A Guide to Spectrum Analyzers

Spectrum analyzers are an important tool for those in the critical communications community.  RF engineers within the public safety community are tasked with ensuring police, fire, and emergency personnel radio systems are running smoothly 24/7.

Spectrum analyzers can identify system issues that occur due to loss in voltage standard wave ratio, cable loss, distance to fault loss, and return loss.  In addition to identifying system issues, service monitors can identify issues that may occur from subscriber units that become uncalibrated.

Finally, spectrum analyzers can measure other important radio systems vitals including but not limited to insertion loss, distance to fault VSWR.

Spectrum analyzers are tools used for detecting issues with network signals. Over time the technology has developed to create equipment that can tell users what the problem is, where it is, and more.

Read this article to learn about signal spectrum analyzers and maybe decide what is right for your agency.

What is a Signal Spectrum Analyzer?

A spectrum analyzer is a technology that measures the magnitude of an input signal vs. frequency within the frequency range of the instrument. The measurement is taken to determine the power of the frequency of known and unknown signals. This helps determine where issues may be occurring.

Spectrum analyzers also measure frequency response, occupied bandwidth, and basic pre-compliance testing. The technology started with swept spectrum analyzers and vector signal analyzers.

The equipment gives snapshots of the signal in the given frequency domain. However, this is not enough information to confidently describe RF signals.

With overloaded networks, RF signals have become more and more important. Therefore, signal spectrum analyzers have evolved to real-time spectrum analyzers or RSAs.

These devices can discover problems in RF signals—what is causing those problems, record the problems in memories, analyze them in frequency, time, modulation, statistical, and code domains.

RF signals are everywhere causing more problems with interference, especially in densely populated areas like cities. RF signal spectrum analyzers are more important than ever for critical communications.

Hence this article, outlining the companies that offer the top RF spectrum analyzer technology for land mobile radio systems. The Mission Critical Communications Review team chose to highlight the companies—Anritsu, Bird, and Freedom Communication Technologies. We selected analyzers models that are centric to land mobile radio systems.

Anritsu S412E:

The Anritsu S412E is the second-generation solution they developed for maintaining public safety systems. As a company, Anritsu has always created its technology to improve public safety measures. The S412E is a powerful piece of equipment that can do a wide variety of things.

It acts as a land mobile radio (LMR) modulation analyzer, signal generator, spectrum analyzer, and vector network analyzer. The S412E also includes CW and P25, phase one and two systems.

These general system features make it an ideal communications device for LMR or land mobile radio, professional mobile radio, or PMR technicians and engineers field testing the RF performance.

Anritsu prioritizes making technology that benefits public safety; however, the devices do even more. The S412E monitor’s performance for commercial, public safety, maritime, and critical infrastructure radio systems. Below is a list of features to consider.

  • LMR signal analyzers with coverage mapping
  • Broadband signal analyzers: LTE, WiMAX
  • Interference analyzers with interference mapping
  • Spectrum analyzer: 9 kHz-1.6 GHz, option to raise to 6 GHz
  • Cable and antenna analyzer: 500 kHz-1.6 GHz, option to raise to 6 GHz
  • Handheld and battery operated
  • Rugged and field-proven design

Price: ranging around $14,000 dependent on installation

Bird SignalHawk RF spectrum analyzer (SH-60S-TC):

Bird is a reputable company that has been at the head of the radio frequency industry for over 75 years. They have a very reliable, intelligent, and responsive customer service team that can answer any questions about RF-related issues.

Bird’s rf spectrum analyzer is great for field technicians and engineers, especially because it is handheld. They offer to help with installation, troubleshooting, and maintenance. Below is a list of features.

  • Real-time spectrum monitoring
  • RF frequency analysis
  • Spectrogram/Waterfall display shows intermittent power levels at a glance
  • FM demodulation
    • Rapid verification of communications at a specified frequency
  •  
  • Price: $14,935.00

Freedom Communication Technologies’ R8000C:

Astronics, now Freedom Communication Technologies, has been the industry standard since 2009. Ensuring the technology you purchase is reliable is just as important as ensuring the company you are purchasing from is reliable. Freedom Communication Technologies and their technology are reliable.

The R8000C has firmware upgrades available for free during the life of the unit. It tests every major digital LMR protocol. It meets RF specifications as those of instruments that cost thousands of dollars more than the R8000C. This discrepancy makes the Freedom Communication Technologies spectrum analyzer desirable and worth your money.

Below are some details about the equipment.

  • Receiver
    • Frequency range- 1 MHz to 3 GHz
    • IF bandwidth—6 kHz, 12.5 kHz, 25 kHz, 50 kHz, 100 kHz, 200 kHz
    • Maximum RF Power meter input—150 W
  • Spectrum analyzer
    • Full span to 3 GHz
  • Add-on features
    • Because the R8000C is software-based, it can be upgraded depending on your situation after purchasing
      • Dual display
      • High-performance tracking generator
      • Low phase noise and monitor interface
  • Price not listed

Add-on Features:

Most spectrum analyzer companies offer to add options for their equipment. The above specifications for each product are the baseline. After purchasing your signal spectrum analyzer, you may feel you need to add on premium calibration or a GPS receiver (if those are not already included). Below is some information about the most popular signal spectrum analyzer add ons.

Channel Scanner:

A channel scanner is an important add-on for your spectrum analyzer. A channel scanner goes through each frequency—UHF (ultra-high frequency) and VHF (very high frequency)—to ensure all frequencies are working properly.

Why is it important to get a channel scanner add-on? Overall, a spectrum analyzer is supposed to be able to analyze frequencies in general. However, with a channel scanner add-on, the process will be more streamlined.

Price—Can range anywhere between $1,800-$2,000

P25 and P25 Phase 2 Coverage:

P25 or project 25 is a digital voice and data communication system developed to benefit public safety and first responders. P25 was initially created by the APCO or the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials.

During large emergencies, first responders from all different areas respond to the situation. For instance, during the American West wildfires of 2020, firefighters from around the U.S. and the world flew in to help local responders. Radios are the primary form of communication for emergency workers. P25 compatible radios include a mode of operation that is compatible with FM radio equipment.

By adding the P25 and P25 Phase 2 Coverage to your signal spectrum analyzer, you can monitor your local P25 system to make sure all is running smoothly. P25 communication is the cornerstone of modern emergency response communication; therefore, local officials need to ensure that P25 is always working well.

Price—Can cost between $1,800-$4,500 (it is a large gap because depending on your system you may need additional materials)

LTE RF Measurements:

Most spectrum analyzer systems can handle general RF measurements; however, not all can support LTE RF measurements. LTE or long-term evolution is a form of wireless broadband communication that is dominating the communications industry. More and more radios are expected to be LTE compatible because of LTE’s quick connection and low disconnect rates.

Because LTE has become so prominent in the radio communications industry, the LTE RF measurements add-on is important. With this add-on, your spectrum analyzer can alert you on where and why LTE RF is not working. The LTE RF measurements add on will keep more public safety workers safe and able to do their jobs.

Price—$800-$1,000

Spectrum analyzers are extremely beneficial for network providers and emergency responders. Signal spectrum analyzers can identify problems in the network and radio frequencies–where they are and how to prevent them. This technology creates fast solutions, ultimately keeping communication reliable.

Critical communications communities like emergency workers depend on constant reliable connections. Moreover, with the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are working from home or are spread out in larger office spaces. Most workers are staying connected primarily through the use of internet connections. Spectrum analyzers ensure that both emergency workers and everyday workers can stay connected and keep the world running.

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