Isolator And Circulator BasicsSource: MECA Electronics Inc.
An RF isolator is a two-port ferromagnetic passive device which is used to protect other RF components from excessive signal reflection. Isolators are common place in laboratory applications to separate a device under test (DUT) from sensitive signal sources. An RF circulatoris a three-port ferromagnetic passive device used to control the direction of signal flow in a circuit and is a very effective, low-cost alternative to expensive cavity duplexers in base station and in-building mesh networks. Examples of both applications will be covered later in this article.
To understand how these components control the signal flow, think of a cup of water into which you place a spoon and stir in a clockwise motion. If you sprinkle some pepper into the cup and continue to stir, you will notice that the pepper easily follows the circular motion of the water. You can also see that it would be impossible for the pepper to move in a counterclockwise direction because the water motion is just too strong. The interaction of the magnetic field to the ferrite material inside isolators and circulators creates magnetic fields similar to the water flow in the cup. The rotary field is very strong and will cause any RF/microwave signals in the frequency band of interest at one port to follow the magnetic flow to the adjacent port and not in the opposite direction.