Electromagnetic interference

Electromagnetic interference
Electromagnetic interference in analog TV signal

Electromagnetic interference (or EMI, also called radio frequency interference or RFI) is disturbance that affects an electrical circuit due to either electromagnetic induction or electromagnetic radiation emitted from an external source.[1] The disturbance may interrupt, obstruct, or otherwise degrade or limit the effective performance of the circuit. These effects can range from a simple degradation of data to a total loss of data.[2] The source may be any object, artificial or natural, that carries rapidly changing electrical currents, such as an electrical circuit, the Sun or the Northern Lights.

EMI can be intentionally used for radio jamming, as in some forms of electronic warfare, or can occur unintentionally, as a result of spurious emissions for example through intermodulation products, and the like. It frequently affects the reception of AM radio in urban areas. It can also affect cell phone, FM radio and television reception, although to a lesser extent.



Radiated EMI or RFI may be broadly categorized into two types; narrowband and broadband.

Narrowband interference usually arises from intentional transmissions such as radio and TV stations, pager transmitters, cell phones, etc. Broadband interference usually comes from incidental radio frequency emitters. These include electric power transmission lines, electric motors, thermostats, bug zappers, etc. Anywhere electrical power is being turned off and on rapidly is a potential source. The spectra of these sources generally resemble that of synchrotron sources, stronger at low frequencies and diminishing at higher frequencies, though this noise is often modulated, or varied, by the creating device in some way. Included in this category are computers and other digital equipment as well as televisions. The rich harmonic content of these devices means that they can interfere over a very broad spectrum. Characteristic of broadband RFI is an inability to filter it effectively once it has entered the receiver chain.[3][4][5]

Conducted electromagnetic interference is caused by the physical contact of the conductors as opposed to radiated EMI which is caused by induction (without physical contact of the conductors). Electromagnetic disturbances in the EM field of a conductor will no longer be confined to the surface of the conductor and will radiate away from it. This persists in all conductors and mutual inductance between two radiated electromagnetic fields will result in EMI.

Susceptibilities of different radio technologies

Interference tends to be more troublesome with older radio technologies such as analogue amplitude modulation, which have no way of distinguishing unwanted in-band signals from the intended signal, and the omnidirectional dipole antennas used with broadcast systems. Newer radio systems incorporate several improvements that enhance the selectivity. In digital radio systems, such as Wi-Fi, error-correction techniques can be used. Spread-spectrum and frequency-hopping techniques can be used with both analogue and digital signalling to improve resistance to interference. A highly directional receiver, such as a parabolic antenna or a diversity receiver, can be used to select one signal in space to the exclusion of others.

The most extreme example of digital spread-spectrum signalling to date is ultra-wideband (UWB), which proposes the use of large sections of the radio spectrum at low amplitudes to transmit high-bandwidth digital data. UWB, if used exclusively, would enable very efficient use of the spectrum, but users of non-UWB technology are not yet prepared to share the spectrum with the new system because of the interference it would cause to their receivers. The regulatory implications of UWB are discussed in the ultra-wideband article.

Interference to consumer devices

Complex electronic circuitry is found in all sorts of devices used in the home. This results in a vast interference potential that didn't exist in earlier, simpler decades. In the United States, Public Law 97-259, enacted in 1982, gave the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the authority to regulate the susceptibility of consumer electronic equipment sold in the country. The FCC, working with equipment manufacturers, decided to allow them to develop standards for EMI immunity and implement their own voluntary compliance programs.[6]

Broadcast transmitters, two-way radio transmitters, paging transmitters, and cable TV are potential sources of RFI and EMI.[7] Other possible sources of interference include a wide variety of devices, such as doorbell transformers, toaster ovens, electric blankets, ultrasonic pest control devices, electric bug zappers, heating pads, and touch controlled lamps. Multiple CRT computer monitors or televisions sitting too close to one another can sometimes cause a "shimmy" effect in each other, due to the electromagnetic nature of their picture tubes, especially when one of their de-gaussing coils is activated.

Electromagnetic interference at 2.4 GHz can be caused by 802.11b and 802.11g wireless devices, Bluetooth devices, baby monitors and cordless telephones, video senders, and microwave ovens.

Switching inductive loads, such as electric motors, often cause interference, but it is easily suppressed by connecting a snubber network, a resistor in series with a capacitor, across the switch. Exact values can be optimised for each case, but 100 ohms in series with 100 nanofarads is usually satisfactory.

Switched-mode power supplies can be a source of EMI, but have become less of a problem as design techniques have improved, such as integrated power factor correction.

Most countries have legal requirements that mandate electromagnetic compatibility: electronic and electrical hardware must still work correctly when subjected to certain amounts of EMI, and should not emit EMI which could interfere with other equipment (such as radios).


Since the earliest days of radio communications, the negative effects of interference from both intentional and unintentional transmissions have been felt and the need to manage the radio frequency spectrum became apparent.

In 1933, a meeting of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in Paris recommended the International Special Committee on Radio Interference (CISPR) be set up to deal with the emerging problem of EMI. CISPR subsequently produced technical publications covering measurement and test techniques and recommended emission and immunity limits. These have evolved over the decades and form the basis of much of the world's EMC regulations today.

In 1979, legal limits were imposed on electromagnetic emissions from all digital equipment by the FCC in the USA in response to the increased number of digital systems that were interfering with wired and radio communications. Test methods and limits were based on CISPR publications, although similar limits were already enforced in parts of Europe.

In the mid 1980s, the European Union member states adopted a number of "new approach" directives with the intention of standardizing technical requirements for products so that they do not become a barrier to trade within the EC. One of these was the EMC Directive (89/336/EC)[8] and it applies to all equipment placed on the market or taken into service. Its scope covers all apparatus "liable to cause electromagnetic disturbance or the performance of which is liable to be affected by such disturbance".

This was the first time there was a legal requirement on immunity as well as emissions on apparatus intended for the general population. And although there may be additional costs involved for some products to give them a known level of immunity, it increases their perceived quality as they are able to co-exist with apparatus in the active EM environment of modern times and with fewer problems.

Many countries now have similar requirements for products to meet some level of EMC regulation.


The International Special Committee for Radio Interference or CISPR (French acronym for "Comité International Spécial des Pertubations Radioélectriques"), which is a committee of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) sets international standards for radiated and conducted electromagnetic interference. These are civilian standards for domestic, commercial, Industrial and Automotive sectors. These standards form the basis of other regional and national standards most notably the European Norms (EN)written by CENELEC (European committee for electrotechnical standardisation).

EMI in integrated circuits

Integrated circuits are often a source of EMI, but they must usually couple their energy to larger objects such as heatsinks, circuit board planes and cables to radiate significantly.[9]

On integrated circuits, important means of reducing EMI are: the use of bypass or decoupling capacitors on each active device (connected across the power supply, as close to the device as possible), rise time control of high-speed signals using series resistors,[10] and VCC filtering. Shielding is usually a last resort after other techniques have failed, because of the added expense of shielding components such as conductive gaskets.

The efficiency of the radiation depends on the height above the ground plane or power plane (at RF, one is as good as the other) and the length of the conductor in relation to the wavelength of the signal component (fundamental frequency, harmonic or transient (overshoot, undershoot or ringing)). At lower frequencies, such as 133 MHz, radiation is almost exclusively via I/O cables; RF noise gets onto the power planes and is coupled to the line drivers via the VCC and ground pins. The RF is then coupled to the cable through the line driver as common-mode noise. Since the noise is common-mode, shielding has very little effect, even with differential pairs. The RF energy is capacitively coupled from the signal pair to the shield and the shield itself does the radiating. One cure for this is to use a braid-breaker or choke to reduce the common-mode signal.

At higher frequencies, usually above 500 MHz, traces get electrically longer and higher above the plane. Two techniques are used at these frequencies: wave shaping with series resistors and embedding the traces between the two planes. If all these measures still leave too much EMI, shielding such as RF gaskets and copper tape can be used. Most digital equipment is designed with metal, or conductive-coated plastic, cases.

RF immunity and testing

Integrated circuits tend to demodulate high-frequency carrier signals commonly found in regular environment due to presence of cell phones.[11] These ICs demodulate the high frequency cell phone carrier (e.g., GSM850 and GSM1900, GSM900 and GSM1800) and produce low-frequency (e.g., 217 Hz) demodulated signals.[12] This demodulation manifests itself into unwanted audible buzz in audio appliances such as microphone amplifier, speaker amplifier, car radio, telephones etc. Adding on-board EMI filters or special layout techniques help in bypassing EMI or improving RF immunity.[13] Some ICs are designed (e.g., LMV831-LMV834, MAX9724) to have integrated RF filters and/or special design which prevent demodulation of high frequency carrier. These ICs are also subjected to tests for measuring their capability to reject RF.

Designers often need to carry out special tests for testing the RF immunity of the parts to be used in the system. These tests are usually carried out inside a special anechoic chamber with a controlled RF environment where the test vectors produce an RF field similar to that produced in an actual environment.[12]

Electromagnetic interference manufacturers

See also


  1. ^ Based on the "interference" entry of The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th edition, online
  2. ^ Sue, M.K.. "Radio frequency interference at the geostationary orbit". NASA. Jet Propulsion Laboratory. http://hdl.handle.net/2060/19810018807. Retrieved 6 October 2011. 
  3. ^ http://www.radiosky.com/journal0901.html RadioSky Journal
  4. ^ Radio frequency interference / editors, Charles L. Hutchinson, Michael B. Kaczynski ; contributors, Doug DeMaw ... [et al.]. 4th ed. Newington, CT American Radio Relay League c1987.
  5. ^ Radio frequency interference handbook. Compiled and edited by Ralph E. Taylor. Washington Scientific and Technical Information Office, National Aeronautics and Space Administration; [was for sale by the National Technical Information Service, Springfield, Va.] 1971.
  6. ^ http://www.arrl.org/tis/info/rfigen.html RadioFrequency Interference/ElectroMagnetic Interference, ARRL
  7. ^ http://www.kyes.com/antenna/interference/tvibook.html INTERFERENCE HANDBOOK
  8. ^ http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/electr_equipment/emc/directiv/text.htm For full text for directive and subsequent amendments.
  9. ^ Clemson Vehicular Electronics Laboratory Web Site: Integrated Circuit EMC page.
  10. ^ "Don't "despike" your signal lines, add a resistor instead."
  11. ^ http://www.ce-mag.com/archive/2000/novdec/fiori.html Compliance Engineering
  12. ^ a b http://rfdesign.com/mag/510RFD33.pdf Measurement technique for RF Immunity
  13. ^ http://www.maxim-ic.com/appnotes.cfm/an_pk/3660 PCB techniques to achieve better RF Immunity

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