dB vs. dBc: Unlocking the Secrets of Signal Measurement

In the context of signal measurements and telecommunications, dB (decibels) and dBc (decibels relative to the carrier) are two important units used to express different aspects of signal strength and quality. Here’s a detailed explanation of each and their differences:

dB (Decibels)


  • dB is a logarithmic unit that measures the ratio of two values, such as power levels, voltage levels, or intensities. It expresses the difference between two quantities on a logarithmic scale.


  • For power ratio:
    PdB = 10*Log10(P1/P2)
  • For voltage ratio (assuming equal impedances):
    PdB = 20*Log10(V1/V2)


  • General Measurement: dB is used to express the relative difference between two power levels, signal strengths, or voltages. It is widely used in acoustics, electronics, and signal processing to compare the intensity of different signals.
  • Examples: Comparing the output of an amplifier to its input, measuring signal loss in cables, or expressing the gain of an antenna.

dBc (Decibels relative to Carrier)


  • dBc specifically measures the power level of a signal relative to the carrier signal. It is often used to describe the power of unwanted signals, such as spurious emissions, harmonics, or noise, in relation to the main carrier signal.


  • The formula for dBc is similar to dB but specifically references the carrier signal:
    PdBc = 10*Log10(Psignal/Pcarrier)


  • Signal Quality Measurement: dBc is used to quantify the relative levels of spurious signals, intermodulation products, and noise in relation to the main carrier. This is crucial in telecommunications and broadcasting to ensure that unwanted signals do not interfere with the main transmission.
  • Examples: Measuring the power of sidebands relative to the carrier in a modulated signal, assessing the level of harmonics produced by an amplifier, or evaluating the noise floor relative to the carrier signal.

Key Differences

Reference Point

  • dB: Measures the ratio of two arbitrary power or voltage levels without a specific reference.
  • dBc: Measures the power level of a signal specifically relative to the carrier signal.


  • dB: Used for a wide range of comparisons in signal processing, acoustics, and electronics.
  • dBc: Primarily used in telecommunications and broadcasting to assess the quality and purity of a transmitted signal by comparing it to the carrier.

Practical Examples

Antenna Gain:

  • Antenna gain might be expressed in dB relative to an isotropic radiator (dBi) or to a dipole antenna (dBd).

Spurious Emissions:

  • If a transmitter has spurious emissions 30 dB below the carrier level, this would be expressed as -30 dBc.

Signal-to-Noise Ratio:

  • The signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) might be expressed in dB, indicating how much stronger the signal is compared to the background noise.


Understanding the difference between dB and dBc is crucial for professionals in telecommunications, signal processing, and electronics. dB is a general measure of relative power or voltage differences, while dBc specifically measures the relative power of a signal compared to its carrier. This distinction helps in accurately assessing and improving signal quality in various applications.


  1. Wikipedia: Decibel