At over $1B in size, the oscilloscope market represents the largest single product category in electronic test. Benchtop oscilloscopes span a wide range of price and performance points, from basic 50 MHz products retailing for well under $1000, to high-powered analysis machines reaching above 30 GHz and selling for over $400K when probes and application packages are included. Investments by major suppliers are occurring across the board, and all segments of the market experienced growth coming out of the 2009 downturn.
Which segments are growing the fastest? In 2012, the Ultra Performance segment (real-time bandwidths above 16 GHz) is receiving great interest from customers working in two primary areas: Next-generation network design, with aggregate optical transports in the 100-400 Gb/s range combined with multiple O/E converters, and high-speed computer I/O such as SATA and PCI-Express. As a specific example, PCI-Express Gen 4 will operate at 16 Gb/s rates, meaning that oscilloscopes with at least 24 GHz bandwidth will be required to accurately characterize the third harmonic of the fundamental. A third area, which constitutes a new application space, is the use of real-time oscilloscopes for wideband signal analysis, in systems where a downconverter was previously required to move the signals into band. Oscilloscopes like Agilent’s 90000 X-series are capable of digitizing full-band signals from DC to 33 GHz, using a single capture, and analyzing them with surprisingly good accuracy, due in part to their low noise and jitter. This application is present in the aerospace and defense industries, among others.
The ultra-performance segment will push even higher in bandwidth during the year, further propelling it as the current growth leader. However, other segments will continue to grow as well. At the low end, Economy oscilloscopes face high demand as countries like China and India equip teaching laboratories for greater numbers of engineering students. And in the midrange, the need for significant performance along with the integration of capabilities like mixed-signal acquisition and protocol analysis is driving demand in mainstream design and troubleshooting applications around the world.
The oscilloscope remains a fundamental tool for millions of scientists, engineers, and technicians, and the market growth has prompted supplier investments that will turn into even more innovations for customers in 2012 and beyond.