An attenuator is an electronic component designed to reduce the amplitude of a signal that passes through it without significantly reducing the integrity of that signal. And it is used in radio frequency and optical applications. Radiofrequency attenuators are typically used in electronic circuits, while optical attenuators are used in fiber optics. There are six different types of radiofrequency designs: fixed, stepped, continuously variable, programmable, DC biased and DC blocked.
An attenuator including an rf power attenuator usually consists of a resistive network that allows heat to dissipate at a certain rate. There are several basic layouts - "T" configuration, "L" configuration, and "pi" configuration. These established layouts have already established formulas and resistor values that can be used to create a characteristic impedance (Z0) over a range of frequencies, which are also known as unbalanced attenuators with asymmetric circuits. A balanced or symmetrical circuit, the version of the "T" attenuator, is called the "H" configuration, while the balanced version of the Pi attenuator, is called the "O" configuration.
These resistor networks set the fixed attenuator to a fixed and constant attenuation. They are placed in the signal path to reduce transmitted power and can be surface mount, waveguide or coaxial types. Depending on the application, attenuators can be directional or bidirectional. Signals can only go from input to output in a directional attenuator and can travel in both directions in a bidirectional attenuator. For chip-based attenuators, the resistance is created by various materials deposited on a thermally conductive substrate, and depending on the process (thick or thin film), the physical size and the material used produce specific resistance values. Also, continuously variable attenuator resistance can be made by arranging the assembly of resistance rods and resistance plates. Still, many attenuator resistors are fabricated using chips.
Fixed attenuators are used to reduce the power of a signal without distorting its waveform. Fixed attenuators are used in many tests, measurements, and communication applications. Features of fixed attenuators include 50 Ω or 75 Ω impedance; fixed attenuation levels from 0 dB to 40 dB; various bandwidths to improve impedance matching between their waveform subsystems; extensive interface; male-to-female connector. Applications of fixed RF attenuator: power conditioners between different channels or inline subsystems; used as protection for test equipment inputs to reduce threatening radio frequency power; to improve impedance matching between subsystems or between test instruments.