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In a world with a growing list of wireless systems, there is a real need for monitoring tools and instruments everyone can use.

Wireless microphones, Video links, GSM/GPRS/3G/4G networks, WiFi, ZigBee, Bluetooth, ISM bands… The list never ends. Some of these are amateur RF bands and therefore nice for hacking and tinkering. Some others are professional, licensed bands with specific use where every Hertz of the assigned spectrum is precious.

Dealing with all this complexity is only feasible with the right tool at hand.

RF Explorer is an affordable Handheld Spectrum Analyzer designed from scratch to be a sort of Swiss Army Knife for the specific needs of digital radio frequency communication.

Commercial high-end spectrum analyzers are traditionally expensive and bulky, in the order of many thousand dollars, and you need significant expertise to master them. RF Explorer offers 90% of what a high cost unit will do for RF digital band communication, at a 5% of the cost. Additionally, it can be carried on easily anywhere, used outdoors efficiently for hours with a single battery charge.

RF enthusiast have limited themselves to cheap "RF Power Detector / Frequency counter" devices in the past. But these are limited to display data for a single point of maximum power, and traditionally power metrics are too unreliable, in the order of 20dB or even 30dB inaccuracy.

In contrast, a spectrum analyzer like RF Explorer will display full frequency spectrum in the band, including carrier and modulated shape, will display Spread Spectrum activity if that exist, and will show bandwidth to monitor collisions, frequency deviation from expected tone, etc.

RF Explorer start at only $99 for narrow bands ISM models, and they are fully functional analyzers used worldwide by radio enthusiasts, engineers and companies who deal with specific ISM bands only.

But there are more advanced models available covering wider bands including the 6G model with a full coverage of 15-2700MHz and 4850-6100MHz in the same unit, with excellent dynamic range and plenty of features.

There are some other devices in the market which offers some of these features in an USB key, and they are of reasonable cost, albeit with limited bandwidth and resolution when compared to RF Explorer. However, USB-Key devices always depend on a PC connection, and that is very inconvenient for outdoor work or if you need to save space in the lab desk.

 You can connect RF Explorer to your PC for additional features and display quality, but that is optional; RF Explorer is fully functional as an independent unit.

See below a quick summary of what you can do today with RF Explorer, together with firmware extensions we are working on for the near future.

Let us know your suggestions in RF Explorer distribution List as we are highly motivated to extend this device based on community requests.

Currently in BETA the new RF Signal Generator is fully programmable, can work as a CW single carrier, multi Sweep and Tracking Generator from 23.4Mhz to 6GHz. More details available on this page.

RF Explorer currently supported workflows

  • Monitor continuous wave (CW) and temporary transmissions in specific ISM band.
  • Detect whether a device is transmitting in the expected frequency and with expected power
  • Check whether an antenna or amplifier change makes a difference in power, orientation and noise
  • Detect band occupancy to move your gadget to a different channel
  • Works as RF Generator to transmit pure RF tone so you can test your RF link in seconds
  • Works completely automatic so you do not need to be an expert to use it. It will resolve RBW, Sweep time, for you.
  • Offer spectrum data in Normal, Average, Peak Maximum calculator modes
  • Open communication API SCPI.
  • Open source PC client software for Windows and Mac OSX, unlimited capture and post-processing storage
  • Optimized for all worldwide frequencies between 15 to 2700MHz. Check on this model map for more details and comparison chart.
  • RF Explorer Signal Generator with tracking capabilities for full SNA test and characterization of 2 port RF devices. More details here.

Additional information

 

High performance software for Windows

Realtime or adjusted signals, 3D spectrogram waterfall, CSV export, high quality graphics and a large feature set is available for free to RF Explorer users

 

 

RF Explorer roadmap and future extensions

  • Transmission test tones in OOK and FSK
  • Digital transmission decoding and packet sniffing for OOK and FSK, including Manchester code support
  • Logging features for multi-hour transmission monitoring
  • Frequency counter
  • Automatic peak detection
  • Storage for 1000's screenshots in expanded memory.
  • Expansion modules for additional ISM band support, expanded RF Generator and Tracking Generator for circuit analysis, etc.

For an example of how easy and powerful RF Explorer is in a real use case, check this tutorial.

To better know what others are saying about RF Explorer, check on online videos and references.

Buy RF Explorer online

RF Explorer is available at SeeedStudio online store and a network of distributors worldwide.

 

Software options for RF Explorer

RF Explorer spectrum analyzer can be used as a standalone tool, but can also be connected to a computer for additional features.

This page contains a comprehensive list of software available for RF Explorer, coming from different sources and vendors. This list is intended to help you to better understand the different options available, but we are not responsible for any of the 3rd party published applications. We suggest to contact the 3rd party web pages for additional and updated info on any of the offerings.

Software for RF Explorer

ProductPlatformDescriptionCompanyPrice
RF Explorer for Windows

Realtime connection with RF Explorer

Powerful and fast, includes all standard Spectrum Analyzer features, as well as enhanced functionality such as 3D Waterfall and remote control command.

It also includes the required firmware uploader to keep your RF Explorer unit with latest updates.

RF Explorer official website

free
Vantage for MacOS

Realtime connection with RF Explorer

Robust and easy to use standard spectrum analyzer functionality for Mac, all RF Explorer models supported. Includes file export for major 3rd party coordination software tools.

Future advanced features in the roadmap.

$99
Touchstone

Realtime connection with RF Explorer

Powerful, user friendly general purpose spectrum analysis and frequency monitoring, includes adjustable RBW, easy operation and 2 display charts

Nuts About Nets

free
Touchstone Pro

Realtime connection with RF Explorer

Same as Touchstone, the Professional version adds a total of 5 display charts, advanced reporting and channel band monitoring

Nuts About Nets

$49
Touchstone for Mac

Realtime connection with RF Explorer

Touchstone and Touchstone Pro for Mac are available from NutsAboutNets. It brings the same functionality of Touchstone Windows to Mac OSX.

Nuts About Nets

$49
ClearWaves

Realtime connection with RF Explorer

This is the tool you need for advanced RF frequency coordination, a must have for Audio and Video professionals.

Precise, wideband RF spectrum scanning, visualization and channel coordination. Includes advanced intermodulation and frequency monitoring features, 5 display charts, and reporting.

Nuts About Nets

$295
Touchstone Mobile

 

Realtime connection with RF Explorer

Available for Android OTG phones and tablets, it turns data collected from RF Explorer spectrum analyzers into highly graphical charts and displays, enabling users to more readily visualize the RF environment, monitor RF signals, troubleshoot RF issues, and detect sources of RF interference.  

Nuts About Nets

$49 
RFTrack

Realtime connection with RF Explorer

Available for Android OTG phones and tablets, it combines GPS location from Android and RF activity from RF Explorer to create a worldwide TVWS database.

ICTP

free
RF Guru + RF Scanner

Realtime connection with RF Explorer

RF Guru is a complete frequency coordination and intermodulation assistant for Audio professionals. The RF Scanner tool connects RF Guru to RF Explorer and other spectrum analyzers.

Stage Research

Visit website
WWB6 – Wireless Workbench 6

Offline connection with CSV imported files

Complete solution for frequency coordination. It can import CSV files from RF Explorer for Windows for offline analysis.

Axient - Shure

Visit website
RF Explorer for Python

Recommended for developers

Interface API to easily connect RF Explorer to Phyton language and tools

RF Explorer Python wiki

Free, open source
iRFExplorer

Realtime connection with RF Explorer

Basic and easy to use standard spectrum analyzer functionality for Mac.

Mac OS X 10.7 and later, make sure you install the Silicon Labs driver as per installation instructions.

Dirk-Willem van Gulik - Appstore  

If you are a developer or 3rd party company with software connecting with RF Explorer, let us know, we will add you to this list. It is the best way to make your software visible to the large RF Explorer user base.

Protecting your instrument

 

 

RF Explorer is a very sensitive device. It can detect signals as low as -120dBm, which is 10E-12mW or 9nA over a 50ohm load.


This extreme sensitivity comes at the price of fragility; your device needs care handling and protection in order to run for many years without problems.


Most RF technicians know the RF instruments have to be protected in order to survive the high Electro Magnetic (EM) fields that may be in the environment. Expensive instruments like $50,000 full sized Spectrum Analyzers and Signal Analyzers comes with a long list of handling procedures the operator must observe in order to limit any chance of damage. Unfortunatelly, the fact that RF Explorer is a cheaper device doesn't mean it can work without protection.


The first and most obvious precaution is to make sure the input RF power is not beyond the acceptable levels of the instrument.


RF Explorer 3G Combo and WSUB3G models are well protected up to +30dBm (1Watt) input power, which is plenty to play safe in pretty much any environment.

However, other RF Explorer models have a maximum safe input power of +5dBm, which is 3mW in the RF SMA port. As an reference, that is the power captured by the RF antenna from a cell phone a distance of 10cm, or from a Microwave oven at about 1 meter distance. Not all the ovens or cell phones work the same, so take this as an indication only.

 

What may not be obvious to all users is this is a limit in any RF frequency band, even if the RF Explorer is powered off.

 

As an example, the RF Explorer WSUB1G -with a frequency range of 240-960MHz- will not detect a microwave oven (2.4GHz) on the screen but can be very well damaged by it. Similarly, a strong 2m HAM or FM high power transmit station won’t be detected by this model, but still induces enough RF power to kill the RF circuitry with ease. And that doesn’t depend on RF Explorer being on or off because the antenna will receive that powerful signal and will inject it into the spectrum analyzer, with serious risk of damage.

 

 

In addition to RF power, you should reduce the likelihood of static discharge over the antenna. In particular, the naked metallic antennas such as the Nagoya telescopic antenna we include in the wideband models. The whip helical plastic antennas included in the narrow band models do not expose the internal contact to the outside world and thus are safer from ESD perspective because don't offer a direct current path to the internal sensitive CMOS component pin, but all metallic antennas needs you to observe good ESD practices, most importantly in very dry winter air: Make sure you have a good hand contact with the metal case of the RF Explorer before touching the antenna and, whenever possible, do not touch the antenna with your hands.

 

For this very same reason, you should never make contact with the antenna to any external energy source. Just imagine what power can be injected inside if you make the antenna contact to AC current or a powerful AC source of any kind!

 

If the RF Explorer RF circuitry is damaged, you will need to send it back for repair, taking time and cost so we strongly suggest using one or several standard procedures used for decades by RF technicians to protect your instrument:

  • The ideal device to protect your RF Explorer against strong RF fields is a RF Power Limiter. There are several options in the market, but we designed a compact, multi-purpose RF Explorer Power Limiter device with a very attractive price and the addition of advanced features such as an embedded 6dB attenuator and a 16V DC block. It will protect your RF Explorer for any power up to 1W (+30dBm) - For more details on this power limiter see this article.

Other options available in the market are for instance this power limiter from Mini Circuits: ZFLM-252-1WL+, available for less than $100, but does not include extra attenuator or DC block functionality, and is significantly larger in size.

An valuable update comes from user Bob Johansen points out this interesting Mini-Circuits application note on power limiters, very useful!

  • If you do not own a power limiter, ideally if you store the RF Explorer in your lab for no use, either enclose it within a metal case to protect it from external RF fields or, if not possible or available, unplug the antenna out of the SMA connector. This will significantly decrease the chances of high RF power get into the RF circuitry. If you know there may be strong RF fields nearby, it is even safer to plug a 50ohm SMA dummy load to the RF connector so the RF circuitry doesn’t receive any external RF field. You can find 50 ohm dummy loads in SeeedStudio for only $8.

  • When operating your instrument in unknown area where strong RF fields may be nearby, never plug the antenna into the SMA connector directly, always use a 30dB SMA attenuator to reduce the potential power received. This will increase the max power you can receive, but will reduce sensitivity as well. Remember this is required even if the instrument is not powered on yet. You can find SMA attenuators in SeeedStudio for convenient 60dB, 30dB and 10dB attenuation values.

    High Frequency Precision 30dB Attenuator High Frequency Precision 10dB Attenuator High Frequency Precision 60dB Attenuator

  • If the RF power comes from an out-of-band source, but you still want the maximum in-band sensitivity, a SMA attenuator may not be the best option because it reduces sensitivity in all bands. For instance, if you are using the WSUB1G model to monitor a weak 433MHz signal and know there is a strong 1.2GHz source nearby, the attenuator may not be the best option because it will attenuate the 1.2GHz signal but also the 433MHz signal. So in this case a good RF band pass filter may be the best option. There are many different options for filters, not all of them cheap, so look for available options for your band before taking this path. The Mini-Circuits website may be a good place to start.

 

Let us know if you have any question, we take client satisfaction seriously and want to make sure you enjoy your device for years without issues.

If your unit needs repair because the RF circuitry went unresponsive, let us know, we will find the best and most efficient way to offer a cost sensitive repair service.