Most of the RF work I do is in the 902-928MHz ISM band. I have lots of RF test gear, but concluded that I really only need a few pieces and found that great bargains can be had by purchasing and re-purposing surplus cellular test equipment on eBay. Some cellular gear includes general purpose RF test capability and this has allowed me to equip my lab at a tiny fraction of the cost of comparable new general purpose equipment:
- Update Oct 2020: small gear that I can use at my desk often gets more use than fancy lab gear that takes up too much space. I bought a TPI-1005 RF USB-powered signal generator/analyzer and love it. What distinguishes this from the toy signal generators widely found from China is that it is calibrated and accurate. What distinguishes it from lab gear is harmonic suppression (or lack thereof). However, it is an incredibly handy tool, compact, and reasonably inexpensive. You can generate signals on frequency with precise amplitude, measure signal strength, and sweep antennas and filters.
- Update Apr 2018: Last year I added an IFR/Marconi AN1830 22GHz spectrum analyzer (late 1990s vintage) and 2.5GHz 2025 signal generator to the lab. The signal generator has proven surprisingly useful and the main benefit of the SA over the Anritsu MS8609 is its tracking generator. I’ve also added a separate page on the frequency counters I use.
- Update Feb 2016: An Anritsu MT8222A now serves as my primary RF development tool (see datasheet). It is another device meant for cellular base station service, but it includes an even richer set of features than my prior favorite E7495 (below). Most importantly, the MT8222A includes VNA capability! It also provides a spectrum analyzer that covers 100kHz through 7.1GHz with decent specs and provides a broad set of 1 and 2-port swept gain/loss analysis tools for cable and antenna analysis from 10MHz-4GHz. It is significantly smaller and much lighter than the E7495A and the battery works! At some point I need to try it with Anritsu Handheld Software Tools or Master Software Tools. I use it with an Anritsu PSN50 power sensor (50MHz-6GHz) for high accuracy (0.16dB) measurements (see datasheet). Unfortunately it has no CW/AM/FM/FSK signal generation capability although obviously the hardware is capable.
- Although I still like it and it probably is one of the best values in RF gear, an Agilent E7495B now serves as my backup development tool and has been largely supplanted by the MT8222A above. It has a nice big color LCD display, pleasant user interface, and includes: a 2.7GHz spectrum analyzer, CW signal generator, 1-port and 2-port swept gain/loss analyzer, power meter, and cable tester; I ignore the rest of the cellular test functions. It is modern, quiet, and takes up the same bench footprint as a modern scope. The specs are not lab grade but they are good enough for most purposes. See the datasheet. How folks can sell
- A lab-grade 10GHz spectrum analyzer is needed to measure harmonic compliance prior to FCC testing. I use an Anritsu MS8609A (13+GHz) which is not quite as good as the best HP gear, but is fairly modern and more than good enough for my needs; it includes a bonus power meter. Mine has a rubidium frequency standard too so I can slave my other gear when high frequency accuracy is needed. See the datasheet.