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AirMagnet breaks new ground in wireless spectrum analysis

Craig Mathias | March 25, 2014
Everyone needs a Wi-Fi spectrum analyzer, but there are times when analyzing cellular spectrum is also essential. Fluke Networks' new AirMagnet Spectrum ES provides a broad range of capability at a very attractive price. Spectral analysis, a longstanding fixture in electronics and manufacturing test, and, more recently as a valuable tool for understanding coverage, interference, and other elements of Wi-Fi, is the art and science of extracting meaning and insight from wireless systems at Layer 1 -- radio waves.

Everyone needs a Wi-Fi spectrum analyzer, but there are times when analyzing cellular spectrum is also essential. Fluke Networks' new AirMagnet Spectrum ES provides a broad range of capability at a very attractive price.Spectral analysis, a longstanding fixture in electronics and manufacturing test, and, more recently as a valuable tool for understanding coverage, interference, and other elements of Wi-Fi, is the art and science of extracting meaning and insight from wireless systems at Layer 1 — radio waves.

A spectrum analyzer tool examines this energy, reporting frequency, amplitude, and, depending upon mission and implementation, a host of additional information invaluable to troubleshooting and performance analysis.

This functionality is often required by technicians working with and for the cellular carriers to verify the performance of femtocells, picocells, and microcells (all of these are installed indoors), understand coverage issues with distributed antenna systems (DAS), check in-building cellular penetration, and even look at co-channel and adjacent channel interference, including potential intentional jammers.

These spectrum analyzers, however, have historically been highly specialized and typically cost tens of thousands of dollars.

But with the introduction of the Fluke Networks AirMagnet Spectrum ES, anyone requiring spectral analysis from 698 to 2690 MHz. can have a very comprehensive, yet highly useable tool, at a very reasonable price.

The product itself is packaged as a USB adapter with an associated external antenna that is about as big as the USB adapter itself. A USB extension cable and Velcro strips are included for mounting both on a Windows-based PC — we used a Lenovo S210 Touch notebook running Windows 8.1. Installation is mostly easy —  a product ID, serial number, and security key data must be entered at AirMagnet's support site.

The product can then be downloaded, but all of the above information must be entered again during setup. Other than that minor irritation, getting up and running is straightforward — plan on about 15 minutes to complete the process. The User Guide and Release Notes are up to AirMagnet's usual high standards, both very informative and easy to follow.

Upon launching the application (we used version 1.0.2), the user is presented with a Project Wizard that allows you to select specific parameters related to analyzing by technology (GSM, UMTS, LTE, etc.), by carrier (a database of carriers is included; just select your location, and it's even possible to zoom in on specific carrier frequency blocks), just the 900 MHz. band, all bands, or a custom configuration.

Spectral data is displayed in a number of user-selectable formats; FFT and spectrogram will be familiar to anyone with a background in spectral analysis, and are usually good places to start regardless. But the program is very easy to use overall and encourages exploration. There's even an Interferer/Device Locator function that's analogous to this capability found in many Wi-Fi spectrum analyzers.

 

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