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A New Generation of Network Analyzers

March 9, 2007
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Given the increasing pressure on engineers to speed the R&D process, maximize manufacturing throughput and reduce cost, the need for flexible, highly integrated test and measurement solutions has now been thrust firmly into the spotlight. For engineers developing and manufacturing RF and microwave frequency components, particularly amplifiers, mixers and converters, for the aerospace and defense, satellite, broadband wireless access and wireless communications industries, that need has become all the more acute.


Utilizing a new generation of network analyzer that not only delivers the highest performance and accuracy, but that can also be configured for various measurement scenarios, now offers these engineers a viable way to address the challenges they face.

Defining The Next Generation

While conventional network analyzers can effectively be used to measure active devices like amplifiers, mixers and converters, they fail to provide the accuracy, ease-of-use and speed that today’s R&D and manufacturing engineers crave. Such functionality is extremely important in the wireless communications industry where time-to-market can often make the difference between a company’s ultimate success or failure.

Consider, for example, that in manufacturing any delay in throughput or decrease in yield can have a tremendous impact on a company’s bottom line in terms of both time and cost. Consider also, that use of a conventional network analyzer to perform a range of measurements on a number of different components can be a slow and tedious process, complicated by the need to continually re-arrange the test equipment setup. Today’s engineers now demand a faster, more efficient alternative.

What is required is a new type of integrated network analyzer—capable of measuring active as well as passive devices—and that offers functionality equivalent to having multiple tools in one box. It must be able to make lots of measurements quickly and with great accuracy. Additionally, it must be defined by the following characteristics:

• High available power to provide the larger signals needed; for example, to drive an amplifier into its compression region.

• Low source harmonics to test amplifiers for harmonic distortion or intermodulation distortion (IMD) performance. Additionally, the combination of high output power and low harmonics results in simplified setup since it reduces the need for external amplifiers and filters.

• High stability level to reduce the number of calibrations, thereby saving time and increasing measurement confidence.

• Excellent gain compression to improve measurement accuracy, especially at high power levels where, if the network analyzer is not well specified, it may inadvertently contribute error to the measurement of amplifier compression.

• Integrated pulse hardware to simplify the setup for making pulsedS-parameter measurements. With integrated pulse modulators and pulse generators, the need for anything external to the network analyzer to make this measurement is eliminated.

• A second RF signal generator for measuring amplifiers, mixers and frequency converters. A second signal source provides a convenient and fast local oscillator (LO) signal for exceptionally quick fixed-IF tests of converters and mixers, and it can be used as one of the RF signals in an amplifier IMD measurement.

• An internal source-combining network to eliminate the need to find and hook up an external combiner with the right frequency range, thereby making it easier for engineers to perform IMD measurements on amplifiers and converters and saving valuable time. With the internal combiner, S-parameter and IMD tests on components can be performed without having to change the test setup.

• A configurable signal routing architecture to provide the engineer with the flexibility to make a range of measurements with multiple pieces of test equipment via a single connection to the DUT. It is no longer necessary therefore to modify the test equipment setup to make additional measurements beyond those that can be done with the network analyzer.

For example, an external signal generator with digital modulation capability and a vector signal analyzer can be switched to the inputs and outputs of an amplifier to make additional measurements such as adjacent-channel power ratio (ACPR), error-vector magnitude (EVM), or complementary cumulative distribution function (CCDF). The flexible architecture also makes it easy to add external signal-conditioning hardware such as filters and booster amplifiers.

A New Premier-Performance Network Analyzer

The N5242A PNA-X is a new premier-performance network analyzer from Agilent Technologies for testing components from 10 MHz to 26.5 GHz. It not only delivers all of the previously detailed functionality, but also features an unsurpassed combination of speed and accuracy.

Because it is configurable, it provides engineers with flexibility never before possible. The result is higher levels of test integration, the ability to work with higher frequencies, and reduced setup time, measurement complexity, time to make measurements, and test costs.

The new PNA-X boasts all of the same core functionality of the existing PNA series, such as advanced connectivity via LAN, USB and GPIB; an easy to use Windows“-based open architecture; an embedded help system; a frequency converter measurement application (FCA); automatic port extensions; and an optional ECal feature for precision, single connection electronic calibration. It also offers a host of new features, which include:

• Improved source performance that provides higher output power and low harmonics to simplify setup by reducing the need for external amplifiers and filters. A receiver compression spec of 0.1 dB at +12 dBm improves accuracy at high power levels, while high stability reduces the number of calibrations, thereby saving time and increasing measurement confidence.

• An internal second source for convenient setup and fast, fixed-IF converter tests, and for amplifier tests such as intermodulation distortion. Using the integrated second source is typically about thirty times faster than using an external source, providing exceptional test throughput. The PNA-X is the only two-port network analyzer available with an internal second source. With a four-port analyzer, the second source can be used to make match-corrected conversion gain measurements as well as match measurements of all three DUT ports (see Figure 1).

• The PNA-X is the most configurable network analyzer with the highest number of RF access points, built-in combiner and internal pulse modulators, and generators for flexible, single connection measurements. It is the only network analyzer with internal pulse modulators and generators for fast, simplified pulse measurements. The internal source-combining network eliminates the need to find and hook up external combiners, thereby simplifying measurement setup (see Figure 2).

The PNA-X also provides internal switches for connecting the DUT to external instruments, such as a digitally modulated signal generator and a signal analyzer (see Figure 3). The internal switches allow quick and efficient measurement transitions between S-parameters, IMD and many other measurements. They also enable alternate measurement paths, re-routing of signal paths and the addition of amplifiers, filters and attenuators to optimize system setup. The internal pulse modulators and generators enable a simple and fast setup and increase measurement speed by eliminating GPIB control of external pulse generators.

• The improved user interface features a large, touch-screen controlled front-panel display and an improved front-panel-keypad layout. The large display makes it easy to read multiple measurements at the same time, while the touch screen enables easy operation without a mouse. Additionally, eight soft keys plus a user definable key and a new hard key layout further simplifies the network analyzer’s operation.

Using Agilent’s new PNA-X network analyzer, today’s engineers now have the flexibility and performance they demand. R&D engineers are better able to solve design challenges faster and with less iteration, while manufacturing engineers can realize increased throughput and yield, as well as reduced test costs. Table 1 lists some of the PNA-X network analyzer’s key performance characteristics.

Conclusion

Agilent’s new PNA-X premier-performance network analyzer is an integrated solution that reduces setup time and the time to make a variety of measurements, while also delivering an exceptionally high level of accuracy compared to existing network analyzers currently on the market.

Its ease-of-use and flexibility now enables engineers to measure a broad range of high performance, leading-edge components, including amplifiers, mixers and converters, via a single connection. Such features make Agilent’s new PNA-X network analyzer the ideal choice for addressing the challenges facing today’s R&D and manufacturing managers and engineers developing and manufacturing RF and microwave frequency components for the A/D, satellite, broadband wireless access and wireless communications industries.

Additional information may be obtained at www.agilent.com/find/pna-x.

Agilent Technologies Inc., Santa Rosa, CA (800) 829-4444, www.agilent.com.

RS No. 305

Recent Articles by Agilent Technologies Inc., Santa Clara, CA

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