While not every hacker has a vector network analyzer on their bench, those into the RF side of things likely do. VNAs have long had a cloud of mystery about them, due to their (at a glance) unintelligible display output. However, they are in essence a very simple pair of instruments: a signal generator, and a signal analyzer. One of the outputs sends out an RF signal, which goes through the device under test, and then back into the input of the VNA. It can then see how the device affects the signal, and if any power is reflected back into the output of the VNA. This allows designers to test RF components, like antennas and filters.
However, the average VNA was, for a long time, a very expensive piece of equipment, reserved only for the telecom labs and research facilities. Over the last decade or so, the prices have fallen to the point that RF hobbyists can start to use them. The NanoVNA smashes through the existing price floor, bringing a 3GHz VNA to the market for under $60.
While the specs won’t be winning any awards, the device is still very usable for RF hobbyists and amateur radio operators in particular. Being USB-powered, it’s possible to use it with a powerbank, making a portable unit which is perfect for field testing. There is also on-board charge circuitry, so the end-user can add a lithium-ion battery pack to the unit and make it self-contained!
A bonus is the software packages that it can work with — namely this very cool open source VNA package. This allows further analysis to be done on a PC, opening up more detailed and advanced measurement capabilities.
If you are into RF design, check out the NanaVNA V2 and let us know what you think!