It's all about testing
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X-COM grabs, analyzes RF spectrum
 

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Jim Taber, director of sales and marketing at X-COM Systems about the company’s new IQC5000A Series RF Spectrum Capture and Playback System and its Spectro-X Software 4.0, which is used for finding signals of interest in complex spectral environments. Key applications include co-channel/ MIMO, multiband, and geospatial, covering signals intelligence (SIGINT), electronic intelligence (ELINT), and covert surveillance, as well as commercial and defense spectrum management, and radar and wireless system testing. The IQC5000A can record and play back one or two independent channels of RF signal activity up to 160 MHz in bandwidth captured at frequencies from HF through millimeter wavelengths. It operates from either 120/240 VAC or 12 VDC, making it suited for use in the field as well as bench top and laboratory environments.


 
Designers need to capture RF streaming for two basic reasons: investigate anomalies and stress test/margin test designs during the development process. Traditional limitations of RF streaming capture tools usually include capture memory and trigger rearm times. "Signals of interest, whether interference or stray emissions, are not always easy to capture with traditional tools,” says Taber. So, X-COM’s development teams set about building a tool and software that would provide designers with high-performance signal capture. For engineers working in public safety, land/mobile radio, and military/aerospace applications, where the penalty for failure is very high, high-performance signal capture and analysis equipment is critical.

Here are the key specs for the IQC5000A:

Signal capture and replay
Memory
Single and dual channels

An optional interface box can stream to a RAID array. Basic functions can be controlled locally from the front panel and via a PC, laptop, or workstation via Ethernet LAN. Firmware within the IQC5000A controls the entire system, from the vector signal analyzers at its input through the vector signal generator at its output.

It’s also noteworthy that this unit is 80% smaller (measuring 12 x 3.5 x 10.5 in. and weighing less than 10 lb), 90% lower power, and 50% lower in price than the company’s previous generation, model IQC-2110. As a result, the company lays claim to the industry’s smallest high-performance RF spectrum capture and playback system. How did they do it? Taber credits PCIe, Linux, and higher integration, both in the PC realm and in the X-COM design.

If you are wondering exactly how much spectrum can be captured and stored, the IQC5000A can internally store from 500 Gbytes to 2 Tbytes of signal capture data in removable solid-state drives, which provides dual-channel storage between 22 min. and 1.7 days depending on capture bandwidth. When configured using external storage up to 16 Tbytes, it can store from 2.7 hr. to 14 days of signal activity. All times are doubled for single-channel operation. You can also see the table below.




The X-COM Spectro-X Version 4, also released this week, adds multiple channels (multiple file analysis) and correlated, unlimited markers (that allow users to move through multiple domains).



The software allows users to search through the data set with on of four different search engines and you can export data into multiple formats that are compatible with signal analysis tools from Tektronix, Agilent, and Rohde & Schwarz. Using the Spectro-X RF Editor tool, users can drag and drop recorded files into tracks, and these waveforms can be stretched in time, clipped, upconverted, downconverted, attenuated, amplified, and then they can be summed together to form a composite file. The RF Editor also has a rather cool stitching capability, which allows you to identify events of interest and stitch them into a smaller file for post-processing.
 
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