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Sunday, 26 June 2016

SMA Spectrum Analyzer 138MHz-4.4GHz - software almost ready!

Check out my new video, showing off the latest version of my software for the "138M-4.4G USB SMA signal source/signal generator/simple spectrum analyzer".

Latest version:


Sunday, 19 June 2016

The traveller's guide to spectrum analysis

Here I am in Birmingham (UK) for a business trip and of course I brought the essential "traveller's radio spectrum analysis kit" with me:

  1. My new SMA Spectrum Analyzer 138MHz-4.4GHz
  2. A DVB-T/T2 USB receiver (PCTV nanoStick DVB-T2 292e)
  3. A DVB-T receiver with the RTL2832U/FC0012 chip and tuner, compatible with SDR#
  4. Two small antennas

The result:

With the SMA Spectrum Analyzer and my self written software I can take a quick glance at the interesting frequencies. Immediatly I can see where the DVB-T transponders are and find the best position for the antenna (horizontally, using the metallic lamp foot).

This is the BBC running:

Next a quick scan at radio frequencies, using SDR#:


It is amazing how much monitoring power you can carry on your trips by just bringing with you two miniature DVB-T/T2 USB receivers and the small spectrum analyzer.
Global cost: under 100 Euro (not considering the laptop, of course).

10 years ago you would have to be a govermental lab to have this kind of resources to overview the radio frequency spectrum.

PS: You may ask yourself why I brought two DVB-T receivers...
The answer is very simple: because the one with the RTL2832U chipset uses the Zadig driver for SDR#, it cannot be used for DVB-T reception anymore, unless you change the driver. This is a pain to do and requires reboot of the operating system. 
It is much easier to just use a second DVB-T USB receiver that uses a different chipset! This way you can use one for radio scanning/spectrum analysis, while the other is used for DVB-T. The PCTV nanoStick DVB-T2 is very nice, because it supports both DVB-T and DVB-T2.
By the way: some cities in Germany have started DVB-T2 transmissions using HEVC/h.265. You will need a HEVC CODEC to decode these transmissions. Some will be PayTV. Hopefully I will be able to test it on my return flight via Frankfurt, but then again, I doubt that DVB-T2 can be received so far off the city centre.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

138M-4.4G USB SMA signal source/signal generator/simple spectrum analyzer


The latest toy I purchased is the infamous "138M-4.4G USB SMA signal source/signal generator/simple spectrum analyzer", which is sold on eBay for 50-70 Euro with free shipping from China.

I was curious about this device, as I did not own any spectrum analyser with a range up to 4.4GHz and for this price it was worth the risk!

So what is this device all about? To make it short, it is a Chinese clone designed by BG7TBL of the NWT500 (more information here: Stepping on the design of the NWT500, many clones arose, like the NWT4000, developed by BG7TBL, also. The name is the game and the major difference is the frequency ranged covered.

These devices were created for amateur radio enthusiasts to tune their antennas, so the NWT500/NWT4000 feature two SMA ports. One acts as an output for the integrated signal source, while the other acts as an input for the spectrum analyser.

There are several options for the NWT500/NWT4000 like integrated attenuators.
The "138M-4.4G USB SMA signal source/signal generator/simple spectrum analyzer", however, while looking exactly like the NWT500/NWT4000 is nothing but a cheap rip-off! It only has one ADF4350 chip, while the NWT4000 has two. This means that the device can EITHER read a signal on the input port or generate a signal on the output port. Despite the included SMA cables, you simply cannot connect the output port to the input port, as you will fail to see any signal.

The good news is that the device is not useless at all, at least to me. Also, bear in mind that the cheapest NWT4000 costs more than four times as much as this cheap model.
Once I understood all of this, I wondered how useful it was as a spectrum analyser. And indeed, it works! I could use it to see the whole frequency range from 138MHz up to 4.4GHz. Ideal to check on CATV, SAT, LTE, etc.

But, the included software made by DL4JAL for the original NWT-series was not nice to use for my applications. So I made my own software.

Here are a few pictures, hope you like it!

Continuous mode:

  • It will continuously sweep the select frequency range. The number of samples can be selected (100 to 1000). 
  • Two markers allow easy zoom and give information about the bandwidth. 
  • A waterfall graph will allow monitoring of the signal. 

Single Mode: This will swipe the selected frequency range only once.

This pictures shows the Portuguese TDT transponder at 854MHz, to the right is the LTE transponder.

The complete CATV frequency range. Notice both analogue and digital transponders.

Finally, the SAT frequency range. Here is a picture of Hispasat 30.0W:

The same satellite in continuous mode with waterfall display:

The big question you are wanting to ask: How fast is the spectrum?

The answer: Not very fast. It takes about 3 seconds for 500 samples, which produce a very detailed view of the spectrum, though. This is not a real-time spectrum, but it is faster than a scan made with CrazySat on a supported card.

Also, even professional meters will struggle to display the full CATV band in a real-time spectrum. The SMA Simple Spectrum Analyzer will take the same 3 seconds for the whole supported bandwidth of 138 MHz up to 4.4 GHz, This is quite astonishing!

Finally, a screenshot of the signal generator tab:

Nothing fancy: just select the desired frequency and the signal is available on the SMA output connector. The precision is quite good. Nice for calibration work!

Hopefully I will be able to implement further functionality, like automatic satellite recognition by pattern analysis.

Drop me a message if you are interested in a copy of the software.

Interested in trying out this software - please look at this much more recent post: