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Test Equipment Gets Small

April 10, 2017
Test equipment is shrinking in size, as suppliers are offering compact instruments that combine measurement capabilities with portability.

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Today, we are clearly seeing a push toward better-performing products in smaller sizes. To prove this, one need only look at how far cellular phones have advanced over the years. Now, smartphones can do almost whatever we want while still being able to fit inside our pockets. But high-performance in small sizes doesn’t just apply to smartphones. For example, aerospace and defense systems must yield to today’s size, weight, and power (SWaP) constraints.

The smaller-sized product trend also pertains to test-and-measurement equipment, as can be proven by the number of portable test instruments now on the market. Such instruments can offer the performance needed in a portable size—and at prices that are usually lower than benchtop instruments.

Specifically, one can take a look at the current spectrum analyzer market. The spectrum analyzer, which is obviously an essential part of any RF test lab, has traditionally been a large benchtop instrument. When you think of a spectrum analyzer, it is likely one that you think of a large box that requires effort to move from one location to another.

However, a number of suppliers are now offering portable spectrum analyzers, which can be connected to a laptop or desktop computer via a USB port. In essence, these analyzers can be held in a person’s hand—a stark contrast to a large benchtop instrument. One simply needs a laptop or desktop computer to allow for the display and appropriate user interfacing.

Last year, Tektronix introduced new portable spectrum analyzers, while Anritsu introduced the portable MS2760A millimeter-wave spectrum analyzer earlier this year. Other companies offering portable spectrum analyzers include Signal Hound and Aaronia USA.

The availability of portable spectrum analyzers doesn’t mean that traditional benchtop spectrum analyzers will disappear anytime soon, but it’s clear that test-and-measurement equipment is adapting to the times. Emerging applications like 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) require innovative solutions from test-and-measurement suppliers. Perhaps tomorrow’s RF test labs will look much different than they do today.

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