A new source of low-frequency (0.46 MHz) inductively coupled plasmas sustained by the internal planar "unidirectional" RF current driven through a specially designed internal antenna configuration has been developed. The experimental results of the investigation of the optical and global argon plasma parameters by the optical and Langmuir probes are presented. It is shown that the spatial profiles of the electron density, the effective electron temperature and plasma potential feature a great deal of the radial and axial uniformity compared with conventional sources of inductively coupled plasmas with external at coil configurations. The measurements also reveal a weak azimuthal dependence of the global plasma parameters at low values of the input RF power, which was earlier predicted theoretically. The azimuthal dependence of the global plasma parameters vanishes at high input RF powers. Moreover, under certain conditions, the plasma becomes unstable due to spontaneous transitions between low-density (electrostatic, E) and high-density (electromagnetic, H) operating modes. Excellent uniformity of high-density plasmas makes the plasma reactor promising for various plasma processing applications and surface engineering. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.