While incremental specification enhancements are taken as a given in any field driven by technology, the past year has seen some interesting advances on the side of improving test and measurement (T&M) productivity. We have seen support being integrated into the equipment for some of the newer standards, better automation features as well as a renewed focus on making T&M a much better experience for the engineer. This article takes a look at the trends for the latest line of signal and spectrum analysers.
Significant improvements in bandwidth and frequency
We are seeing some significant increments in specification enhancements. “Recently, spectrum analyser lines of equipment have improved their capabilities by moving forward from featuring frequency coverage of around 20GHz to enter the millimetre range of up to 50GHz. Thus their frequency range has been enhanced quite a bit,” explains Vishal Gupta, senior applications specialist (RF/MW), Keysight Technologies. The modular PCI eXtensions for Instrumentation (PXi) form factor now features up to 26.5GHz of coverage, too.
Newer equipment come with higher analysis bandwidth. The UXA branded line from Keysight can handle up to 510MHz of real-time analysis bandwidth. This is a significant increase as the best bandwidth topped at 160MHz in 2014, adds Gupta.
“Using analysers for frequencies above 6.0GHz is a big challenge for designers. The most exciting feature/function of the spectrum analyser is to make the single-side-band noise phase to be 100dBc/Hz at offset up to 10Hz, which is rather hard to achieve,” explains Chandmal Goliya, director, Kusam Electrical Industries Ltd.
Equipment like Spectran V5 real-time spectrum analysers (RTSAs) from Aaronia AG allow continuous analysis and even real-time data streaming (for example, USB to hard disk).
“This allows all data of a desired high-frequency band to be recorded without any blind spot (for example, complete data traffic of a mobile phone tower). Real-time bandwidth can reach up to 200MHz (existing systems can reach only up to 110MHz). An ultra-fast direct-digital-synthesis sweep in S-area is possible even with 10GHz bandwidth,” explains Naveen Sharma, technical manager, Scientific Mes-Technik Pvt Ltd.
Size reduction still a focus area
For some time now, there has been an emphasis on size reduction, which has continued to the point that we now have handheld instruments, explains Gupta.
Goliya reiterates, “We think the handheld spectrum analyser is a good application for the market that values portable and lightweight equipment for outdoor use and constantly changing workplace requirements.”
Satish Thakare, chief technology officer, Scientech Technologies Pvt Ltd, feels that, “Traditional spectrum analyser instruments available in the handheld and bench-top form factors are still popular, but modular instruments are finding wider acceptance in the market due to cost, flexibility and scalability advantages.”
Three clicks or less
Rufus Danesh, project engineer at Analog Arts, says, “What makes modern signal analysers much more exciting than the previous generation is their easy integration within a framework of a computer. Most new instruments are supported by powerful application software, which can run on various operating systems. In a sense, this feature enables the instruments to form an analysis network that can be controlled from a central post.”
We are now quite rooted in the era of touchscreens for test equipment, with newer equipment coming with touchscreens as big as 36 centimetres. These screens have also enabled an era of user interface (UI) improvements.
While engineers previously had to click through and dig deep into menu structures to reach specific functions, Gupta claims that newer Keysight equipment allows him or her to modify something with three clicks or less.“Better UI also enables enhanced pulse-measurement capabilities for white-band radar and electronics warfare applications,” he adds.