Making Infield RF Measurements Faster and Easier using the new 13.6 and 20GHz Handheld Spectrum Analyzers

March 01, 2011

  1. Introduction
  2. Identifying the Right Solution
  3. Redefining RF Test in the Field
  4. Key Capabilities
  5. Conclusion
  6. Related Information

Introduction

Testing RF issues (e.g., faulty transmitters or signal interference) in the field can be a complicated and sometimes dangerous task, especially if that testing is done at the top of a transmission tower or under extreme weather conditions. If left unchecked, these issues can negatively impact the installation and maintenance of an RF/microwave system like a wireless base station, radar and microwave application, or medical imaging system. RF issues can also degrade network performance and in the worst case scenario result in lost revenue.

Traditionally, RF testing has been accomplished using multiple bench instruments. Each of these instruments had to be calibrated and carried into the field by a field technician or engineer, compromising their speed, productivity and flexibility. The migration of RF test capabilities to handheld instruments is an emerging trend which hopes to overcome these difficulties. By allowing RF testing via a single handheld instrument, field technicians and engineers can realize faster, easier field testing, while also dramatically improving their productivity. The key, of course, is selecting an instrument that is not only field-ready, but also provides measurement performance comparable to that of a benchtop instrument.

Identifying the Right Solution

When it comes to RF testing, spectrum analyzers are the instrument of choice. By displaying the signal amplitude as it varies by signal frequency, the spectrum analyzer can be used for the analysis and measurement of signals throughout the electromagnetic spectrum. Common spectrum analyzer measurements include frequency, power, modulation, distortion, and noise, among others. These types of measurements are absolutely essential for field engineers and technicians who install, maintain and troubleshoot RF/microwave systems, monitor the spectrum or manage interference issues in the field.

Of course, when it comes to measuring RF/microwave systems in the field, selecting the right handheld spectrum analyzer is key. The ideal instrument for this task must offer field-ready functionality, provide benchtop performance and deliver capabilities geared toward improving user productivity. Moreover, it must be easy to use and come with safety features that secure measurement data; a critical requirement for many aerospace/defense applications.

Redefining RF Test in the Field

The N9344C and N9343C microwave handheld spectrum analyzers (HSAs) from Agilent Technologies offer the field-ready functionality, measurement performance and productivity-related capabilities required for testing RF/microwave systems in the field (Figure 1). The N9344C provides fast and accurate measurement from 1 MHz to 20 GHz, while the N9343C operates from 1 MHz to 13.6 GHz. Both instruments are tunable to 9 kHz. The HSAs feature a built-in 7-GHz tracking generator, a built-in GPS receiver and antenna, and a spectrogram monitor for spectrum monitoring and interference analysis (Figure 2).

Figure 1: The 13.6-GHz N9343C HSA (on the left) and 20-GHz N9344C HSA (on the right) are handheld, rugged and weather-resistant tools that deliver benchtop performance, field test automation and rich measurement features.

Figure 1: The 13.6-GHz N9343C HSA (on the left) and 20-GHz N9344C HSA (on the right) are handheld, rugged and weather-resistant tools that deliver benchtop performance, field test automation and rich measurement features.

 

Figure 2: The spectrogram monitor in the N9344C/N9343C features a dual spectrogram/trace view, spectrogram record and playback functionality, and a range of additional features (e.g., markers, limit lines and audio alerts) to enable faster identification of RF issues.

Figure 2: The spectrogram monitor in the N9344C/N9343C features a dual spectrogram/trace view, spectrogram record and playback functionality, and a range of additional features (e.g., markers, limit lines and audio alerts) to enable faster identification of RF issues.

The N9344C and N9343C HSAs provide a set of standards, one-button measurements like adjacent channel power ratio (ACPR), occupied bandwidth (OBW) and channel power that help characterize signal quality. They boast rich and powerful measurement applications like AM/FM modulation analysis and time-gated spectrum analysis. The HSAs also support 11 different languages, including English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, French, German, and Italian. Such capabilities make the HSAs well suited for customers in a variety of markets, including aerospace/defense, microwave and satellite communication, wireless communication and broadcasting, spectrum regulation, and general-purpose spectrum analysis.

Key Capabilities

The key capabilities that make the N9344C and N9343C microwave HSAs ideal solutions for more easily making RF measurements in the field include:

Field Ready

The N9344C and N9343C HSAs offer a number features today’s engineers and field technicians require in a field-ready instrument. A rugged and fanless design make them well suited for operation in tough field environments, while automatic LCD brightness and keypad backlight control enable clear screen viewing day or night. They are the only HSAs on the market with a built-in GPS receiver and antenna that provides precise location information. The N9344C/N9343C HSAs are also the only handhelds with a security erase feature to sanitize user flash memory. With this feature, users can protect secure data by simply performing an unrecoverable low-level format on the whole user memory chip. The HSAs remain fully operational after the security erase process.

In addition, dedicated applications ensure faster, easier spectrum monitoring and interference analysis. For added flexibility, the N9344C/N9343C can be remotely controlled via a USB/LAN connection. Also making the N9344C/N9343C HSAs field ready is the fact that they support 3.5 hours of operation time in the field and comply with MIL-PRF-28800F Class 2 requirements.

Benchtop Performance in a Handheld

The N9344C and N9343C HSAs offer benchtop performance in a handheld form factor. Their best-in-class RF performance (-155 dBm/Hz DANL, minimum sweep time < 2 ms) ensures accurate measurements the first time, every time. With the industry’s fastest sweep time (<0.9 s for 20 GHz span), the instruments can even capture intermittent signals. Powerful one-button measurements and AM/FM modulation analysis help characterize signal quality (Figure 3). Support for Agilent USB power sensors ensures high-accuracy, power measurements. Moreover, a built-in tracking generator and time-gated sweep further simplify the measurement process (Figure 4). Such benchtop performance and capabilities provide users with confidence that their job is done right.

Figure 3: The AM/FM modulation analysis application (Option AMA) in N9344C/N9343C enables measurement of things like carrier power, modulation rate and AM depth/FM deviation.

Figure 3: The AM/FM modulation analysis application (Option AMA) in N9344C/N9343C enables measurement of things like carrier power, modulation rate and AM depth/FM deviation.

Figure 4: Time-gated spectrum analysis (Option TMG) is one of the powerful measurement features found in the N9344C/N9343C HSAs. It allows technicians and field engineers to measure pulsed-RF signals from external, RF burst or periodic timer gate sources.

Figure 4: Time-gated spectrum analysis (Option TMG) is one of the powerful measurement features found in the N9344C/N9343C HSAs. It allows technicians and field engineers to measure pulsed-RF signals from external, RF burst or periodic timer gate sources.

Innovative Task Planner Capability

The unique Task Planner capability available in the N9344C and N9343C HSA reduces test setup time by 95 percent and allows users to boost their work efficiency (Figure 5). It delivers test automation and consistency by automating routine measurement tasks with continuous execution of up to 20 different tests, and automatically capturing test results and generating reports. Moreover, task plans can be easily shared with others via email or USB flash drive.

Figure 5: The industry-first Task Planner capability easily automates field test with the N9344C/N9343C HSA, boosting work efficiency to a new level. Similar handheld instruments have traditionally required a computer for field test automation.

Figure 5: The industry-first Task Planner capability easily automates field test with the N9344C/N9343C HSA, boosting work efficiency to a new level. Similar handheld instruments have traditionally required a computer for field test automation.

With this capability, users simply create a pre-defined task planner file of up to 20 tasks using free N9344C/N9343C HSA PC software. Next, the file is transferred to the N9344C/N9343C, which executes the measurements sequentially and automatically. Measurement results are then logged and a corresponding measurement report, with screenshot, is generated.

Conclusion

Testing RF issues in the field is a difficult task, one that’s made all the more so by challenging work conditions, extreme weather, or having to use a traditional measurement approach employing multiple, heavy instruments. With such difficulties, the need for a handheld variant to the traditional benchtop spectrum analyzer has become all the more acute. Specifically designed to make field testing easier, the N9344C and N9343C HSAs feature the benchtop performance, rich and powerful measurement capabilities, and field-ready instrument functionality today’s engineers and field technicians require for increased productivity and easier, faster, more precise RF field test—benefits which are essential to the successful installation, maintenance and surveillance of RF/microwave systems in the field.

About Agilent Technologies

Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) is the world’s premier measurement company and a technology leader in chemical analysis, life sciences, electronics and communications. The company’s 18,500 employees serve customers in more than 100 countries. Agilent had net revenues of $5.4 billion in fiscal 2010. Information about Agilent is available at www.agilent.com.

RELATED INFORMATION

Press Release:

Agilent Technologies Makes Field Testing Easier with New 20-GHz Microwave Handheld Spectrum Analyzers
(2011-March-01)

Agilent Technologies Awarded $1.8 Million Contract by U.S. Navy for Handheld Spectrum Analyzers
(2010-November-29)

Photos & Video:

N9344C/N9343C HSA Photos:
www.agilent.com/find/hsa_images

N9344C/N9343C HSA Video:
www.agilent.com/find/hsa_video

Agilent Documents:

Agilent Technologies 2010/2011 Award Wins

For more information, go to www.agilent.com/find/hsa

Contacts:

Janet Smith, Americas
+1 970 679 5397
janet_smith@agilent.com

Sarah Calnan, Europe
+44 (118) 927 5101
sarah_calnan@agilent.com

Iris Ng, Asia
+852 31977979
iris-hw_ng@agilent.com

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