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Introducing the RSA306 USB Spectrum Analyzer -- Disrupt or Go Home



The technology landscape is littered with once successful companies – even industry titans -- that failed to adapt fast enough when disruptive technologies came along. Need a mainframe anyone? In most cases, it’s smaller companies bringing the disruptive technology to market while the established players stick to the status quo hoping that the new technology will just go away – a strategy doomed to fail.

But what if the established player were to get ahead of the curve by introducing disruptive technology itself?  Instead of facing declining market share, the industry leader could capitalize on the new opportunities itself while bringing the advantages of disruptive technology to its customers.

In looking at the test and measurement space, one of the segments ripe for disruption is spectrum analyzers. The adoption of wireless technologies is exploding as is the need for RF analyzers with more instantaneous bandwidth and frequency range. At the same time, spectrum analyzers with sufficient performance have remained stubbornly expensive (think $15,000 and up) and out of reach of many engineers.

Until now. With the introduction this week of the Tektronix RSA306 USB Spectrum Analyzer everything you thought you knew about spectrum analyzers is basically obsolete. By removing the PC from the instrument, we can offer benchtop levels of analysis at a list price of just $3,490 – a fraction of the cost of a conventional spectrum analyzer.

If you’re wondering if this is disruptive, consider the following aspects of the RSA306 that are not found elsewhere, including:

  • Unmatched price/performance
  • Unmatched form factor: USB powered and controlled, highly portable
  • Unmatched hardware features in its class: 6.2 GHz signal analyzer with 40 MHz real time bandwidth
  • Unmatched software features: The RSA306 is powered by SignalVu-PC, the same benchtop analysis software that runs the RSA5000 series Real-Time Signal Analyzers
  • Ruggedized and meets Mil-Std 28800 Class 2 specifications

The RSA306 defies the mantra of “you get what you pay for.” In this case, you get much more, a high-quality, highly capable instrument that puts advanced signal analysis into many more hands. So who are the people that need affordable signal analysis? We see four main groups right off the bat that will see the RSA306 as long overdue:  education, budget conscious R&D, interference hunting, and installation and maintenance of communications radio networks. Here’s why.

For both graduate and undergraduate work, traditional spectrum analyzers have not been a realistic option due to the size, weight, and cost of most analyzers. While there are a number of low cost spectrum analyzers available now, they lack the wide band analysis to support commercial wireless and vector signal analysis capabilities. It hasn’t been practical to equip labs or teach directly with a spectrum analyzer until now.

Budget conscious R&D engineers are increasingly trying to integrate wireless into next generation consumer devices. They often have existing spectrum analyzers, but these are not always calibrated and it can be a chore to keep them up and running.  Worse, these legacy instruments lack much in the way of modern vector signal analysis, so their ability to check the performance of these new wireless technologies can be limited. With limited budgets, these engineers have had to make do with what they had.

Interference hunting is handled by spectrum managers, like those within the regulatory agencies. The challenge they share is finding a deployable analyzer that combines low cost and the performance they need in a rugged compact form factor. Real-time capabilities are crucial to being able to quickly find signals of interest.

Installation and maintenance includes engineers and technicians tasked with maintaining a private mobile radio network or a trunked radio system. Police, mobile phone communications, and government groups are examples, as are private companies contracted to maintain these networks. There are a number of existing tools for field RF analysis, but they lack the general purpose ability to help perform preventative maintenance to ensure network reliability.

If a disruptive spectrum analyzer sounds interesting to you, check out the wealth of information on our launch site here. Also take a few minutes to see why Jim McGillivary, General Manager RF and Component Solutions here at Tektronix is so fired up about the RSA306 in the interview video below. Of course, we’d like to hear your thoughts as well, so please post away in the comments section.