An omnidirectional antenna is a wireless transmitting or receiving antenna that radiates or intercepts radio-frequency (RF) electromagnetic fields equally well in all horizontal directions in a flat, two-dimensional (2D) geometric plane. Omnidirectional antennas are used in most consumer RF wireless devices, including cellular telephone sets and wireless routers.
In theory, a vertically oriented, straight conductor such as a dipole antenna measuring no more than 1/2 wavelength from end-to-end always exhibits omnidirectional properties in a horizontal (azimuth) plane. Multiple collinear (in-line) vertical dipoles also exhibit omnidirectional behavior in the azimuth plane; they can offer improved performance over a single dipole in some applications. If the conductor axis is not oriented vertically, then the antenna radiates and receives equally well in all directions in the plane through which the conductor passes at a right angle. However, this ideal state of affairs exists only in the absence of obstructions or other nearby conducting objects. In practice, surrounding objects (such as the user of a cell phone set or a computer next to a wireless router) distort the radiation and reception pattern.
In the usual context, a so-called omnidirectional antenna does not perform equally well in all possible directions in three-dimensional (3D) space. Such a device, which can exist only in theory but can be approached in practice, is called an isotropic antenna or isotropic radiator.
Antennas that offer enhanced performance in some directions, at the expense of other directions, are called directional antennas or directional radiators. The most common example is the dish antenna used with satellite internet, satellite television, and space-communications installations. Other examples include the Yagi antenna, quad antenna, billboard antenna, and helical antenna.