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Power Meters & Sensors


Power Meter and Power Sensor:-About, Application, Manufactures, and Selection:

RF Power Meters is an instrument used to measure average power, RMS Power or Peak Power levels of an electrical circuit at RF and Microwave frequencies. Power sensors and display screens are associated with the power meter to detect and display the measured power levels of RF and microwave signals.  

  • Power sensors are designed to provide accurate and fast power measurements of the RF and microwave signals, covering numerous frequency and power ranges and then pass it to the power meter for further process and display.

Power meters are available in various packages such as bench-top, rack mount, handheld or USB modules. The USB power meter will have a sensor with an associated power meter and an internal analogue-to-digital converter to pass the data directly to a PC and display the result on it.

To understand more about RF and Microwave components and systems, we recommend you to go through the following seven bestsellers.

To understand the RF Power meter and sensor in-depth, we recommend you to check the following components which are associated with it during measurements.

In this RF Power meter and sensor article, we will cover,

  • Fundamentals of RF Power meter and sensor?
  • Application and Types of RF Power meter and sensor?
  • Prime specifications need to consider for the RF Power meter and sensor?
  • RF and microwave Power meter and sensor Manufactures.

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Design and Application

Units of RF and Microwave power measurements:

RF Power is measured in watts. RF Power is an RF energy transfer at a unit of time at the rate of one Joule per second.

The base measurement of power is in watts and it is often preceded by a multiplier like milliwatts (10-3 watts), microwatts (10-6 watts), kilowatts (103 watts), megawatts (106 watts) etc. Power is also represented in logarithmic decibel scale specified in terms of dBm or dBW, It is purely a comparison between two levels.

RF Average power:

Average RF power is the most obvious way to measure RF and Microwave power, it is the energy transfer rate average over the periods of RF and microwave waveform. For continuous wave (CW), it is easy to measure the average power, however for the pulsed signals peak power is the most common measurement.

RF peak power or pulse power: 

Peak power is used to measure the pulse of energy. For the pulsed signal, if the average power is measured over a long period of time, it will be zero power due to averaging of power. To get the peak power of the pulsed signal, the power of the actual pulse RF signal itself is measured from the point from which the pulse rises above 50% of its amplitude to the point at which the power falls below 50%.

Peak envelope RF power (PEP):

Peak envelope RF power ( PEP), is used to measure the RF power of continuously varying RF waveforms, in it, the peak of the envelope is measured. It is mainly used for digitally modulated signals by making the measurement averaging time greater than the period of the modulating waveform.

Types of Power Meters:

Power meters are various types on the basis of the ways in which RF and microwave power can be measured. The techniques and equipment required for peak envelope and peak power measurement are different to those needed for average power measurements.

In-line RF power meters:  

In-line RF power meters are used to measure the power from a live system by taking the sample of the RF power flowing along a feed-line. These power meters are used to measure the power flowing through both the direction of the feed lines. The Power measurements using In-line RF power meters measure the total power entering into it and are frequency insensitive.

Absorptive RF power meters:  

Absorptive RF power meters absorb the power which they measure and it consists of an RF load, the sensing diodes along an analogue power meter. This type of power meter uses an external power sensor close to the power source, to generate a signal proportional to the RF power level entering it. The sensor signal is fed to the RF power meter to process the measurement and display the reading on its screen.

Absorptive RF power meters are frequency insensitive. I.e they measure the total power entering the instrument regardless of frequency within its operating range. For the Absorptive RF power meter, it is important to select the correct power sensor to make measurements of average power or peak envelope power.

USB based Power meters:

Now the RF power meter with internal power sensor and with USB interface to the PC. These Power measurement heads can directly connect to the RF power source and the USB can be connected to the PC for further measurements and display the result in the PC.

Spectrum Analyzer Power Measurements:  

Spectrum analyzers will have the RF power measurement capabilities for a particular frequency. Spectrum analyzers cannot measure the total peak or average power entering for all frequencies. Spectrum analyzer RF power measurements are used to measure the power of a signal at its particular frequency or harmonics or spurious frequencies.


For accurate Power measurements, It needs to ensure to have a suitable power sensor that suits to power meter for RF power measurement. As different power sensors sense the power in different ways it is required to have different types of sensors for different RF power measurement applications. Following are the prime sensors available for absorptive power meters:

Thermistor power sensor:  

The thermistor RF power sensor measures the RF power on the base of heat generated when an RF signal is applied to it. Being a heat-based RF sensor, it will detect the level of heat being dissipated over it over a period of time ( Tenths of a second, is a typical figure). Thermistor power sensors will have the advantage of accurate calibration.

Thermocouple power sensor: 

Thermocouple RF power sensors are similar in the operation of Thermistor power sensors (Heat based). The advantage of the Thermocouple power sensor is its ability to measure the RF power down to lower power levels.

Diode based RF power sensors:

 Diode based RF power sensors act as a rectifier and they will provide an output voltage proportional to the envelope power of the waveform, which need to measure. Diode based RF power sensors are used for a variety of RF power measurements like peak envelope power, average power or pulse power measurements, hence it is ideal for making a large variety of RF power measurements.

Application Power Meter and Power Sensor:

Radio-frequency power meters with a power sensor is used to collect information about, RF power, and display the measurements in an easy-to-read format to the user. Following are a few of the prime applications of the RF power meter.

Aerospace and defence applications of Power meter:

RF power meter with an average power sensor is used to capture pulsed radar signals and evaluate waveform parameters like peak power, min, max, average, and peak-to-average power ratios of the signal. For pulsed signals, it is important to measure its rise time, fall time, pulse period, pulse width, duty cycle, time to positive and negative occurrence etc.

Wireless applications of Power meter:

RF power meters and sensors are used to measure the dynamic ranges of the transceivers in wireless communication systems. Power sensors allow you to set up and measure the power-related features of common signals such as DME, WCDMA, GSM, EDGE, WLAN, LTE and all other latest technologies.

Lab test equipment Calibration applications of Power meters:

The RF power meter with thermistor mount sensors is used for the accurate calibration of test and measurement instruments used for the RF and Microwave Labs. Power meters are required for the periodic calibration of broadband RF instruments such as network analyzers, and signal generators used for measurements.

RF & Microwave Communication DUT test and Measurements:

RF power meter with a suitable power sensor is used for the test and measurements of the power levels of RF and Microwave DUT in the operating frequency range of the power meter.

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Basics & Selection Feature

Main specifications need to consider in the selection of RF Power meters

Type, Operating frequency range, dynamic measurement range and accuracy are the prime specifications that need to consider in the selection of an RF power meter with a suitable sensor.

Type of Power Meter:

Type indicates the type of power meter like Inline or Absorptive RF power meters. For the continuous measurement requirements, an inline power meter will be an ideal solution and for the Labour or field test requirements, Absorptive RF power meters with suitable sensors will be an ideal choice.   

Number of Channels for Power Meter: 

Power Meters are available with a various number of channel options like Single Channel unit, Double Channel configurations etc. Need to select as per the system requirements.


Power measurement can be Peak or Average Power Measurements, Rise or Fall time power Measurement, Peak to Avg, peak to peak type Measurements etc. For each, the corresponding type of measurement, specific power sensor and meter need to use for the accurate measurements.

Frequency (MHz / GHz):

The frequency range of operation of the power meter indicates the range of frequency over which the signal can be detected. The range basically depends on the power sensor being used for the measurements, need to select as per the operating range of DUT.

Power Range (dBm): 

The power range of the power meter indicates the power level that can be measured by using the RF meter with an associated sensor. This will be measured in a specific range of lower and higher limits. If higher power is fed to the sensor over the specified limit, it may lead to sudden damage.


RF Connector types of the power meter that is used to connect the DUT to the sensor need to select as per the RF connector type of the DUT.

Battery & power supply:

RF Power sensors are now available with internal batter for the field test applications, the charging and the operating time of these internal batteries need to select as per the maximum field operation time required


Ageing accuracy and the warranty need to consider for confirming the usability of the power meter and sensor for a long period of operation.


An RF Power Meter is one of the most useful test instruments needed to measure electrical power when a deeper signal analysis is not required. RF power Meters usually have a wide dynamic range however it is limited by the sensitivity of the power sensor. Power meters are usually used to measure the average power, Peak Power or RMS Power levels.

  • In the manufacturer section, you can check the listed top-rated RF power meter and RF power sensor manufacturers registered with the RFMWC website.

Choose the appropriate RF power meter as per your test requirements on the basis of the above selection specification.

If you need any specific RF power meter with a suitable RF sensor, please feel free to reach us. We will guide you to the regional manufacturers to meet your test requirements.

If you would like to add further details of RF power meters or manufacturers to this article on the website, please feel free to contact us.

Thanks & Regards

RFMWC: RF & Microwave Community

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