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The Design of an Economical Antenna Gain and Radiation Pattern Measurement System

Brandon C. Brown, Fr d ric G. Goora and Chris D. Rouse e e

University of New Brunswick Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada {brandon.brown, f.goora, chris.rouse}

AbstractThe design of a system capable of making antenna gain and radiation pattern measurements at 2.4 GHz is presented. System performance based on component specications is summarized and compared to measured data. Antenna measurements taken using the system are compared to those obtained using commercially available test equipment in an anechoic test chamber. The accuracy of the system is found to be 0.5 dB within a dynamic range of 13 dB plus the gains of the antennas in use. The system is shown to be capable of making high quality antenna radiation pattern measurements in an anechoic test chamber. For a total cost of less than $1 300, the system presents an economical alternative to more sophisticated microwave measurement systems, and is well suited for use in a learning environment.

II. S YSTEM OVERVIEW A block diagram of the antenna measurement system is shown in Fig. 1. The RF source consists of a dual-output frequency synthesizer. One of the outputs is connected directly to a transmit (Tx) antenna; ltering is not required since the transmit antenna is assumed to be narrowband and designed for operation at 2.4 GHz. The other output is passed to the detector in the receiver stage via xed RF attenuation. The signal received by the antenna under test (AUT) is amplied by a low noise amplier (LNA) and is band-pass ltered (BPF). Signal detection is achieved using a gain detector. This device generates an analog voltage proportional to the gain in dB of the signals present at its two inputs. The voltage output of the detector is digitized by a microcontroller for processing. The microcontroller provides a GUI which can be accessed via Ethernet connection to a laptop. In response to user commands, the microcontroller exercises control of the RF source and a stepper motor which is used to rotate the AUT by means of a belt drive assembly.
Tx RF Source AUT LNA BPF Detector Stepper Motor Gain Microcontroller Attenuator Frequency Control
Fig. 1. System block diagram

I. I NTRODUCTION Developing an understanding of antenna properties is essential for anyone hoping to pursue a career in wireless systems. Perhaps the most important property is antenna gain as it strongly impacts the range of a wireless link. Antenna gain is achieved by directing radio frequency (RF) energy more favorably in some directions than others. Consequently, an antenna gain specication is often accompanied by a radiation pattern. Due to the prohibitive costs associated with commercial antenna test equipment, it is impractical for large groups of students to gain handson experience in making antenna measurements. This motivates the development of a system which is capable of making such measurements with an accuracy of 0.5 dB and which can be easily reproduced for less than $1 500 in cost. This paper presents the design of a system which is capable of measuring the gain and radiation pattern of an antenna in accordance with these specications. Commercial off the shelf (COTS) components have been specied such that the system can be easily reproduced. The antenna radiation pattern measurement is fully automated and antenna gain is measured using the three antenna method [1]. A graphical user interface (GUI) accessed on a laptop provides user control over the system. The system is used to characterize a set of COTS antennas, as well as an antenna which has been custom-built using a Pringles can. This form of antenna is colloquially referred to as a cantenna and is reported to exhibit upwards of 12 dBi of gain [2].


III. H ARDWARE D ESCRIPTION A photograph depicting the hardware associated with the system is shown in Fig. 2. The following subsections describe the RF and electrical details associated with each hardware component.

E. Band-Pass Filter (BPF) The input to the BPF is connected directly to the output of the LNA. The MiniCircuits VBF-2435+ BPF operates with a center frequency of 2435 MHz and a bandwidth of 190 MHz. The insertion loss at 2.4 GHz is approximately 2 dB, resulting in an output power level of approximately -40 dBm with 0 dBi antennas. The output of the BPF is fed to one input of the gain detector through a short length of coaxial cable. F. Attenuator The other output of the ADF4360-0 is connected to an attenuation stage through a short cable exhibiting 0.5 dB of loss. The attenuation stage consists of a 6 dB attenuator (MiniCircuits VAT-6+) followed by a 20 dB attenuator (MiniCircuits VAT-20+). As a result, a -29.5 dBm signal is fed to the other input of the gain detector. G. Detector The detector consists of the Analog Devices AD8302 evaluation board. The AD8302 is an RF/IF Gain and Phase detector which is capable of operating up to 2.7 GHz and offers a nominal gain sensitivity of 30 mV/dB [4]. Note that the gain is measured between inputs INPA and INPB. The power at INPB acts as the reference level for the gain calculation. The device responds to signals between 0 dBm and 60 dBm, consequently the optimal reference power level at INPB is 30 dBm which coincides with the 29.5 dBm delivered from the attenuation stage. The linearity error at 2.2 GHz is specied as 0.5 dB for a dynamic range of 51 dB [4]. Consequently, the power level appearing at INPA should range between -4 dBm and -55 dBm. For antennas with 0 dBi of gain, the power level at INPA is -40 dBm, setting the minimum dynamic range at 15 dB. Choosing a relatively highgain transmit antenna results in a exible system capable of measuring many different types of AUTs with accuracy. The output voltage of the AD8302 is fed to a 10-bit analog to digital converter (ADC) on the microcontroller. Since the ADC uses a 3.3 V reference voltage, the expected equation relating the gain between INPA and INPB and the ADC result is shown in Equation 1, where D is the value reported by the ADC between 0 and 1023, and G is the gain measured between INPA and INPB in dB. G = 0.1075D 30 (1)

Fig. 2.

System hardware as mounted on 12x20 MDF board.

A. RF Source The RF source consists of the Analog Devices ADF43600 evaluation board. The ADF4360-0 is an integrated frequency synthesizer and voltagecontrolled oscillator, capable of generating crystalreferenced complementary microwave signals over a frequency range of 2.4 GHz to 2.725 GHz [3]. Both the frequency and power level of the 50 outputs are adjusted by updating control registers serially from the microcontroller. Upon startup, the frequency is set to 2.4 GHz and the power level is set to -3 dBm. During a measurement, the frequency is swept from 2.4 GHz to 2.45 GHz in ten discrete steps; see Section III-G1 for details. B. Transmit Antenna One of the outputs of the ADF4360-0 is fed to the transmit antenna via 2.8 m of RG-316 coaxial cable. The loss associated with this length of cable is approximately 4 dB. Consequently, the transmitted power is -7 dBm. The antenna is mounted 0.9 m above the table top on a xed wooden stand to minimize perturbation of the electromagnetic elds. The transmit antenna should exhibit an input VSWR of 2:1 or less from 2.4 GHz to 2.45 GHz. It should also exhibit exhibit 5 dBi10dBi of gain in order to improve the dynamic range of the detector. C. Antenna Under Test (AUT) The AUT is mounted 0.9 m above the table top on the antenna positioning system. In order to ensure that all measurements are made in the far eld, the AUT is placed at least 1.25 m from the transmit antenna. The associated free-space path loss is approximately 42 dB. Neglecting antenna gains, the received power is -49 dBm. The AUT should exhibit an input VSWR of 2:1 or less from 2.4 GHz to 2.45 GHz. D. Low Noise Amplier (LNA) The output of the AUT is fed to the LNA via 2 m of RG316 coaxial cable which results in a loss of approximately 3 dB. The MiniCircuits ZX60-272LN+ LNA operates from 2.3 GHz to 2.7 GHz and provides a gain of 14 dB. Consequently, the output power of the amplier is approximately -38 dBm with 0 dBi antennas.

1) Phase Sensitivity: Gain measurements made by the AD8302 are highly phasesensitive. Since the ADF4360-0 produces phasecoherent and frequencylocked signals, the detector output uctuates sinusoidally about the true gain measurement as a function of the electrical path length difference between signals fed to INPA and INPB. Therefore, the frequency of the ADF4360-0 is swept from 2.4 GHz to 2.45 GHz in ten discrete steps during a measurement, effectively sweeping the electrical path length difference. Averaging the set of results suppresses the phase-sensitivity of the detector and yields a proper gain measurement.

H. Microcontroller The microcontroller consists of the Making Things Make Controller Kit (MCK). The MCK features a 10-bit ADC with a 3.3 V reference which is used to digitize the output voltage from the AD8302. There are 8 high-current digital outputs: four outputs are congured to drive the stepper motor in a bipolar conguration, three outputs are used to communicate serially with the ADF4360-0, and one remains as a spare. The MCK also features both mini-USB and Ethernet interfaces. An Ethernet cable is connected from the Ethernet port on the MCK to the laptop to enable GUI access. I. Stepper Motor The Portescap 42L048D1U stepper motor is used to drive the antenna positioning system. The motor is powered by 5 V and features an angular resolution of 7.5 . An external gear ratio of 7.5 increases torque and results in an angular resolution of 1 . Although the motor is unipolar, it is driven by the microcontroller in a bipolar conguration to reduce current requirements. J. Power Considerations The Power One MPB125-4350G switching power supply provides power to the system. The supply is rated for 125 W and offers a variety of DC voltage outputs: 3.3 V, 5 V and 12 V. The 5 V line powers the LNA, microcontroller and gain detector, while the RF source is powered by the 12 V line. The other lines are available for future expansion. The power supply requires a minimum load of 5 W in order to achieve proper load regulation. While a simple power resistor would be sufcient, a small light bulb was chosen for both aesthetic and practical reasons; anechoic test chambers tend to be poorly lit and the light bulb proved helpful when making measurements. 1) Powering the Microcontroller: Both the stepper motor and the microcontroller run from the same power source. The stepper motor is intended to be driven with 5 V, however the rst stage of regulation on the MCK species an input voltage of 6 V to 24 V to operate properly. In order to power both devices from the regulated 5 V output of the power supply, the rst regulation stage is bypassed by directly connecting the power supply lines to the power pins of the miniUSB interface on the MCK. Refer to Section VI-E for details. IV. S OFTWARE D ESCRIPTION The MCK is open source and has the ability to run freeRTOS, which is an open source realtime operating system. The following subsections summarize software development. Refer to the documented code listing for additional details. A. Development Environment The mcbuilder integrated development environment (IDE) is freely available and used for compiling and uploading the project to the MCK. The MCK uses the C programming language. All of the code required to compile the freeRTOS is hidden to simplify software development.

B. Graphical User Interface (GUI) Since the operating system includes an Internet Protocol (IP) stack, the MCK has the ability to send data over any IP based network. With the functionality of a simple web server provided by Making Things , a web page was created and is stored on the microcontroller. The MCK serves the web page to a laptop or webenabled device upon request. Although the controller is programmed in C, the web page is written using the JavaScript, CSS and HTML programming languages. A website was chosen over a dedicated application as websites have better portability across many operating systems. By using Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX), data is able to be loaded in the background without causing a page reload which results in a user interface with the feel of an application. In addition, the use of the experimental HTML5 specication allows the radiation pattern to be generated algorithmically using JavaScript. Upon request by the webenabled device, the web server on the microcontroller responds by transmitting a character array containing the web page. Due to the limited resources of the microcontroller, the number of characters used to implement the website was minimized. The user can begin taking measurements once the web page is displayed. When a button is pressed on the website, a special function makes a background request for other web pages. The microcontroller will take action based on which background web page was requested. When the controller closes the connection after transmitting the requested data, the web client detects that the transfer is complete. Actions such as displaying data, performing calculations or drawing the radiation pattern are then completed by the web client. An example of the user interface after a full set of measurements is shown in Fig. 3. C. Functional Description Upon startup, the MCK programs the synthesizer to produce a 2.4 GHz tone using a customized serial communication protocol. The web server routes corresponding to the various user input commands are then dened. Each route denes an action that the MCK is required to take. Once initialization is complete, the microcontroller enters its normal mode of operation and waits for a page request. When the user accesses the GUI, the MCK will respond by sending a large static character array which holds all the required information. When a measurement is requested by the user, the web server determines which function handler to call. The following subsections discuss the web server route function handlers. 1) WebsiteHandler(. . . ): When called, this function simply returns a static character array containing the website. The MCK no longer takes any action, the GUI is initialized and rendered by the webenabled device. 2) dataQuery(. . . ): When a gain measurement is requested, the MCK initiates a sweep of the synthesizer output frequency. At each discrete frequency point, 32 ADC readings are averaged. The resulting ten measurement results are then averaged to produce the phaseinsensitive result. Refer to Section III-G1 for further details. The measurement result is converted to a

Based on these criteria, a positioning system of primarily wooden construction was selected. The positioner requires a turntable such that the base remains static while the platform above it is capable of rotation. This was accomplished through the use of a Lazy Susan bearing (LS). A threaded rod shaft is xed to the upper platform and extends through the middle of the LS and the lower platform. A large timing pulley is xed to the end of the shaft allowing the turntable to be driven by a stepper motor via a belt drive assembly (BDA). A photograph of the completed BDA installed on the underside of the lower platform is shown in Fig. 4.

Fig. 3. A screen shot of the user interface showing a complete set of measurements.

gain value in accordance with Equation 2 and is returned to the GUI. The GUI is responsible for any further calculations, such as compensating for freespace path loss and computing antenna gains. 3) reCalibrate(. . . ): Pressing the calibrate button on the GUI will trigger this function. The MCK assumes a 20 dB attenuator is connected between the antenna feed cables and adjusts the offset term in Equation 2 accordingly. 4) radiationTest(. . . ): This function is similar to dataQuery(. . . ) with the addition of triggering the stepper motor between each successive measurement. Data is returned to the GUI as it is taken, which eliminates the need for a large storage array in the MCK and ensures continuous data transfer. Once the MCK has completed the tests, the socket connection to the user is closed, which indicates to the GUI that the measurement has nished. The GUI then displays the radiation pattern while the MCK rotates the antenna positioning system in reverse to unwind the antenna feed cable. 5) moveHandler(. . . ): A web route has been dened which accepts an argument that allows the user to specify how many degrees (and in which direction) the antenna positioning system is to be rotated. See Section VII-F for operation instructions. V. A NTENNA P OSITIONING S YSTEM The primary considerations the positioner were: ease of integration with a motor and impact on the quality of RF associated with the design of manufacturing, assembly and belt drive assembly, minimal measurements, and low cost.

Fig. 4.

A photo of the underside of the lower platform.

The BDA uses a single timing belt to couple the threaded rod shaft to the small timing pulley on the motor shaft. Due to challenges associated with attaching the drive shaft to the upper platform at its exact center of rotation, a tension assembly was required. The belt drive tension assembly (BDTA) ensures that sufcient tension is applied to the timing belt which mitigates slip in the BDA. The entire assembly is mounted underneath the lower platform. Refer to Section VI for assembly instructions. Due to variations in antenna geometries a universal mounting solution is not practical. A slot was cut into the tops of the antenna stands to permit insertion of PCBtype antennas. Other antennas may be mounted through the use of clamps and/or non-metallic adhesive tape. Note that the antennas must not be so large or heavy that the antenna positioning system is overloaded. Due to the dynamic nature of the positioner, the user must not permit the antenna feed cable to become snagged by the rotating platform.

VI. A SSEMBLY For practical reasons, all structural dimensions in this section are given in imperial units. A. Antenna Positioning System The antenna positioning system is comprised of a static lower assembly and rotating upper platform assembly. A LS is used as the rotary joint between the two platforms. 1) Upper Platform: A 1x1x1 piece of wood forms the base of the upper platform. Note that the use of a drill press for all required drilling is recommended to ensure that holes are square to the assembly. Drill the holes as indicated in Fig. 5. Note that the middle 3/8 hole is at the center of the base.

Fig. 5.

Drill hole locations for upper platform

Fig. 6. Bottom platform showing mitred edges, stepper motor notch, and eyelet screw location.

Cut a 1/4 threaded rod to a length of approximately 3-1/2. Screw a nut to one end of the rod. Place a washer on the center hole on the base and feed the threaded rod through it. Install a washer and two nuts on the bottom of the base. Tighten the rst nut against the base then tighten the second nut against it. This ensures that the rst nut will not loosen during use. Cut a piece of 2x3 to approximately 31-1/2 in length. Using the dimensions shown in Fig. 5, drill 5/8 holes as opposed to those indicated. Drill to a depth of approximately 3/4. In each of the two outer holes, screw in a 1/4 plain insert nut. The purpose of the center hole is to provide clearance such that the nut holding the top of the threaded rod does not foul on the bottom of the 2x3 post. Install washers on two 1/4 hex bolts and insert them through the bottom of the base. Secure the 2x3 post to the base by threading the hex bolts into the corresponding plain insert nuts. The upper platform is now assembled. 2) Lower Platform: Bore a 3-1/2 hole through the center of a 1x1x1 piece of wood. This forms the base of the lower platform. Drill a 1-3/4 diameter hole to a depth of 3/4 at the location indicated in Fig. 6. The stepper motor will be installed in this location. Drill a 3/8 hole through the side of the base adjacent to the 1-3/4 stepper motor hole to permit wiring of the stepper motor to the MCK. Secure the stepper motor to the base using two #4x1/2 wood screws. Cut four pieces of 2x2 wood to lengths of 1 each with 45 degree mitred edges. These four pieces of wood are used to frame the base and elevate it from the table or support structure that the positioner will rest on. Notch two of these pieces such that when they are installed they do not interfere with the stepper motor. Afx the mitred edges to the bottom platform using two 1-3/4 wood screws per edge. Refer to Fig. 4 and Fig. 6 for guidance.

Use a hacksaw to increase the gap on a 1/4 eyelet screw (near the end of the eyelet). Install the eyelet on the inside of the mitred edge as shown in Fig. 6. Install four 1/2 rubber feet on the bottom of the mitred edges as shown in Fig. 4. The lower platform is now assembled. 3) Positioner Assembly: Center the LS on the base of the lower platform and mark the mounting holes. Drill these mounting holes using a 1/8 drill bit. Center the LS on the bottom of the upper platform and secure it using four #4x1/2 wood screws. Install wood screws through each of the pre-drilled mounting holes on the lower platform and secure it to the LS. The upper and lower platforms are now connected through the LS. Using a clamp, glue, or a set screw, install the small timing pulley onto the shaft of the stepper motor. Install two nuts, a washer, and the large timing pulley onto the threaded rod. Position the two bottom nuts and washer such that the large timing pulley is at the same height as the motor shaft timing pulley. Tighten the two nuts in place when the correct position is obtained. Place a washer above the timing pulley and tighten the assembly with another nut. Cut a piece of 1/8 thick aluminum into a rectangle of approximately 2-1/2 by 3/4. Drill a 1/2 hole centered 1/2 from each end of the aluminum rectangle. Drill a 1/4 hole in the center of the rectangle. Fold the rectangle into a channel such that the edge with the 1/4 hole is centered and is approximately 1/2 long. Refer to Fig. 7 for a graphical representation of the channel which is used for the belt drive tension assembly. Connect a 1 spring to a 1 machine screw eyelet. Thread a nut onto the eyelet and insert the threaded portion into the end of the assembly shown in Fig. 7. Secure the eyelet to

E. Electrical Interconnections A detailed diagram showing all of the required power connections is shown in Fig. 8. The light bulb and stepper motor connections were completed used 20 American Wire Gauge (AWG) wire. All other connections were completed using 24 AWG wire. As shown in Fig. 8, 5 V is applied to the MCK through the DC plug mounted on the board. As stated in Section III-J1, a custom connection between the input voltage pads to the miniUSB connector is required on the MCK. This is accomplished through the modication of a mini-USB cable in accordance with the electrical connections shown in Fig. 8.
Fig. 7. Belt drive tension assembly timing pulley channel.
LNA + -

P1 1 RF Source 2
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14


the channel with another nut and tighten the assembly. Install a timing belt onto a medium sized timing pulley. Place a washer onto the 1/4x1-1/2 bolt and insert it through one end of the channel, through the medium timing pulley, and through the opposite end of the channel. Install a washer and secure loosely into place with a nut. Wrap the belt around the small and large timing pulleys. Connect the opposite end of the spring to the eyelet screw as installed previously (refer to Fig. 6). The result should resemble Fig. 4. The antenna positioner is now complete. B. Transmitting Antenna Stand Drill two holes through a 1x1x1 piece of wood in accordance with the outer holes depicted in Fig. 5. Cut a 2x3 piece of wood to 35 in length. Drill 5/8 holes to a depth of 5/8 into one end of the 2x3 using the outer holes shown in Fig. 5. Install 1/4 plain insert nuts into these drilled holes. Install washers onto the 1-1/4 hex bolts, insert them through the platform into the plain insert nuts installed into the 2x3. Secure both bolts and install four 1/2 rubber feet to the four corners of the bottom of the platform. The transmitting antenna stand assembly is now complete. C. Pringles Cantenna The Pringles cantenna was built using instructions available on the Internet [2]. Note that the length of the antenna feed was adjusted until an input VSWR of less than 2:1 from 2.4 GHz to 2.45 GHz was obtained. D. System Mounting All individual system components were installed onto a 1/2 thick piece of wood that was cut to 12x20. The components, as shown in Fig. 2 were raised on hex standoffs and installed using machine screws. The placements shown in Fig. 2 are not critical and may modied as required. The terminal block for mounting the light bulb was installed using hot glue. A custom aluminum platform was fabricated to mount the LNA.

P1 Detector

1 2 3 12345 Mini-USB X1-1 X1-2

GND J1 1 N 2 3 L Power Supply J3 1 2 3

+DC Plug

Make Microcontroller

Fig. 8.

Power system interconnection diagram.

The MCK provides screw terminals that are used to connect the MCK to the stepper motor. Using these screw terminals, connect output 0 and 1 to one of the coils of the stepper motor and the connect outputs 2 and 3 to the other coil of the stepper motor. The center taps of each coil are not connected and must be electrically isolated from all other connections. The MCK is also used to program the ADF4360-0 over a custom serial interface. Note that 5.1 k resistors are required on the communication lines. Refer to Fig. 9 for a detailed diagram outlining the electrical connections between the MCK and both the frequency source and the stepper motor. Connect an SMA cable to the GAIN output of the detector. The opposite end of the cable must be cut such that the inner conductor is exposed and the outer shield is grouped into a pigtail connection. Connect the shield and inner conductor to the pins labelled GND and AIN0 on the MCK board, respectively. The light bulb terminal block is connected to the 5 V power supply output as shown in Fig. 8. Stranded wire was soldered to the terminal block and covered with heat shrink tubing. The terminal block was hot glued to a convenient location on the 12x20 wood. A light bulb was installed into the screw terminals such that the bulb can be easily replaced in the event of a lament failure. From the ADF4360-0: connect RFOUT to the transmit antenna using a 2.8 m length RG-316 coaxial cable and

DB-9 1
5.1k 5.1k 5.1k

RF Source

Out 7 Out 6 Out 5 Out 4 GND Vout

Make Microcontroller

Coil A Stepper Motor Coil B

Out 3 Out 2 Out 1 Out 0 GND Vout

Ensure that the antennas are pointing directly at one another and that they are polarization aligned. Measure the distance between the two antennas and enter the value in meters in the appropriate eld. Note that for best results, it is recommended that the antennas be at least 1.25 m apart. Click the Capture button. A number which reects the sum of the two antenna gains in dB should appear in the Result eld. Repeat this procedure for the two remaining antenna combinations. Once all three measurements have been completed, the individual antenna gains will be displayed in dBi in the Gain Results block. D. Radiation Pattern Measurements Mount an antenna with 5 dBi-10 dBi of gain on the transmit antenna stand and connect the appropriate coaxial cable. Mount the AUT on the antenna positioning system and connect the appropriate coaxial cable. Ensure polarization alignment between the two antennas and an appropriate separation distance for far eld measurements. In the Radiation Pattern block, click the Measure Pattern button. The antenna positioning system should begin to rotate the AUT. Ensure that the coaxial cable feeding the AUT does not interfere with the operation of the antenna positioning system. The radiation pattern will be displayed once a full rotation has been completed. The antenna positioning system will execute a full reverse rotation to unwrap the coaxial feed cable. The raw measurement data can be accessed by clicking the Show raw data link. This data can be selected and copied from the browser window for use in an external application. A copy of the radiation pattern may also be saved as an image in the Portable Network Graphics (PNG) format by clicking the Save Graph link. E. Optional Network Mode The rmware on the MCK sets the default IP address to but can be dynamically reassigned should the user decide to connect the device to a network which has DHCP enabled. A limitation of the device is that there is no feedback to indicate the assigned IP address; it is left to the user to determine. F. Additional Functionality To determine the calibration value used by the MCK, the user can navigate their webclient to the /recal subdirectory, which will trigger a recalibration and will display the value of the variable cal; this variable modies the offset of Equation 2. The user can manually rotate the antenna positioning system, by navigating to the /m?m= directory and appending the number of degrees of rotation to the address of the GUI. This argument can be negative. Note that a leading zero is required for rotations of less than 10 . VIII. S YSTEM E VALUATION The complete system, set-up for measurements in the anechoic test chamber, is shown in Fig. 10. The following sections evaluate the performance of the system.

Fig. 9.

Microcontroller to RF source and stepper motor interface

connect RFOUT directly to the VAT-6+. Connect the VAT6+ to the VAT-20+ using a 0.3 m length of coaxial cable. Connect the VAT-20+ directly to INPB on the AD8302. Connect the AUT to the input of the ZX60-272LN+ using a 2 m length of coaxial cable. Connect the VBF2435+ directly to the output of the ZX60-272LN+. Connect the VBF2435+ to INPA on the AD8302 using a 0.3 m length of coaxial cable. VII. O PERATION A. Basic Setup Connect an Ethernet cable from the MCK to a computer with a wired Ethernet connection. Modify the computer network settings as follows: set the IP address to a static address of, with a subnet mask of The default gateway does not need to be specied. Open a web browser and navigate to URL The browser will now display the GUI as per Fig. 3. It should be noted that the web browser needs to have the latest HTML5 specication implemented. As of version 8, Microsoft Internet Explorer is incapable of rendering the full GUI; a browser such as Mozilla Firefox is preferable. B. Calibration To calibrate the system, connect a 20 dB attenuator between the antenna feed cables. Click the Calibrate button. A message will be displayed indicating that calibration was successfully completed. The system can be recalibrated by repeating this procedure however note that the only way to clear the calibration is to power cycle the MCK. C. Antenna Gain Measurements Antenna gain measurements are accomplished using the three antenna method. Identify three suitable antennas and designate them as number 1, 2 and 3. In accordance with the Gain Measurement block featured in the GUI, mount antenna 1 on the transmit antenna stand and connect the appropriate coaxial cable. Mount antenna 2 on the antenna positioning system and connect the appropriate coaxial cable.

0 Linear Fit Measured Data Linearity Error


20 Gain (dB)




60 100



250 300 350 ADC Value ()



0 500

Fig. 11. Fig. 10. Complete system setup for measurements in the anechoic chamber.

System linearity performance.


A. Gain Measurement Accuracy The ability of the system hardware to accurately measure the gain between the antenna feed cables was tested using an Sband variable attenuator. The performance of the attenuator was characterized in 5 dB steps from approximately -10 dB to -60 dB using a calibrated Agilent performance network analyzer (PNA). The attenuator was then connected between the antenna feed cables and the ADC outputs were recorded as a function of attenuation. The relationship between gain and ADC output was determined using linear regression and is shown in Equation 2 where G is the gain between the antenna feed cables in dB and D is ADC output. G = 0.1117D 67 (2)
Yagi Monopole LPD

PNA Results (dBi) 5.6 0.3 4.7

IsoTropic Thunder Results (dBi) 5.4 0.2 4.6

Absolute Error (dB) 0.2 0.1 0.1

B. Antenna Gain Measurements Three COTS antennas were acquired in order to evaluate the performance of the system prior to characterizing the cantenna. A 2.4 GHz monopole antenna was purchased due to its relatively constant H-plane radiation pattern. A 2.4 GHz printed circuit board (PCB) Yagi antenna was purchased due to its relatively high forward gain, and a PCB logperiodic dipole (LPD) antenna, which operates over 900 MHz to 2600 MHz, was borrowed from UNB for testing purposes. The input VSWR of each of these antennas was conrmed to be less than 2:1 between 2.4 GHz and 2.45 GHz using the PNA. The three antenna method was carried out for the COTS antennas inside an anechoic test chamber using both the system and the PNA. The results are summarized in Table I. The system is conrmed to meet accuracy specications, as the absolute error associated with the antenna gain measurements is less than 0.5 dB. The three antenna method was repeated using the Yagi, monopole, and cantenna. The antenna gains were measured to be 5.6 dBi, 0.2 dBi, and 5.5 dBi, respectively. Despite a somewhat legendary status among RF hobbyists on the Internet, the Pringles cantenna falls short in its promise of providing upwards of 12 dBi of antenna gain. However, at a cost of less than $15 in parts, the cantenna offers 5.5 dBi of gain which rivals the gain offered by a COTS PCB Yagi antenna sold at over double the price. Also, unlike the Yagi, the Pringles cantenna includes a delicious snack.

In Section III-G, the nominal slope relating the gain between INPA and INPB to the ADC result was determined to be 0.1075. The experimental slope is 0.1117, representing a 4 % relative error. The offset has changed since the gain is no longer being measured between INPA and INPB. The linearity performance of the system is depicted in Fig. 11. Specically, the linearity error associated with Equation 2 is presented. Based on the accuracy specication of 0.5 dB, the dynamic range performance of the system can be determined. The absolute error remains below 0.5 dB for gain values between -13 dB and -55 dB, resulting in a maximum dynamic range of 42 dB. For a freespace path loss of 42 dB and 0 dBi antennas, the minimum dynamic range is 13 dB. These results show that the complete system has reduced dynamic range performance relative to the AD8302. This is expected, as additional linearity error is introduced by each hardware component in the system, coupled with quantization errors introduced by the ADC and subsequent microcontroller calculations. As mentioned in Section III-B, it is recommended that the transmit antenna exhibit 5 dBi-10 dBi of gain in order to improve dynamic range performance.

Absolute Error (dB)

C. Antenna Radiation Pattern Measurements H-plane radiation pattern measurements were made for the Yagi and monopole antennas using the system inside an anechoic test chamber and were compared to results obtained using the UNB Antenna Positioning System with the PNA. Fig. 12 and Fig. 13 show the results. Note that the angular resolution for each measurement is 1 and the data is normalized such that the pattern maximum is 0 dB.
0o 30
o 5 10 15 0 dB

Nevertheless, it is clear that the system is capable of making high quality automated radiation pattern measurements. The H-plane radiation pattern of the Pringles cantenna was measured using the validated system and is shown in Fig. 14. As expected, the cantenna pattern is qualitatively similar to that of a Yagi antenna, with a fronttoback ratio of approximately 11 dB. It should be noted that since the cantenna feed is unbalanced and lacks a proper ground connection, the radiation pattern results are very sensitive to feed cable orientation.
0 30
o 5 10 o 0 dB




20 25 30 35




20 25 30



o 35 30 25 20




o 35 30



15 10 5


25 20


15 10 5



0 dB


PNA Pattern IsoTropic Thunder Pattern


0 dB



Fig. 12.

Yagi antenna radiation pattern measurements.

Fig. 14.

Cantenna radiation pattern measurements.

0 30o

o 0 dB 5 10 15


D. Budgetary Considerations A bill of materials is included in the Appendix. The total cost to reproduce the system is $1 240.64 (CAD), which is in compliance with the maximum specied budget of $1 500. IX. C ONCLUSION


20 25 30 35



o 35 30 25 20 o 15 10 5




0 dB



PNA Pattern IsoTropic Thunder Pattern

Fig. 13.

Monopole antenna radiation pattern measurements.

While the UNB system has greater accuracy and dynamic range performance, there is strong agreement between the pattern results. As the measurements were taken using different measurement hardware and with different feed cable arrangements, some variation in the measured patterns is expected.

The motivation for this project was to design and build a system capable of making antenna gain and radiation pattern measurements with an accuracy of 0.5 dB for less than $1 500 in cost. Due to the fact that many of the specied components are COTS, the system presented here can be easily reproduced, and meets budgetary constraints at a cost of $1 240.64. It has been shown to achieve a gain measurement accuracy 0.5 dB over a dynamic range of 13 dB plus the combined gains of the two antennas in use. Antenna gain and radiation pattern measurements made inside an anechoic test chamber were validated through comparison with results obtained using a commercial PNA and the UNB antenna positioning system. The exible nature of the GUI allows for system access and control independent of operating system or hardware platform. The system has been used to measure the gain and radiation pattern of a homemade Pringles cantenna. Despite claims from Internet RF hobbyists that the cantenna is capable of

achieving a gain of 12 dBi, measurements made by the system indicate a gain of 5.5 dBi. In summary, the system presented here is accurate, economical, robust and easily reproducible. With minor enhancements, the system would be suitable for use in a learning environment such as an undergraduate laboratory. A PPENDIX The bill of materials is summarized in Table II. Note that all prices are in Canadian dollars. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The authors would like to thank Dr. Bruce Colpitts, Dr. Brent Petersen, Ryan Jennings, Michael Wylie and Lars Woodhouse for their support and guidance throughout the course of the project. R EFERENCES
[1] C. A. Balanis, Antenna Theory: Analysis and Design, 3rd ed. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005. [2] R. Flickenger. (2001, July) Antenna on the cheap (er, chip). [Online]. Available: [3] ADF4360-0 Datasheet Rev. A, Analog Devices, Norwood, MA, 2004. [4] AD8302 Datasheet Rev. A, Analog Devices, Norwood, MA, 2002.

TABLE II T HE BILL OF MATERIALS FOR CONSTRUCTION Part Quantity AD8302 Evaluation Board 1 ADF4360-0 1 2 m SMA cable 1 2.5 m SMA cable 1 0.3 m SMA cable 5 2 Position Terminal Block 1 42L048D1U 1 9 V Battery Snap Connec- 1 tor DB9 Female 1 Ethernet Cable 1 Heat Shrink 1 Molex Headers and Pins 1 Monopole Antenna 1 Power Cord (5.2mm bar- 1 rel jack) Power Cord (AC with 1 Ground) Power Supply 1 Resistors 3 Ring Connector 1 SMA Barrels 3 Standoffs 20 USB A to mini B Cable 1 Wire, 20 AWG 1 Wire, 24 AWG 2 Cantenna Parts 1 Belt Drive Tension Parts 1 1/4x1-1/2 Hex Bolts 4 2x2x8 Wood Stud 1 2x3x8 Wood Stud 1 Dowel (3/8O.D.x4) 1 Large Lazy Susan 1 Light bulb 1 MDF (1 x 4) 1 Nuts (#8) 12 Nuts (3/8) 6 Plain Insert Nut 4 1 O.D. Screwin Rubber 12 Feet Scrap Aluminum 1 Screws (#4) 36 Screws (#8) 12 1 Thick Wood 1 Threaded Rod (3/8) 1 Washers (#4) 26 Washers (#8) 12 Washers (3/8) 6 Wire Clamps 14 Wood Screws (pack) 1 Make Microcontroller 1 VAT-20+ 2 VAT-6+ 3 VBF2435+ 1 ZX60-272LN+ 1 Yagi Antenna 1 Belt (A 6B 6M193060) 1 Timing Pulley 1 (A 6M 6M10DF06003) Timing Pulley 1 (A 6M 6M25DF06008) Timing Pulley 1 (A 6M 6M75DF06008) Tax Total (CAD) Cost ($) 212.99 121.44 26.70 30.33 53.05 0.32 24.00 0.35 3.94 3.50 6.00 5.00 5.19 2.37 5.00 94.51 1.00 0.35 14.13 5.00 4.13 25.70 34.80 15.00 8.50 2.00 1.50 2.50 3.48 6.19 1.50 5.00 1.80 1.50 2.50 12.00 5.00 3.00 2.79 10.00 12.00 1.82 1.08 2.00 5.00 3.18 120.00 29.60 14.80 43.06 49.95 32.95 4.47 3.27 3.37 7.29 $142.74 $1 240.64


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Brandon C. Brown was born in Kitchener, Ontario in 1983. He received a Bachelor of Applied Science (Computer Engineering) from Queens University in 2006. After spending a short time working in industry, he enrolled at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) and received his masters in 2007. Currently, he is enrolled at UNB and is working toward a Ph.D. degree. His research interests include wireless systems, signal propagation and various aspects of networking.

Fr d ric G. Goora was born in Sydney, Nova e e Scotia in 1977. He received a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (Electrical Engineering) and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of New Brunswick (UNB) in 2000 and 2003, respectively. After more than 6 years of industrial experience, he returned to UNB and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering. His research interests include magnetic resonance imaging and microwave systems. He is registered as a Professional Engineer in New Brunswick.

Chris D. Rouse was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1986. He received a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (Electrical Engineering) from the University of New Brunswick (UNB) in 2009, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering at UNB. His research interests include wireless systems, communications, and ber optics.