The Internet of Things (IoT) is driving down the cost of wireless technology. How does this impact the next generation of spectrum analyzers?
Rich Pieciak, Product Manager, Spectrum Analyzers, Rohde & Schwarz
The “internet of things” is having a clear impact on spectrum analysis on quite a few fronts. Frequency utilization is becoming more refined and deployed services are vying for ever-diminishing spectrum. The constant proliferation of unique wireless applications is having a clear impact on end-product design considerations, and trade-offs are constantly being assessed between modulation techniques, bandwidth, and operational efficiency. All of these industry concerns contribute to trade-offs in spectrum analyzer design concepts, as each proposed application presents unique measurement challenges which needs to be addressed. To meet the challenges posed by R&D, manufacturing, and subsequent field test activity, spectrum analyzers need continuous evolution beyond traditional spectral measurements.
R&D requirements need to be addressed with solutions which augment spectrum analysis into the E-Band frequency range and beyond, with the highest spectral and modulation fidelity possible. RF signal measurement demands need to be augmented with analog and digital baseband support so that performance requirements can be correlated at various stages of the design process, with the highest degree of accuracy over ever-increasing analysis bandwidths. Consideration likewise needs to be made for ease of use and the ability to view and correlate results from signals operating in complimentary measurement domains.
Manufacturing test has to leverage previously developed test efforts and provide the foundation to drive down test costs. Spectrum analyzers utilized here need to be small, fast, and offer the latest advances in software connectivity.
Field test solutions need to address infrastructure concerns in areas of installation and maintenance, together with spectrum, modulation, and power measurements. Realities of congested spectrum need to be assessed with interference hunting tools to rapidly locate errant sources of emissions.
The “internet-of-things” elicits interesting challenges for the next generation of spectrum analyzer development. Solutions need to be versatile, flexible, and scalable, keeping in mind test challenges from initial design to subsequent field deployment, no matter what wireless environments are ultimately deployed.
Matt Maxwell, Product Manager, Spectrum Analyzers, Tektronix
At Tektronix, we are closely following the trends in the wireless market. Our data suggests that wireless is becoming a fundamental requirement in far more designs than in the past. This growth is being driven in part by the Internet of Things — consumers want the convenience of wireless and have limited interest in running cables.
This mean that designers – many of whom are not RF experts – must incorporate wireless into their designs which also means they must ensure compatibility with standards, meet regulatory requirements and, of course, keep costs under control. The high-cost of spectrum analyzers is a real obstacle for these “casual” RF designers, meaning they must share instruments or even forgo testing. As a result, IoT designs are being rushed to market without adequate testing and some end products may even fail to work as expected, or create interference problems.
In looking at this trend, it’s clear that the industry could benefit from lower cost spectrum analyzers, making it one of the segments ripe for disruption. The adoption of wireless technologies is exploding across the board as is the need for RF analyzers with more instantaneous bandwidth and frequency range. Unfortunately, spectrum analyzers with sufficient performance have remained stubbornly expensive (think $15,000 and up).
At Tektronix we’ve taken a new approach that we believe will disrupt the spectrum analyzer market and greatly benefit budget-conscious engineering labs, including those developing IoT products. The new Tektronix RSA306 USB Spectrum Analyzers offers an ideal solution to the IoT challenge. By removing the PC from the instrument, we can offer benchtop levels of analysis at a list price of just $3,490 – a fraction of the cost of a conventional spectrum analyzer.
If you’re wondering if this is disruptive, consider the following aspects of the RSA306 that are not found elsewhere, including:
- Unmatched price/performance
- Unmatched form factor: USB powered and controlled, highly portable
- Unmatched hardware features in its class: 6.2 GHz signal analyzer with 40 MHz real time bandwidth
- Unmatched software features: The RSA306 is powered by SignalVu-PC, the same benchtop analysis software that runs the RSA5000 series Real-Time Signal Analyzers
- Ruggedized and meets Mil-Std 28800 Class 2 specifications
Based on these specifications, it’s clear that the affordable yet capable spectrum analyzer needed to keep pace with modern wireless and IoT design trends has arrived.
Steve Duffy, Product Planner, Keysight Technologies
The fundamental thrust of the IOT is that a very large number of things will connect to the Internet, and the clear implication is that the connection cost for these devices will be, on average, very low. That means the average cost-of-test will necessarily be very low as well.
In some cases low cost-of-test will mean low-cost test equipment, but the complexity of the standards and the signals is more likely to mean that signal analyzer solutions will be flexible and fast, and that analyzer solutions will be compatible across the transitions between R&D, design verification, and volume manufacturing.
An essential element in delivering connectivity at low cost are designs that are optimized for high yield and fast testing, so high-performance signal analyzers may be very important in the design phase. In volume manufacturing the priorities change, often leading to a change in the analyzer price/performance point or a change in architecture such as the use of modular and/or multichannel analyzers. Throughput is key, along with a straightforward and low-risk transition from R&D test to manufacturing test. For this reason, programming and measurement application compatibility will have high leverage, and support of different programming environments may be needed.
Measurement flexibility is needed for both design and manufacturing, since the IOT will often be a heterogeneous mixture of Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), WiGig, etc. Over time, flexibility of measurement hardware and software will also be required, to accommodate new and evolving standards, along with new frequency bands.
Finally, the benefits of this flexibility will only be fully realized if analyzer solutions are easily upgradable, to make it cost-effective to adapt them to new products and production lines, and thus to preserve the investment in test equipment and software.
What do you think? With the Internet of Things (IoT) driving down the cost of wireless technology, how will this impact the next generation of spectrum analyzers? Comment below or email [email protected].
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)