Article

 

 

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 Touch - User Manual

TouchScreen  

User manual updated to version 1.3.1907


Main menu

The main menu is designed in a easy to use, hierarchical layout on the right-side of the device screen as depicted in below screen.

CW Signal example

Amplitude Menu

Use this menu option to set visual amplitude in spectrum analyzer graph.

Top

Set visual top value for amplitude axis in analyzer graph.

Bottom

Set visual bottom value for amplitude axis in analyzer graph.

Offset

Set Amplitude offset value in dB to compensate the signal shown in analyzer graph, to adjust for external attenuation or gain.

Back

Return to main menu.

Frequency Menu

Use this menu option to set device frequency.

Center

Set center frequency into device. Start/Stop frequency will be recalculated.

Span

Set span (or range) frequency into device

Start

Set start frequency into device. Center frequency will be recalculated.

Stop

Set higher frequency range into device. Center/Start frequency will be recalculated.

Offset

Set device offset frequency in MHz. Use this to compensate for external mixer or frequency converter device.

Back

Return to main menu.

Mode Menu

Use this menu option to choose between different operational mode such as Spectrum Analyzer or Power Channel. Spectrum Analyzer mode is the enabled by default upon application start.

Marker Menu

Use this menu option to configure markers. For more details see section “Markers”.

Back

Return to main menu and current visual mode (such as Spectrum Analyzer).

File Menu

Use this menu option to load or save a file. For more details see section “Files”.

Load…

Load RFE data file.

Save…

Save RFE data file.

Save CSV…

Save file in comma separated values format.

Back

Return to main menu and current visual mode (such as Spectrum Analyzer).

Config Menu

Use this menu option to set display, device and file configuration. For more details see section “Config Screen”.

Display

Configuration for visual parameters of spectrum analyzer graph.

Device

Device configuration parameters. Any settings changed will be sent from application to device.

File

Data file configuration parameters.

Back

Return to main menu and current visual mode (such as Spectrum Analyzer).

Presets Menu

Use this menu option to load, save or delete a preset. For more details see section “Presets”.

Connect

Use this menu option to connect the RF Explorer device.

  • For handheld devices connected to a computer, it will automatically connect to the Spectrum Analyzer device if it is the only USB device connected. Otherwise, if there is no connected device or multiple devices are found, it will open a dialog to help user select the right device.
    • In Windows computers, it will display ports with names such as COM3, COM10, etc.
    • In MacOS and Linux computers, it will display ports with names such as USB0, USB5, etc
  • For Raspberry IoT device it will connect to the module directly. This button will be disabled for IoT module if it is already connected, but will be enabled when a file has been loaded.

For specifics, check Release Notes document.

Full Screen

Use this menu option to maximize spectrum analyzer graph. This can be achieved by touch or single click inside spectrum analyzer graph. Note the specific button is only available for Windows version.

Trace

Use this option to go into display configuration directly.

Exit

Use this option to exit application.

Specifically for Raspberry Pi board, the system will automatically shut down.


Spectrum Analyzer screen

CW signal

The main screen includes standard spectrum analyzer graph with captured data from RF Explorer handheld analyzer or IoT module and the right-side menu with all options to use the application easily.

The data screen is a high speed data representation of Spectrum Analyzer Frequency vs Amplitude. The X axis represents frequency in MHZ and Y axis display actual received power in dBm, dBuV or Watt (selectable).

Touch Labels

TouchAreas RPi

Some parameters can be easily configured by screen touch or click marked with red areas in picture above.

Press each of these regions to change:

  • Amplitude Top/Bottom – change with numeric dialog
  • Start/Center/Stop frequency – change with numeric dialog
  • Graph title – set current preset. Note this is not available for Full Screen mode

Configuration Screen

Display

Display Options

Fill Trace

Display a filled area in all signal shapes except Realtime signal.

Smooth

Use soft splines to join data sweep points in order to present a calculated soft curve

Thick Trace

Display trace with extra width

Show Grid

Show grid inside spectrum analyzer graph

Axis Labels

Display coordinate axes text (Amplitude and Frequency) and its units.

Dark Mode

Set a black background skin, closer to desktop instruments and easier to read in certain environments.

Realtime

Raw data as captured with no post-processing.

Average

Arithmetic media of all the last iterations sampled.

Max Peak

Maximum value of all the last iterations sampled.

Max Hold

Maximum value of all captured samples regardless Iterations value.

Minimum

Minimum value of all the last iterations sampled.

Iterations

The number of sweep data iterations to perform calculations on including Average and MaxPeak.

Amplitude Units

Select amplitude units between dBm, dBµV or Watt to display data in analyzer graph.

Device

Device Options

Enable Remote Max Hold Buffer

Enable this to increase chances of fast changing signal capture, such as WiFi. Disable for extra accurate signal capture.

Automatic LCD Off

Automatically switch the LCD off for faster updates and help increase LCD lifetime. This option only will be enabled for RF Explorer devices with screen (Not supported for RF Explorer IoT).

Automatic Amplitude Update

Use this option to force the RF Explorer device to update amplitude visual range, or disable for fast local updates with no need to remote updates. This option is only available for RF Explorer devices with embedded screen (Not supported for RF Explorer IoT).

Enable RF Connector

  • Left SMA: Use this option to enable remote device port on the left RF connector (Main board).
  • Right SMA: Use this option to enable remote device port on the right RF connector (Expansion board). (Not supported for RF Explorer IoT).

Input Stage

Select input stage to enable Direct, Attenuator or LNA (Only supported in PLUS models and IoT).

  • Direct Input: Low loss signal path to standard sensitivity, use for linear measurements up to -25dBm.
  • Attenuator 30 dB: Nominal wideband attenuator, use for linear measurement up to 0dBm.
  • LNA 25 dB: Low noise wideband preamplifier, use for linear measurements up to -40dBm.

Reinitialize Data Buffer

Internally re-initialize the MaxHold buffers used for cache data inside the RF Explorer device.

Sweep Points

Resolution data points for each captured sweep in spectrum analyzer device. This feature is currently supported in PLUS models and IoT only.

Supported values:

  • Windows, Linux and MacOS: 112, 240, 512 or 1024 points
  • Raspberry Pi: 112, 240, 432 or 1024 points

File

File Configuration

Save RFE Data File on Close

Save a RFE data file every time application is closed. If “Enable Continuous Log” option is enabled, this feature will be enabled automatically.

Enable

Enable continuous log to save RFE data or CSV files periodically in seconds as selected in “Auto Save Delay (s)” option. Also this option save a RFE data file in each configuration change in device and when application is closed.

Auto Save RFE Data

If “Enable” option checked, save a RFE data file every number of seconds selected in “Auto Save Delay (s)” option.

Auto Save CSV

If “Enable” option checked, save a CSV data file every number of seconds selected in “Auto Save Delay (s)” option.

Auto Save Delay (s)

Number of second for Auto-Save feature.

Auto Delete (Days)

Number of days for Auto-Delete old and unused files in user folder

Field Separator

Delimiter to use in for CSV file generation. Supported separators: Comma, Division, Semicolon, Space or Tabulator.

How to change application appearance

  1. In main menu, click on [Config]
  2. Click on [Display] button to see display options.
  3. Check or uncheck “Dark Mode” option.
  4. The software will change its appearance with a black theme or white theme including background screen.

     Dark Theme       Clear Theme

     config display dark       config display


Power Channel

Show power measured within channel defined by start/stop frequency.

Power Channel

Power Data Mode

Trace from which measurements are performed.

Channel Power

Power received in the frequency band represented in dBm and Watt units.

Channel Power Density

Represents how the signal power is distributed in dBm/Hz unit.

Channel Center

Center frequency of the channel in MHz unit.

Channel Bandwidth

Bandwidth of the channel in MHz unit.


Frequency and Amplitude configuration

Set frequency and amplitude values for device. This can be modified if RF Explorer device is connected only.

Change Frequency

Click on [Frequency] and click on desired parameter to set in device. (See “Main Menu” section for more details).

Span Frequency

Change Amplitude

Click on [Amplitude] and click on desired parameter to set in device. (See “Main Menu” section for more details).

Top Amplitude


Markers

Configuration parameters to display markers in spectrum analyzer graph and markers panel.

Markers

Overview:

  • Marker 1: It is special marker. It will search for peak trace point on screen and will track automatically. Therefore, frequency point for Marker 1 cannot be defined, will be dynamically updated by the application every sweep.
  • Markers 2 to 10: These markers are defined for a specific frequency point, and will show amplitude values for all enabled traces on that frequency.
  • Delta markers: This markers will be a reference of other marker, that is, it will be linked with a particular marker.

Main Marker ID

Marker Identification number. Check “Enable Marker” option to set a marker.

Frequency (MHz)

Marker frequency (Only allowed for markers 2 to 10).

Delta Marker ID

Delta Marker Identification number. Check “Enable Marker” option to set a delta marker.

Offset (MHz)

Frequency difference in MHz between delta marker and its reference marker.

Offset Locked

Enable a dynamic follow-up of the Delta ID to the Marker ID selected. It will follow the reference Marker if it changes position.

Track Marker 1

Define trace that marker 1 follow in visual representation

Marker 1 Peak Text

Show peak frequency and amplitude values for marker 1

Marker Panel

Show or hide markers panel to display visible markers table.

MarkerPanel

How to set up a peak marker

  1. Go to Marker menu.
  2. Select marker ID 1.
  3. Check “Enable Marker” option.
  4. In “Track Marker 1” options, click on [Real Time] button (Marker 1 will detect peaks in RealTime trace).
  5. Click on [Back] button to apply changes.

How to set up a manual marker

  1. Go to Marker menu.
  2. Select a marker ID from 2 to 10.
  3. Check “Enable Marker” option.
  4. Set frequency for selected marker, such as 1250Mhz
  5. Click on [Back] button to apply changes.

How to set up a Delta marker

  1. Go to Marker menu
  2. To define a Marker Delta, you first need a standard marker enabled. As an example, enable Marker 1, we will use it as Delta marker later.
  3. Increase “Main Marker ID” to go to Marker 2, enable it at any arbitrary frequency.
  4. Set “Delta Marker ID” to 1 and check “Enable Marker”.
  5. At this point, Marker 2 is linked to Marker 1 and will display Delta calculations automatically
  6. Define offset in MHz you want Marker 2 to be from Marker 1. For instance, set it to 100 MHz. Changing the offset will redefine position for Marker 2 based on current position of Marker 1.
  7. Click on [Back] button to apply changes.

Notes:

  • Special Marker 1 can be Delta Marker of any other, but it cannot have associated any Delta Marker by Offset. The reason for this is Marker 1 works as auto-peak therefore cannot be defined as reference of any other.
  • Markers defined by Offset use the value at the time of Marker definition, but does not update or keep that offset fixed if the Delta Marker changes frequency. For instance if you define Marker 5 at an offset of 5MHz of Marker 1, and marker 1 is currently at 100MHz, then Marker 5 will be located at 105MHz. If Marker 1 moves to a different frequency later, Marker 5 will remain at 105MHz, you can see the current frequency offset any time in the marker display panel.
  • Future upgrades will allow for optional dynamic markers where offset will be locked so Main Marker absolute frequency value can change accordingly to the Delta Marker.

Presets are predefined configuration stored by name in the application to easily recall commonly used setups. Parameters persisted are frequency, amplitude, enabled traces and markers.

Note: For handheld models, these presets in the application are not the same presets as can be defined inside the device. A future version will include and help to coordinate both kinds: application and device presets.

Presets

Load

Action option to load stored preset values into current configuration.

Note: Load Presets only will be effective while device is capturing data, not when a file has been loaded.

Save

Action option to save current configuration into the selected preset. This option cannot be undone, care should be taken to not overwrite another valid preset.

Delete

Remove selected preset configuration. “Default” preset cannot be deleted.

Back

Return to main menu and current visual mode (Such as Spectrum Analyzer).

How to create a new preset

  1. Set device configuration to store as frequency, amplitude, traces and markers.
  2. Go to “Presets” menu.
  3. Click on edit box and type a name for this preset.
  4. Click on [Save]

Files

Contain different actions for files as Load, Save RFE data and Save CSV.

  • RFE data files are binary, compact data files with multiple sweeps. These files are compatible with RF Explorer for Windows.
  • CSV data files can capture a single trace and can be used to share data to external applications such as WWB, Excel, Matlab or IAS.

Load file

To load RFE file, go to File -> Load… and select desired file navigating through directories. Click on [Load] button to finish action.

Load File

Save file

To save RFE file, go to File -> Save… and select desired directory to store file, typing a name for it. Click on [Save] button to finish action.

Save File

Save CSV file

To save single CSV file, go to File -> Save CSV… and select desired directory to store file, typing a name for it. Click on [Save] button to finish action.

This action only supports save CSV files with one trace enabled.

Save CSV file


Virtual Touch Keyboards

Numeric Keyboard

NumericKeyboard

This keyboard will appear when application require numeric data. When available, a physical keyboard can be used to edit numeric value as well.

  • [X]: Close keyboard ignoring changes.
  • [<DEL]: Delete a left digit from current cursor position.
  • [CLEAR]: Remove all text in edit box.
  • [dBm], [-dBm], [dBµV], [Watt]: Validate inserted data in the specific units. Other configurations may show GHz, MHz, KHz, etc.

Note: Validation buttons will change depending on parameter to modify.

Alphanumeric Keyboard

AlphaKeyboard

This keyboard will appear when application require text information. When available, a physical keyboard can be used to edit alphanumeric value as well.

  • [CLEAR]: Remove all text in edit box.
  • [ESC]: Close keyboard ignoring changes.
  • [CAPS]: Type with capital letters.
  • [<DEL]: Delete a left character from current cursor position.
  • [DONE]: Close keyboard saving typed text.
  • [<]: Move cursor to the left.
  • [>]: Move cursor to the right.

Advanced Configuration

Some advanced configuration settings are available for expert users tune-up. This should be modified only if you are comfortable changing XML files and understanding XML syntax.

The advanced configuration parameters are stored in file RFETouch.xml. This file can be found in following locations depending on OS:

  • Windows platforms: %APPDATA%\RFExplorer
  • MacOS platforms: /User/<Username>/.RFE
  • Linux platforms: <Home>/.RFE

Only these parameters below should be modified, other RFETouch.xml configuration parameters should not be modified. Note incorrect file update may damage XML structure or values and may lead to configuration loss. It is advisable to backup the RFETouch.xml before any modification is made.

Parameter

Default

Values

Description

IsIOTModule

true

true/false

Use true for IoT module, or false for Handheld Analyzer. This setting is set by default to true in Raspberry Pi SDCard image files, and false otherwise

ShutdownRPiOnCloseApp

true

true/false

Use true to shutdown Linux when RFETouch is closed, other case set to false. This setting is set by default to true in Raspberry Pi SDCard image files, and false otherwise

IoTPortName

/dev/ttyAMA0

/dev/ttyAMA0
/dev/ttyS0

For Raspberry Pi only: Set serial port name either as /dev/ttyAMA0 or /dev/ttyS0 depending on UART configuration (useful in Raspberry Pi 4B). This parameter is ignored for USB devices, only RF Explorer IoT module is affected by this setting in a Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Pi: How to disable RFETouch auto-start:

In SDCard images provided for Raspberry Pi, the RFETouch application is configured to automatically start after the Raspbian GUI is loaded. If you want to disable this behavior and load RFETouch manually, locate the autostart configuration file which may be in one of the following locations, depending on Raspberry Pi model:

  • /home/pi/.config/lxsession/LXDE-pi/autostart
  • /etc/xdg/lxsession/LXDE-pi/autostart

Edit this file using <sudo nano> or equivalent editor as superuser, and remove this line:

  • @lxterminal -e sudo /home/pi/RFExplorer/RFETouch

RF Explorer Touch

TouchScreen

RF Explorer Touch is a multiplatform software designed to connect Computers and Touch Tablets to RF Explorer devices.

The simplified interface and normalized operation across all products and platforms easily speed up learning curve and increase capabilities of your favourite RF Explorer Spectrum Analyzer.

RF Explorer Touch User Manual is available here.

For specifics of each platform please visit each section below:

 

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.