. Most frequently this proportion is one half the passband power, also referred to as the 3 dB
The decibel is a logarithmic unit that indicates the ratio of a physical quantity relative to a specified or implied reference level. A ratio in decibels is ten times the logarithm to base 10 of the ratio of two power quantities...

 point since a fall of 3 dB corresponds approximately to half power. As a voltage ratio this is a fall to of the passband voltage.

However, other ratios are sometimes more convenient. For instance, in the case of the Chebyshev filter
Chebyshev filter
Chebyshev filters are analog or digital filters having a steeper roll-off and more passband ripple or stopband ripple than Butterworth filters...

 it is usual to define the cutoff frequency as the point after the last peak in the frequency response at which the level has fallen to the design value of the passband ripple. The amount of ripple in this class of filter can be set by the designer to any desired value, hence the ratio used could be any value.


In communications
Telecommunication is the transmission of information over significant distances to communicate. In earlier times, telecommunications involved the use of visual signals, such as beacons, smoke signals, semaphore telegraphs, signal flags, and optical heliographs, or audio messages via coded...

, the term cutoff frequency can mean the frequency below which a radio wave
Radio Wave
Radio Wave may refer to:*Radio frequency*Radio Wave 96.5, a radio station in Blackpool, UK...

 fails to penetrate a layer
Layer may refer to:* A layer of archaeological deposits in an excavation* A layer hen, a hen raised to produce eggs* Stratum, a layer of rock or soil with internally consistent characteristics...

 of the ionosphere
The ionosphere is a part of the upper atmosphere, comprising portions of the mesosphere, thermosphere and exosphere, distinguished because it is ionized by solar radiation. It plays an important part in atmospheric electricity and forms the inner edge of the magnetosphere...

 at the incidence angle required for transmission
Transmission (telecommunications)
Transmission, in telecommunications, is the process of sending, propagating and receiving an analogue or digital information signal over a physical point-to-point or point-to-multipoint transmission medium, either wired, optical fiber or wireless...

 between two specified points by reflection
Reflection (physics)
Reflection is the change in direction of a wavefront at an interface between two differentmedia so that the wavefront returns into the medium from which it originated. Common examples include the reflection of light, sound and water waves...

 from the layer.


The cutoff frequency of an electromagnetic waveguide
Waveguide (electromagnetism)
In electromagnetics and communications engineering, the term waveguide may refer to any linear structure that conveys electromagnetic waves between its endpoints. However, the original and most common meaning is a hollow metal pipe used to carry radio waves...

 is the lowest frequency for which a mode will propagate in it. In fiber optics, it is more common to consider the cutoff wavelength, the maximum wavelength
In physics, the wavelength of a sinusoidal wave is the spatial period of the wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats.It is usually determined by considering the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase, such as crests, troughs, or zero crossings, and is a...

 that will propagate in an optical fiber
Optical fiber
An optical fiber is a flexible, transparent fiber made of a pure glass not much wider than a human hair. It functions as a waveguide, or "light pipe", to transmit light between the two ends of the fiber. The field of applied science and engineering concerned with the design and application of...

 or waveguide
Waveguide (optics)
An optical waveguide is a physical structure that guides electromagnetic waves in the optical spectrum. Common types of optical waveguides include optical fiber and rectangular waveguides....

. The cutoff frequency is found with the characteristic equation
Characteristic equation
Characteristic equation may refer to:* Characteristic equation , used to solve linear differential equations* Characteristic equation, a characteristic polynomial equation in linear algebra used to find eigenvalues...

 of the Helmholtz equation
Helmholtz equation
The Helmholtz equation, named for Hermann von Helmholtz, is the elliptic partial differential equation\nabla^2 A + k^2 A = 0where ∇2 is the Laplacian, k is the wavenumber, and A is the amplitude.-Motivation and uses:...

 for electromagnetic waves, which is derived from the electromagnetic wave equation
Electromagnetic wave equation
The electromagnetic wave equation is a second-order partial differential equation that describes the propagation of electromagnetic waves through a medium or in a vacuum...

 by setting the longitudinal wave number equal to zero and solving for the frequency. Thus, any exciting frequency lower than the cutoff frequency will attenuate, rather than propagate. The following derivation assumes lossless walls. The value of c, the speed of light
Speed of light
The speed of light in vacuum, usually denoted by c, is a physical constant important in many areas of physics. Its value is 299,792,458 metres per second, a figure that is exact since the length of the metre is defined from this constant and the international standard for time...

, should be taken to be the group velocity
Group velocity
The group velocity of a wave is the velocity with which the overall shape of the wave's amplitudes — known as the modulation or envelope of the wave — propagates through space....

 of light in whatever material fills the waveguide.

For a rectangular waveguide, the cutoff frequency is
where are the mode numbers and a and b the lengths of the sides of the rectangle.

The cutoff frequency of the TM01 mode in a waveguide of circular cross-section (the transverse-magnetic mode with no angular dependence and lowest radial dependence) is given by
where is the radius of the waveguide, and is the first root of , the bessel function
Bessel function
In mathematics, Bessel functions, first defined by the mathematician Daniel Bernoulli and generalized by Friedrich Bessel, are canonical solutions y of Bessel's differential equation:...

 of the first kind of order 1.

For a single-mode optical fiber
Single-mode optical fiber
In fiber-optic communication, a single-mode optical fiber is an optical fiber designed to carry only a single ray of light . Modes are the possible solutions of the Helmholtz equation for waves, which is obtained by combining Maxwell's equations and the boundary conditions...

, the cutoff wavelength is the wavelength at which the normalized frequency
Normalized frequency
Normalized frequency can refer to:* Normalized frequency * Normalized frequency , also known as V number...

 is approximately equal to 2.405.

Mathematical analysis

The starting point is the wave equation (which is derived from the Maxwell equations),
which becomes a Helmholtz equation
Helmholtz equation
The Helmholtz equation, named for Hermann von Helmholtz, is the elliptic partial differential equation\nabla^2 A + k^2 A = 0where ∇2 is the Laplacian, k is the wavenumber, and A is the amplitude.-Motivation and uses:...

 by considering only functions of the form
Substituting and evaluating the time derivative gives
The function here refers to whichever field (the electric field or the magnetic field) has no vector component in the longitudinal direction - the "transverse" field. It is a property of all the eigenmodes of the electromagnetic waveguide that at least one of the two fields is transverse. The z axis is defined to be along the axis of the waveguide.

The "longitudinal" derivative in the Laplacian can further be reduced by considering only functions of the form
where is the longitudinal wavenumber
In the physical sciences, the wavenumber is a property of a wave, its spatial frequency, that is proportional to the reciprocal of the wavelength. It is also the magnitude of the wave vector...

, resulting in
where subscript T indicates a 2-dimensional transverse Laplacian. The final step depends on the geometry of the waveguide. The easiest geometry to solve is the rectangular waveguide. In that case the remainder of the Laplacian can be evaluated to its characteristic equation by considering solutions of the form
Thus for the rectangular guide the Laplacian is evaluated, and we arrive at
The transverse wavenumbers can be specified from the standing wave boundary conditions for a rectangular geometry crossection with dimensions a and b:
where n and m are the two integers representing a specific eigenmode. Performing the final substitution, we obtain
which is the dispersion relation
Dispersion relation
In physics and electrical engineering, dispersion most often refers to frequency-dependent effects in wave propagation. Note, however, that there are several other uses of the word "dispersion" in the physical sciences....

 in the rectangular waveguide. The cutoff frequency is the critical frequency between propagation and attenuation, which corresponds to the frequency at which the longitudinal wavenumber is zero. It is given by
The wave equations are also valid below the cutoff frequency, where the longitudinal wave number is imaginary. In this case, the field decays exponentially along the waveguide axis.

See also

  • Angular frequency
    Angular frequency
    In physics, angular frequency ω is a scalar measure of rotation rate. Angular frequency is the magnitude of the vector quantity angular velocity...

  • Full width at half maximum
    Full width at half maximum
    Full width at half maximum is an expression of the extent of a function, given by the difference between the two extreme values of the independent variable at which the dependent variable is equal to half of its maximum value....

  • High-pass filter
    High-pass filter
    A high-pass filter is a device that passes high frequencies and attenuates frequencies lower than its cutoff frequency. A high-pass filter is usually modeled as a linear time-invariant system...

  • Low-pass filter
    Low-pass filter
    A low-pass filter is an electronic filter that passes low-frequency signals but attenuates signals with frequencies higher than the cutoff frequency. The actual amount of attenuation for each frequency varies from filter to filter. It is sometimes called a high-cut filter, or treble cut filter...

  • Time constant
    Time constant
    In physics and engineering, the time constant, usually denoted by the Greek letter \tau , is the risetime characterizing the response to a time-varying input of a first-order, linear time-invariant system.Concretely, a first-order LTI system is a system that can be modeled by a single first order...

  • Miller effect
    Miller effect
    In electronics, the Miller effect accounts for the increase in the equivalent input capacitance of an inverting voltage amplifier due to amplification of the effect of capacitance between the input and output terminals...

External links

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