Feeling Like You Can’t Keep Up with RF and Microwave Engineering? The Right Design & Testing Solution Just Might Help
When I was growing up, we had an old TV set with a rooftop antenna. Reception was always a problem. If you wanted a good picture, you had to adjust the vertical hold, and even then, the image would often start to shake. I was fascinated by the fact that you could transmit audio and video hundreds of kilometers through the air without any wires.
That was my introduction to the world of electronics. I started to take an interest in RF communication and circuit design. Before I knew it, I was building simple AM/FM transmitters as a hobby. As my interest continued to grow, I realized I could make a career of it, and now I'm working on becoming an RF and microwave engineer.
I graduated from the Vidyalankar Institute of Technology in 2017 with a Bachelor of Engineering Degree in Electronics and Telecommunications. I am currently a teaching assistant and research scholar at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mandi, where I am completing a MS (by Research) in Radio Frequency and Antenna Design.
I am privileged to be working in a branch of engineering that I love so much and very proud to be part of the international community of engineers doing RF research. This community is made up of people and resources that further my research. One of those resources is and their array of technologies that help me tackle tough engineering challenges. I first discovered the company during the final year of my Bachelor's degree.
Powering Up My Bench
In September 2017, Keysight launched the 22-week Power Up Your Bench contest to promote their series of triple-output power supplies. They invited researchers and engineers to submit applications explaining how they could use these new pieces of gear in their own work.
detailed the need for high-quality dual power supplies when designing differential and operational amplifiers. In many cases, engineers daisy-chain a pair of power supplies to create the needed output. However, this can damage both of the units, and can only generate equivalent positive and negative voltage values.
Keysight's E36312A offers programmable triple-outputs to power my radio transceivers and experimental amplifier circuits. It also features OVP, OCP, and OTP circuit protection, as well as load and line regulation, ripple-rejection, and noise-free operation to test my circuits under ideal conditions.
The judges were impressed with my use case, and I won the first week of the contest. It was the beginning of my working relationship with Keysight.
Testing RF Equipment in Real-World Conditions
I next used Keysight equipment at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore to test a QPSK transceiver in real-world conditions. We wanted to step away from the lab to see how the hardware worked in the field, so we couldn't bring bulky rack-mounted testing gear with us. RF spectrum analyzer put all of the functions of its bigger cousins into a battery-powered handheld unit.
It was not possible to perform these experiments indoors. We needed more distance to test the range of line-of-sight communications. I was literally sitting in an empty field hour after hour collecting measurements. Everything was automated, and I had very little to do, so I used FieldFox's built-in FM receiver to listen to music while I was gathering data.
The process was straightforward. We attached the FieldFox RF spectrum analyzer to our transmitter and monitored its frequencies, noise floor, and bandwidth. Unfortunately, we discovered that the circuit wasn't emitting any signals, so we had to redesign it.
Learning How to Simulate Circuits Through Video Tutorials
I started using (ADS) at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. It is a user-friendly software tool that allows me to simulate and design RF circuits before sitting down and soldering my physical prototypes. I used it to build an improved version of a simple RF power amplifier.
PathWave Advanced Design System (ADS) is part of the suite of electronic design automation software products called PathWave Design Software. Like any other engineering application, it has a bit of a learning curve. Fortunately, Keysight provides a series of that help new users like me get up and running in no time. The first of these covers the basics. Additional playlists explore RF and microwave circuit design, as well as signal and power integrity.
There are dozens of videos explaining almost every aspect of using PathWave Design Software. These online tutorials are especially helpful to me because they are extremely hands-on and tailored to visual learners like myself. I can click on a video, follow along, and apply the lesson in real time, which is the easiest way for me to acquire a new skill.
Discovering Three Tools in One Affordable Package
One of my favorite Keysight tools is the InfiniiVision 1000 X-Series digital storage oscilloscope. It is a real time and money saver that features a 2 GSa/s sampling rate, 500 uV/div amplitude scaling, high-resolution graphics, and a 20 MHz waveform generation function. Typically these capabilities are only available on higher-end equipment, but Keysight has brought them all together in an affordable package.
The DSOX1102G's frequency response analysis (FRA) feature combines a built-in waveform generator and an on-screen data-point plotter to test signals and record results at the push of a button. In the past, I needed three different pieces of equipment to set up this kind of test and half an hour to manually log the data collected. Now it takes less than two minutes.
I truly appreciate the way Keysight supports the RF and microwave engineering community by providing high-quality testing equipment and outstanding instructional resources. Here in India, this branch of engineering is the most feared subject in our colleges and universities. Students are intimidated because it requires advanced knowledge of physics and mathematics, and they feel that they don’t have what it takes to succeed in the field.
There's also the accelerating rate of technological change. It took years to go from 2G to 3G and LTE, and now we're looking at 5G and beyond. It feels like I'm hearing about another wireless breakthrough every other day. Is it any wonder that young people who are starting to explore the profession feel like they can’t keep up?
As an engineer, I have to think about what's coming next. Keysight is helping me—and others in my field—design and test the circuits that will power the wireless world of tomorrow.
Right now, I'm working on massive MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output) antennas to increase 5G throughput. Once I've completed my PhD, I'd like to teach and open up a research lab of my own. I want to push the boundaries of RF and microwave technology even further. I'd love to tell you what the future holds, but wireless technology is changing so fast that my answer will probably be out of date by the time you read this.