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What makes an ideal handheld spectrum analyzer

01 Oct 2012  | Ying Hu

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Field engineers find that keys grouped by functions, with the most frequently used keys in convenient positions, play a key role in making the handheld easy and intuitive to operate. The ability to access the majority of the handheld's functions within just two button pushes is another plus.

Some handhelds provide a User key. The beauty of this feature is that it gives field engineers the ability to personalize the setup of the handheld. On some handhelds the User key stores up to seven different setups.

Back lit features expedite data entry in low-light conditions. The size of keys can also aid or detract from usability. Smaller keys can make data entry difficult and potentially cause data entry errors.

Figure: Ergonomically-designed accessories lend an extra hand when needed.

Planning success
In the field, topography and vegetation can complicate obtaining data from the correct location. This makes handheld that provides GPS coordinates desirable.

Task planning tools built into a handheld spectrum analyzer are another convenience in the field, and they have benefits to managers as well. Task planning tools provide a means of creating pre-sequenced tasks lists. These lists mean field engineers don't have to spend time on the sight setting up test parameters because it has already been done. Compared to using handhelds without task planning features, those that do provide the capability can cut field test setup time by as much as 95 percent. These lists can also prevent data entry errors since the task plan executes measurements sequentially and automatically in a straightforward go-no go manner. Additionally, because the task sequence it pre-defined, data is consistently obtained, facilitating an apples-to-apple comparison when evaluating site data over time. The plans also make it simple to create measurement reports with screenshots.

Comfort matters
While handhelds have evolved from "luggable" devices and are now much easier to carry, there are still situations where the field engineer needs to carry an array of equipment to the job site or work hands-free (figure). For these occurrences having a unit that has ergonomic carrying options, such as shoulder straps or backpack make life easier. In some cases, a unit with a built-on GPS also eliminates the need to carry a separate antenna.

When it comes to the field work, engineers need a handheld spectrum analyzer that's specifically built to reliably operate in often harsh environmental condition. A unit that complies with MIL PRF 28800T Class 2 provides the assurance that the handheld solution has the ability to withstand exposure extreme heat, below zero temperatures, inadvertent dropping, and exposure to water. A unit without vents goes beyond the MIL PRF specifications yet is a key feature of a truly durable handheld since it preventing the ingress of water, dust, and other foreign objects that can comprise the unit's viability. Batteries should be field-replaceable to help ensure on-site work can be completed without incurring any unnecessary follow-up visits. Field engineers want a handheld spectrum analyzer that is more than user-friendly. They want a unit that has features to help them get accurate information and gather it quickly.

About the author
Ying Hu joined Agilent Technologies in 2007. He has spent the last five years with the company supporting and developing business for the Agilent low-cost RF instruments. He also led the launch activities for the popular N934xC handheld spectrum analyzers. He is currently the HSA (N934x) product manager.

Ying holds a master degree in Communications Engineering from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

To download the PDF version of this article, click here.

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