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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.

 

RF Explorer Signal Generator Tool

RFEGenTool

Overview

RF Explorer Signal Generator tool is currently available in two models:

  • RF Explorer Signal Generator baseline – 23.4MHz – 6000MHz
  • RF Explorer Signal Generator Combo – 100KHz – 6000MHz

Both models can be used standalone, as well as connected to a computer for easy operation.

Computer control can be achieved by any of these free software options:

  • RF Explorer Signal Generator Tool: It works in Windows, MacOS and Linux offering simple yet powerful interface for CW operation.
  • RF Explorer for Windows: It is supported in Windows only, and support all kind of advanced operation including CW, Sweep and Tracking SNA.
  • Programming interface: You can deliver custom solutions by using Python or .NET libraries, as well as direct USB interface calls through any major language.

This article describes the use of the RF Explorer Signal Generator Tool in all supported platforms.

Installation

  • Microsoft Windows:
  • Apple MacOS:
  • Linux:
    • Download and install from download page.
    • Download and install Mono for your Linux distro from Mono project website
    • Add your linux user to the dialup group, otherwise may not be able to open the USB port. For instance this command will do it in Ubuntu/Debian: 
      sudo adduser <my_user> dialout
    • Copy RF Explorer Signal Generator Tool for Linux executable, you can locate it anywhere in your computer.
    • Connect your RF Explorer signal generator to the USB port.
    • Run the tool with
      mono RFExplorerGeneratorLinux.exe
    • Note: use regular Linux login, not root or superuser, otherwise configuration files will not be stored in the home folder correctly.

Quick start guide

  1. Connect your RF Explorer Signal Generator device to USB and keep it in main generator screen. Only one device can be connected to USB, otherwise the tool will not be able to automatically connect with RF Explorer device.
  2. Open the RF Explorer Signal Generator Tool, it will automatically connect to RF Explorer and indicate model, S/N and status.
  3. Select CW frequency and power level as needed, using numeric keyboard, or slide controls.
  4. Click on [Enable RF Power Output] to active the RF power output in the Signal Generator device. Important: Enable output power only if the generator has a load connected.
  5. Click on [Disable RF Power Output] to stop RF power from the Signal Generator device.

Main screen

 The main screen is a compact, convenient display of all operational parameters. Controls are large enough to be operated in a touch screen if required.

The first edit area is for CW frequency. It can be edited in multiple ways:

Frequency

  • Direct numeric edition over the value in MHz using keyboard.
  • Using [<] button for small frequency decrease, or [>] for small frequency increase.
  • Using [<<] button for large frequency decrease, or [>>] for large frequency increase.
  • Using the Slider control, either with keyboard using <left>,<right> and <Pag Down><Pag Up>, or direct slide control with mouse or touchscreen
  • Values for small and large increment are configurable.

The second edit area is for Power output in dBm. It can be edited in equivalent ways as with frequency, with some specifics depending on the Signal Generator model connected:

Amplitude

  • For Signal Generator baseline model, only 8 predefined power levels are available. Doing direct edits over numeric control will adjust to the closer power level available. Doing small or large increments is predefined and cannot be changed.
  • For Signal Generator Combo model, any large and small step can be configured within available power ranges. Minimum possible step is 0.25dB.

Tooltips area available by navigating the mouse over any control to help remember all options:

ToolTip

Advanced Configuration

Configuration

The tool can be easily configured to adjust different parameters:

  • Frequency Small and Large Increment defines the step for [<] [>] and [<<] [>>] frequency buttons respectively on main screen. It also defines <left> <right> and <Pag Down> <Pag Up> keyboard keys acting on the slider control.
  • Power Small and Large Increment defines the step for [<] [>] and [<<] [>>] power buttons respectively on main screen. It also defines <left> <right> and <Pag Down> <Pag Up> keyboard keys acting on the slider control.
  • For Combo models, you can specify whether amplitude ranges offered should be limited to calibration limited ranges, or should include uncalibrated range as well.

Manual USB connection

ConnectionWindows

If the Signal Generator device is not the only RF Explorer device connected to USB when loading the application, or if you need to manually connect it anytime, please use the [Connect USB device] button

  1. Click on [*] to refresh available USB ports. Note different platforms may display the USB port name differently. For instance Windows may display it as COMx whereas MacOS and Linux may show a USBx name.
  2. Click on [Connect] to stablish connection to the device.
  3. Use [500000] baud speed only.

Using Presets in RF Explorer

Overview

Presets are predefined configuration names stored in the device to easily recall commonly used setups.

Device models supported:

  • RF Explorer Spectrum Analyzers Combo (with Expansion board) support presets since firmware version v1.26. This include ISM Combo, 3G Combo, 6G Combo and Wifi Combo.
  • RF Explorer Spectrum Analyzer Plus and ProAudio model since initial firmware v3.00 support embedded presets but firmware v3.06 is required to connect with RF Explorer Preset Manager.

Firmware upgrade is available in the download page.

For specific help on using presets in the handheld device, please check user manual.

This tool is available for Windows computers (Windows XP SP3 and higher, including latest Windows 10), Linux and Mac computers. Please see specific sections below.


WinIcon

RF Explorer Preset Manager for Windows

The RF Explorer Preset Manager tool can be used in Connected and Disconnected mode. Connected mode is required to update the RF Explorer device, but Disconnected mode is useful to manually define presets that can be later uploaded to one or more RF Explorer devices.

For companies with multiple RF Explorer devices, this tool is the easiest way to propagate the same settings to all them.

PresetManager

Quick Startup guide

  1. Connect your RF Explorer device to USB and keep it in standard Spectrum Analyzer mode. Only one device can be connected to USB, otherwise the tool will not be able to communicate with RF Explorer.
  2. Open the RF Explorer Preset Manager tool, it will automatically connect to RF Explorer and indicate so in the “Status” section.
  3. Press button [Reload All Presets From Device] to get all defined presets from your RF Explorer device (if any) into the Computer.
  4. Do any manual modification or create new presets, as required
  5. When all changes are completed, click button [Update All Presets To Device] to get RF Explorer device update with all changes from Computer
  6. Close the RF Explorer Preset Manager tool

Detailed description

The tool include tooltips help text on each button and function, keep the mouse a couple of seconds on top of any application area to get instant description.

Connection

The tool will scan and try to connect to any RF Explorer device when it starts.

If there is no RF Explorer connected, it will work in Disconnected mode. This mode is useful to define presets or modify existing ones, stored in local Computer. To connect to an actual device, the application must be closed and reopened again.

If a RF Explorer Spectrum Analyzer device is connected to the USB port, the application will automatically connect upon starting. It will not connect if more than one RF Explorer device is connected to USB, for instance if a Spectrum Analyzer and a Signal Generator are both connected.

The tool uses 500Kbps speed mode only. If connection fails, please make sure to check the CONFIG MENU baudrate selected in the RF Explorer device, should be set to 500Kbps in the device for it to work.

Define a new preset

To define a new preset, select the preset index (1-30 for Standard units, and 1-100 for Plus units). Modify Start/Stop frequency, define a Description Text, etc.

Description Text is limited to standard ASCII 7 bits characters. Other characters may display correctly in the computer, but will not work correctly when loaded in the device. For best results, limit text to A-Z, a-z, 0-9, and simple symbols like ., -, +, _, etc. Do not use accentuated or 8 bits ASCII characters.

All values are persisted in local computer XML file. If application is closed, presets will be remembered when the application starts again.

Important: a preset is considered <defined> with a useful value whenever the Start Frequency is different than zero. Presets with Start Frequency set to zero are considered empty.

Valid preset values for frequency are limited by the actual RF Explorer model the preset will be used into. For instance if the device is limited to 240-960 MHz range, defining values outside this range will be ignored as incompatible when uploading to the device. In devices with Mainboard and Expansion Board, make sure to select the right option before editing frequency ranges.

Modify a preset

To modify any preset with new values, edit the values the same way you do for defining a new preset.

Reset a preset

Select the preset to reset to zero and then click on [Reset Current Preset…] button

Reset all presets

To start with an empty, clean preset selection you can reset all at once using [Reset All Presets…] button

Reload presets from Device

If running in Connected mode, the tool can download all presets from the device into the computer frontend.

If values for a particular preset are different in the computer and the device, the one in the computer will be overwritten with the one from the device. When using the [Reload All Presets From Device], the device preset definition takes the priority.

Presets defined in the computer but undefined in the device will not be overwritten or changed.

Update device presets

If running in Connected mode, the tool can update all presets in the device using the current definition from the computer.

If values for a particular preset are different in the computer and the device, the one in the device will be overwritten with the one from the computer. When using the [Update All Presets To Device], the computer preset definition takes the priority.

For presets defined in the computer with ranges incompatible with the device, the preset will be ignored and not sent to the device.

Import / Export presets

Presets defined in a computer can be saved to and restored from Preset export files. These files allows to share preset definitions among teams or colleagues, can be sent by email or shared apps, and can also be used to replicate in different computers.

To export presets, use the [Export Presets to File…] and select a file name. This file can be shared, stored for backup, etc.

To import presets from a file into the current session, use the [Import Presets from File…]. The file will add any new preset to the computer session. To upload the imported presets into a device, use the [Update All Presets To Device] after import completes.


MacIcon

RF Explorer Preset Manager for Mac

Installing and using the Preset Manager in Mac is a simple task.

Install Instructions:

  1. Install USB drivers and Mono as documented in this article
  2. Download the RF Explorer Preset Manager from the download page
  3. Run the software from the package, or better drag it to the dock or the Applications container
  4. Make sure the software is Authorized for use in MacOS Sierra or newer versions: You may need to authorize the application explicitly in your system. To do so, go to Security & Privacy panel in System Preferences, then hit the Allow or Enable option.

LinuxIcon

RF Explorer Preset Manager for Linux

The specific version for Linux run with mono. It is tested and supported in Ubuntu 64bits v16.04 using Mono 4.x, it should work fine in any modern distro using a recent stable version of Mono.

Install Instructions:

  1. Download and install Mono for your Linux distro from Mono project website
  2. Add your linux user to the dialup group, otherwise may not be able to open the USB port. For instance this command will do it in Ubuntu/Debian: 
    sudo adduser <my_user> dialout
  3. Download and copy RF Explorer Preset Manager for Linux executable, you can locate it anywhere in your computer.
  4. Connect your RF Explorer spectrum analyzer to the USB port. Only Combo and Plus models are supported.
  5. Run the tool with
    mono RFEPresetManagerLinux.exe

Note: use regular Linux login, not root or superuser, otherwise configuration files will not be stored in the home folder correctly.