Agilent debuts 160-MHz real-time spectrum analysis to 50 GHz

Andover, MA. Agilent Technologies is rolling out real-time spectrum analysis (RTSA) capability for its PXA X-Series signal analyzers. Speaking on the eve of the February 8 official release date to a select group of Boston-area customers at Agilent's Andover facility, Agilent's Andy Botka said a PXA analyzer equipped with the new capability offers industry-best probability of intercept (POI), bandwidth, and sensitivity over the instrument's full operating range—up to 50 GHz.

Botka, vice president and division general manager of Agilent's Microwave & Component Division, said RTSA functionality will be available on new products and as upgrades to the installed base of PXA instruments. Any PXA equipped with a 160-MHz capture-bandwidth board, which has been shipping for several years, can be upgraded via a software license. The new-product/upgrade strategy, Botka said, complements the company's goal of offering the industry's broadest range of future-ready signal analyzers at a variety of price/performance points. Botka will elaborate on Agilent's forward-leveraging strategy in general in the “Executive Insight” page of our March print edition.

Following Botka's introductory comments, Eric Brown, who works extensively with Agilent's signal-analyzer platform, put the RTSA-equipped PXA through its paces, using an MXG instrument as the test-signal source. He demonstrated the RTSA capability using a variety of signal representations, including pulsed-radar and frequency-hopping signals. He showed how the instrument could detect a frequency-hopping signal that doesn't hop cleanly, imposing unwanted signals between its assigned carriers.

A key feature that Brown demonstrated is the frequency mask function, which lets users graphically, on the instrument's screen, define regions into which a signal's incursion should initiate a trigger. He also demonstrated that the instrument can build a mask based on the ambient environment. This function can be used to initiate a trigger if a signal penetrates the ambient-environment mask by, for example, 3 dB. The frequency masks are fully editable on screen or via tables.

Brown noted that an RTSA-equipped PXA computes 292,968 FFTs/s, with each representing 3.4 µs. Shorter signals—down to 5 ns—will be detected but won't be amplitude-accurate. In response to a question, he said his demonstration model runs on Windows XP, although versions will soon ship that employ 64-bit Windows 7. The FFT compute power, though, resides in the PXA's FPGAs. Brown also noted that customers can employ Agilent's 89600 VSA (vector signal analysis) software for further investigation of signals captured by the PXA.

In a January 17 pre-release demonstration at the Andover facility, Richard Overdorf, planning and application engineer at the Microwave & Communication Division, outlined additional capabilities of the RTSA feature. The goal, he said, is to “see, capture, and understand the most elusive signals—known or unknown.”

The need for real-time analysis, he said, stems from crowded spectrums; more dynamic and faster moving radar systems; and multiformat, high-data-rate communications systems, which experience a higher probability of interoperability issues.

Numerous communications links are combining with radar signals with varying location and mobility differences in very tight frequency ranges, he said. Further, AESA and LPI radar systems make it difficult to analyze jamming signals and interference, and it can be difficult to determine an appropriate jamming signal to adapt to threats. Customers also face challenges in identifying transient emissions; identifying and quantifying tuning, baseband, and algorithm issues; and testing software-defined radio (SDR) and cognitive-radio systems. Overdorf said real-time analysis can help in all these areas.

An RTSA-equipped PXA can detect signals as short as 3.57 µs with a 100% POI, Overdorf said. That level of performance is due to a low noise floor of -157 dBm/Hz at 10 GHz (with no preamp), he added. The instrument can scan wide spans of spectrum with 75-dB SFDR (spurious-free dynamic range) across the 160-MHz real-time bandwidth up to 50 GHz. The ability to add RTSA to the PXA, Overdorf said, makes a dedicated real-time spectrum analyzer, which might be used only 5% or 10% of the time, unnecessary. He said the RTSA capability processes all sampled data in a continuous, gap-free manner, with no dead time between acquisitions. The all-hardware FFT implementation is not subject to Windows task interruptions.

RTSA is available as two upgrade options for existing PXA signal analyzers. List prices are as follows: the N9030AK-RT1 real-time spectrum analyzer option with up to 85-MHz bandwidth costs $7,224, while the N9030AK-RT2 real-time spectrum analyzer option with up to 160-MHz bandwidth costs $10,320. The starting price for a new N9030A PXA signal analyzer with the real-time spectrum analyzer option (up to 160 MHz bandwidth) is $96,304.

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See related article, “Converging Functionality Boosts Signal Analysis.”


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