Measuring coaxial cable loss by reflection with a VNA

At Measuring coaxial cable loss with a voltmeter I discussed measuring terminated coax cable loss with an RF voltmeter, and it had some real practical limitations.

This article explores using a nanoVNA to measure line loss in a similar scenario. We will use 6m of Belden 8359 (RG58A/U) @ 3.6MHz.

The same technique could be used with a quality antenna analyser.

Expectation

A short digression, what is the specification Matched Line Loss (MLL) at 3.6MHz? Using TLLC we get 0.171dB, that is our expectation.

Return Loss of SC section

A common method proposed is to measure Return Loss (RL) of a section with load end RL=0dB and halve it. Many experts advise that the section should be terminated in a short circuit (S) because short circuits are more reliable than open circuits. So let’s get cracking.

Above is measured |s11| using a nanoVNA with recent OSL calibration from 1-30MHz. |s11| @ 3.6MHz is by eye -0.651dB, RL=-|S11|, so RL/2=0.651/2=0.325dB. Continue reading Measuring coaxial cable loss by reflection with a VNA

Strength of reinforcement of nanoVNA-H connectors

The nanoVNA-H connectors are end launch PCB connectors and they have a decidedly spongy feel as 1Nm torque is approached. This was due to flexing of the PCB and was likely to lead to track cracks in the longer term.

Specs for SMA connectors range from minimum of 0.2Nm torque to maximum of 1.7Nm, but 0.6Nm and 1.0Nm are common commercial practice.

Some nanoVNA sellers state:

As the SMA ports are made of cast copper, please not connect hard 50-7 / RG213 and other cables directly to the SMA ports through M-to-SMA connector to avoid damaging the SMA ports. You can use the included SMA cable to connect to the SMA port as shown in the picture below, and then use M to SMA connector.

Clearly Chinese Cheats, they will say anything to make a sale and anything to avoid commitment to quality. These connectors are very unlikely to be copper, but are likely to be a copper alloy: brass. What they also avoid in the above statement is claim for PCB damage due to flexure of the SMA connectors torqued to accepted industry torque for reliable connections and measurement.

Above is a pic of a modification to reinforce the connectors. This article sets out the analysis of just the solder joint within the cross section of the brass pieces.

A side effect is that this modification bonds the ground planes for the input and output parts of the nanoVNA via the brass bar where they have been kept isolated to some extent.

I should note that there has been much discussion online as to whether the noise floor of the nanoVNA is degraded by the shields fitted to the board, and various modifications to the shields. Some of this discussion proposes that the issue is mostly around the mixers and noise loops, and I note that in -H designs prior to v3.3, the mixer power supply was not adequately decoupled. It is possible that electrical connection of the SMA connectors in this way degrades noise performance at some frequencies. No significant change was observed in the noise floor of s11 or s21 channels from 1 to 300MHz (I don’t regard instrument performance to be good above 300MHz). I have not seen credible evidence of degradation of the nanoVNA-H v3.3 build.

If indeed bonding the two SMA connectors close to the instrument increases the noise floor or has other performance impacts as suggested, it questions whether the currents on the exterior of the coax influence measurement (which it should not) and it questions whether two port measurement fixtures or adapters should  be attached close to the nanovna.

(See also Reinforcement of nanoVNA-H connectors – performance discussion.)

At first, the strength of the butt soldered joint might seem a simple case of beam analysis where the beam is of cast solder of the same cross section l x w as the soldered joint. Continue reading Strength of reinforcement of nanoVNA-H connectors

nanoVNA-H – recovery

I often see reports that a nanoVNA has been ‘bricked’.

The STM32F072 chip  used on the original nanoVNA has some features that make the firmware update process simple and robust, and difficult to mess up.

The normal way of doing a firmware update is using the DFU protocol from a PC over the USB interface. To use this, the device has to be “put into DFU mode”, this means that the chip is reset and started executing the bootloader in permanent system memory.

The concept of DFU is that normal client programs used with the device can easily be extended to include the DFU function as just another menu function of the client software. I am not aware of any nanoVNA client that does this.

So, you need to use a programming client, and for Windows a good choice is ST’s DfuSeDemo. You may need to convert the distributed file format using Dfu file manager from the same distribution, not all developers distribute a .dfu file.

There is a pin on the board, BOOT0, that must be held high during reset to enter the on-chip bootloader. Later firmware versions also provide a menu option to enter the bootloader, but if an attempted upgrade messes up the menu, you may need to use the BOOT0 pin bridged to the adjacent VDD pin while you power cycle the nanovna.

Above is the rear view of the board, and a jumper using pogo pins to bridge BOOT0 to VDD. Continue reading nanoVNA-H – recovery

nanoVNA-H – rework of v3.3 PCB to v3.4?

nanoVNA-H v3.4 is out, and I don’t yet see significant problem reports.

When I compare the circuit with v3.3 (which I have), apart from new battery charger IC etc, the changes are in three areas:

  1. decoupling power to the mixers;
  2. increasing the drive to the mixers; and
  3. higher attenuation of input on the rx port. Continue reading nanoVNA-H – rework of v3.3 PCB to v3.4?

nanoVNA-H – v3.3 USB problems

At nanoVNA – measurement of two 920MHz LoRa antennas I mentioned my growing frustration with the USB interface on the nanovna, particularly the tendency to reset the nanoVNA with the slightest wiggle and the frustration in trying to use the resulting mess.

I have previously cleaned both plug and socket a couple of times, the last time was after some board modifications and flux residue was washed from the board keeping the USB socket dry, then the USB socket was flushed with clean solvent and blow dry.

The USB problems have become apparent only recently and rapidly got worse. Continue reading nanoVNA-H – v3.3 USB problems

nanoVNA – that demo board and its U.FL connectors

One of the many nanoVNA cloners makes an interesting little inexpensive demo board with a selection of components, filters etc to develop familiarity with the nanovna.

Above is a pic of the demo board and the supplied jumper cables. The demo board may not include information relevant to using the cables and connectors supplied. Continue reading nanoVNA – that demo board and its U.FL connectors

nanoVNA user post provides an interesting example for study #1

At https://groups.io/g/nanovna-users/message/9185 a user posted a measurement made with his nanoVNA of a length of coax with termination.

Above is his initial reported measurement of an approximate 350′ length of coax with a known good dummy load on the opposite end. 350′ is 106.7m. Whilst this chart is less value than a Smith chart rendering, understanding the nature of things allows us to infer the Smith chart. Continue reading nanoVNA user post provides an interesting example for study #1

nanoVNA-H – measure 144MHz Yagi gain – planning / feasibility

This article documents a feasibility study of using the modified nanoVNA-H to measure the gain of a 4 element 144MHz Yagi, the DUT.

The intended configuration is the DUT will be connected to the tx port (Port 1 or CH0 in nanoVNA speak), and a known ‘sense’ antenna connected to its rx port (Port 2 or CH1 in nanoVNA speak).

nanoVNA |s21| noise floor

To make useful measurements of the received signal, the rx signal level must be a reasonable amount higher than the noise floor, 10dB should be sufficient.

Above is a plot of the |s21| noise floor around 146MHz. Continue reading nanoVNA-H – measure 144MHz Yagi gain – planning / feasibility

nanoVNA-H – measure 40m low pass filter for WSPRlite flex

This article demonstrates the use of a nanoVNA-H to measure the response of a low pass filter designed to pass 7MHz frequencies but attenuate harmonics. The inductors and capacitors make a seven element Chebyshev filter as designed by G3CWI for use in a 50Ω system.

Implementation

Above, the filter is assembled on a piece of matrix board with two BNC connectors. The inductors are fixed with hot melt adhesive, and the whole thing served over with heatshrink tube. It is not waterproof. Continue reading nanoVNA-H – measure 40m low pass filter for WSPRlite flex