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In telecommunication, free-space path loss (FSPL) is the loss in signal strength of an electromagnetic wave that would result from a line-of-sight path through free space (usually air), with no obstacles nearby to cause reflection or diffraction. It does not include factors such as the gain of the antennas used at the transmitter and receiver, nor any loss associated with hardware imperfections. A discussion of these losses may be found in the article on link budget.
The equation for FSPL is
This equation is only accurate in the far field where spherical spreading can be assumed; it does not hold close to the transmitter.
A convenient way to express FSPL is in terms of dB:
where the units are as before.
For typical radio applications, it is common to find measured in units of GHz and in km, in which case the FSPL equation becomes
For in meters and kilohertz, respectively, the constant becomes . For in meters and megahertz, respectively, the constant becomes . For in kilometers and megahertz, respectively, the constant becomes .
The FSPL expression above often leads to the erroneous belief that free space attenuates an electromagnetic wave according to its frequency. This is not the case, as there is no physical mechanism that could cause this.
The expression for FSPL actually encapsulates two effects. Firstly, the spreading out of electromagnetic energy in free space is determined by the inverse square law, i.e.
Note that this is not a frequency-dependent effect.
The second effect is that of the receiving antenna's aperture, which describes how well an antenna can pick up power from an incoming electromagnetic wave. For an isotropic antenna, this is given by
where is the received power. Note that this is entirely dependent on wavelength, which is how the frequency-dependent behaviour arises.
The total loss is given by the ratio
which can be found by combining the previous two expressions.