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A Vector Network Analyzer

Once only a lab instrument, today the prices are affordable for most hams.

The great thing about amateur construction projects is that it provides opportunities to learn about new things.  I was curious about a device called a VNA (Vector Network Analyzer) after Les Tocko VA7OM showed me his home-built VNA which he was using to tune up the triplexer, diplexer and bandpass filters currently under construction.   Here is what I learned from a Tektronix website.

Vector Network Analyzers are used to test component specifications and verify design simulations to make sure systems and their components work properly together.

From mobile phone networks, to Wi-Fi networks, to computer networks and the to the cloud, all of the most common technological networks of today were made possible using the Vector Network Analyzer that was first invented over 60 years ago.

R&D engineers and manufacturing test engineers commonly use VNAs at various stages of product development. Component designers need to verify the performance of their components such as amplifiers, filters, antennas, cables, mixers, etc.

Above: The NanoVNA, a very affordable instrument
Below: It can be connected via USB to your smart device or computer for
a larger screen and many additional functions

How does a VNA work?

A Vector Network Analyzer contains both a source, used to generate a known stimulus signal, and a set of receivers, used to determine changes to this stimulus caused by the device-under-test or DUT.

The stimulus signal is injected into the DUT and the Vector Network Analyzer measures both the signal that's reflected from the input side, as well as the signal that passes through to the output side of the DUT. The Vector Network Analyzer receivers measure the resulting signals and compare them to the known stimulus signal. The measured results are then processed by either an internal or external PC and sent to a display.

VNAs perform two types of measurements – transmission and reflection. Transmission measurements pass the Vector Network Analyzer stimulus signal through the device under test, which is then measured by the Vector Network Analyzer receivers on the other side.

Examples of transmission measurements include gain, insertion loss/ phase, electrical length/delay and group delay. Reflection measurements measure the part of the VNA stimulus signal that is incident upon the DUT, but does not pass through it. Instead, the reflection measurement measures the signal that travels back towards the source due to reflections.

It sounds like every serious amateur experimenter should own one of these devices.  While most of the available devices are expensive lab quality instruments usable at microwave frequencies, many are affordable and suitable for amateur use at HF. 

Next month, we will feature an article describing Les VA7OM’s VNA and reflection bridge, and how he used them to tune up the triplexer, diplexer and bandpass filters. 

~ John VA7XB


NOTE: We are currently offering a series on the practical use of the Nano VNA for Amateurs. See the 2021 Communicator issues on this blog.

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