Tagged: vector network analyzer

A Review of the miniVNA Pro Vector Network Analyzer

Over on YouTube Kevin Loughin has reviewed the miniVNA Pro Vector Network Analyzer (VNA). A VNA is a tool that can be used to measure antenna or coax parameters such as SWR, impedance, loss as well as characterize filters. It is a very useful tool to have if you are building antennas, filters or RF circuits. The RTL-SDR with a noise source can somewhat be used as a network analyzer, but a fully functional VNA will be a lot more accurate and easier to use. The miniVNA costs US$490 and is significantly cheaper compared to desktop based VNAs.

In the video Kevin explains what a VNA is and that the miniVNA Pro is, shows how to calibrate the unit, shows some measurements on his roof mounted dipole, measures a home made filter, and then demonstrates portable operation of the device on an Android phone. The miniVNA Pro has a built in battery so it can be used portably in the field together with an Android phone and bluetooth.

We ourselves have the miniVNA tiny which operates in frequency from 1 MHz all the way up to 3 GHz, whereas the miniVNA Pro operates from 0.1 MHz to 200 MHz. However the tiny does not have portable operation. The miniVNA tiny is excellent for building things like ADS-B and Inmarsat antennas.

The miniVNA Pro and Tiny can both be found for sale on Ham Radio Outlet.

Ham Radio - A look at the miniVNA PRO Vector Network Analyzer

xaVNA: Kickstarter for a $200 Open Hardware VNA

Thanks to Cary Wang for submitting news about his new Kickstarter for a $200 open hardware VNA called the xaVNA. The xaVNA is PC USB based, has a guaranteed frequency range of 140 MHz to 2.5 GHz (typical 137 MHz - 3.5 GHz), and is supposed to be a lower cost alternative to other low end PC based VNAs such as the PocketVNA and miniVNA Tiny. In addition to the lower cost, the xaVNA is advertised as being superior to its competitors as it has less trace noise and no warm up time is required, as well as the hardware and software being open source.

A VNA (Vector Network Analyzer) is a tool that can allow you to easily measure things like the SWR curve of an antenna, the characteristics of a filter, or the loss of a coax cable for example. So it is a very useful tool to have around if you are building home brew antennas or filters for your SDRs. Compared to a standard antenna analyzer, a VNA gives you complex impedance/phase information as well, making it possible to design better circuits and antennas.

Currently the closest competitors on the market are other PC based VNA's like the PocketVNA ($430) and the miniVNA Tiny ($580). The main advantage of the competitors so far is that they go down to the HF frequencies, but a stretch goal of the Kickstarter is to create an xaVNA that goes down to 10 MHz.

At the moment they only have a functional prototype with the second iteration soon to be ready. The delivery date of a completed unit is expected to be around April 2018. But as with any crowdfunded project remember to only back the project if you are willing to lose your money as there is no guarantee that a product will actually be delivered on time, or even delivered at all.

The xaVNA Prototype
The first xaVNA prototype

Using the Airspy as a Network Analyzer for Characterizing Antennas

Over on YouTube user Mile Kokotov has uploaded a very nice tutorial video that shows how the Airspy can be used as a low cost scalar network analzyer from between 0.1 – 1800 MHz. A network analyser allows you to characterize the performance of antennas, by determining the antenna SWR curve. A low point on an SWR graph indicates the frequency at which an antenna is resonant/tuned, so a network analyzer is very useful for tuning homemade or adjustable antennas.

Dedicated scalar network analyzers can costs thousands of dollars. Together with a cheap noise source and cheap directional coupler, the Airspy can be used as a very low cost scalar network analyzer for analyzing antennas. If you are interested in this we also have a similar tutorial on our blog that shows how to do this with an RTL-SDR. However, the Airspy R2 or Mini is of course a better tool for this job as it can scan the spectrum much faster than the RTL-SDR with its Spectrum Spy software. Mile writes:

In this video I am showing how Airspy SDR can be used for measuring Return Loss, Antenna SWR and Antenna Bandwidth of several commercial and homemade antennas.

The impedance of the Radio Station (transmitter or receiver) must be well matched to the antenna’s impedance if we want maximum available power to be delivered to antenna.

The return loss and SWR measurements show us the match of the system.

A poorly matched antenna will reflect costly RF energy which will not be available for transmission and will instead end up in the transmitter. This extra energy returned to the transmitter will not only distort the signal but it will also affect the efficiency of the transmitted power and the corresponding coverage area.

Return Loss and SWR both display the match of the system, but they show it in different ways. The return loss displays the ratio of reflected power to reference power in dB.

The return loss view is usually preferred over the SWR linear scale, because is easier to compare a small and large number on a logarithmic scale.

More than 20 dB system return loss is considered very efficient as only less than 1% of the power is returned and more than 99% of the power is transmitted. In that case the SWR is around 1.2

For radio amateur usage, Return loss more than 14 dB is acceptable. This is adequate to SWR of 1.5 which means that 4% of the power is returned and 96% of the power is transmitted.

0 dB Return loss represent an open or a short antenna terminal, while 45 or more dB Return loss would be close to a perfect match.

Many different methods can be used to measure standing wave ratio. Professionals usually use a vector network analyzer or frequency analyzer with sweep signal generator and directional coupler.

In this video I will show you very cheap and very good method for antenna characterizing which means measuring the Return loss versus frequency and usable antenna bandwidth like measuring with much, much more expensive, state of the art Network Analyzers and similar measuring equipment.

Airspy SDR as a Network Analyzer using for Antenna Characterization

EDIT: It has been pointed out that we incorrectly used the term vector network analyzer in the previous title, when we should have instead used scalar network analyzer. A scalar network analyzer can measure amplitude, but a vector network analyzer can measure amplitude and phase and is a more complex device. Apologies for any confusion.