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The propagation constant of an electromagnetic wave is a measure of the change undergone by the amplitude of the wave as it propagates in a given direction. The quantity being measured can be the voltage or current in a circuit or a field vector such as electric field strength or flux density. The propagation constant itself measures change per metre but is otherwise dimensionless.

The propagation constant is expressed logarithmically, almost universally to the base e, rather than the more usual base 10 used in telecommunications in other situations. The quantity measured, such as voltage, is expressed as a sinusiodal phasor. The phase of the sinusoid varies with distance which results in the propagation constant being a complex number, the imaginary part being caused by the phase change.

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