Test & Measurement

Remote-controlled analyser boasts high RF performance

23rd January 2019
Mick Elliott

An equivalent remote-controlled version of its SignalShark has been released by Narda Safety Test Solutions at an attractive price/performance ratio. This new Real-Time Remote Analyser detects and analyses, classifies and localises RF signals in the frequency range between 8kHz and 8GHz to the highest degree of precision and reliability.

It has been modified and optimised for universal applications requiring efficient, centrally-controlled monitoring of systems, the components of which may be widely spaced and spread out over a large area.

The module solves complex measurement and analysis problems, thanks to its high RF performance (i.e. super sensitivity, yet with high immunity to overmodulation), ITU compliance, reliability, and speed.

Within its 40MHz real-time bandwidth, the SignalShark Remote Module is capable of detecting even brief pulsed signals with a duration of as little as 3.125µs with 100% POI (probability of intercept), i.e., without any gaps.

It can output an impressive 20MHz stream of I/Q data with full 16-bit resolution compliant with the VITA 49 standard.

Additionally, the scan rate of up to 50GHz/s in “Spectrum Mode” ensures that signals are rapidly captured, even across large frequency bands.

The definitive analysis functions (real-time spectrum, spectrogram, and persistence) enable all captured signals to be analysed at an exceptionally high resolution of both time and frequency.

With respect to its key specifications, the new module is in no way inferior to the powerful handheld device from which it was derived.

The measurement core of the SignalShark Remote Unit is identical to that of the handheld unit. It has an integrated computer running Windows 10, and four switchable RF inputs.

These inputs allow connection of several directional antennas, or different antennas covering specific frequency ranges, for example. This eliminates the need for the complex switch that is otherwise needed to connect different antennas to a conventional analyser with a single RF input.

The internal computer operates as an evaluation unit that ensures that only the processed, or eligible, data is passed back to the control centre — for example in the event of irregularities in the spectrum under observation. The remote unit can thus take care of all monitoring tasks right there on site.

This requires considerably less bandwidth than the permanent transmission of all signals back to the control centre with subsequent evaluation, because in 99.99% of cases, everything is fine and there is no interference whatsoever. Nevertheless, the device can be accessed remotely whenever needed; for example, if the technician wants to view the report for the past 24 hours.

The new Remote Module can also be operated with an automatic antenna. It supports automatic direction-finding and TDoA (time difference of arrival), which are techniques used by authorities, for example, for broadly based localisation of interference signals in urban areas by means of several centrally-controlled spectrum monitoring stations.

In this process, one automatic antenna can be used to determine the bearing direction of an interference source, while at least two such antennas at different measurement locations allow exact position determination by means of triangulation.

As an example: SignalShark Remote Modules are fitted on top of buildings at several strategic locations, each equipped with an independent power supply from solar cells and a back-up battery, but without a keyboard or display, as these are generally not needed at such locations.

The signal that is the cause of the problem is detected and passed back to the system operator’s remote computer via an LTE modem and the cellular network.

To be able to cover the full range of centralised monitoring, analysis, and direction-finding functions from a remote location in an ideal manner, the device must be fully remotely controllable, have good time resolution — including absolute time mapping (e.g. by GPS synchronisation) — and a data transfer protocol that is generally intelligible.

One component of this is the SCPI remote control language (Standard Commands for Programmable Instruments). This enables contact with the SignalShark Remote Module and simplifies the development of drivers.

VITA 49 streaming is a further factor in this, which means that the output is also standardised, i.e. the response from the device is in a form that is understood by any software. The Windows 10-based platform that is used is open to third-party applications, and underlines the manufacturer’s claim to offer their customers a measuring instrument that covers the almost unlimited range of applications for effective remote spectrum monitoring.

The modular concept is a further advantage when it comes to versatility. The SignalShark Remote Unit can be used without restrictions as a free-standing unit (basic) to give maximum flexibility. Here, the USB ports allow connection of a keyboard and a display.

Two modules, each well protected by its aluminum casing and weighing just 2.1kg (single), can also be fitted into any standard 19in. rack as a double horizontal rack unit (1 U high) or one on top of the other (2U high).

Two receivers in the same rack are, for example, extremely effective and economical when a larger bandwidth needs to be monitored.

Here, several of these modules, which are considerably cheaper than high-end single device solutions that cover the required bandwidth, can be specifically scaled and cascaded in this way, with the first covering, say, the range from 360 to 400MHz, and the second from 400 to 440MHz.

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