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Scalar Network Analyzers


RF and Microwave Scalar Network Analyzer:- About, Applications, Types, Selection & Manufactures:

A Scalar Network Analyzer is an RF network analyzer used to measure amplitude properties like VSWR and Return loss of Device Under Test.

  • A Scalar Network Analyzer can be implemented using a Spectrum Analyzer and a Tracking Generator for calculating the response over a range of frequencies of DUT.

If the output of the tracking generator is connected to the input port of the spectrum analyzer and place a device (DUT) between the output of the tracking generator and the spectrum analyzer. The amplitude parameters of the signal at the spectrum analyzer will be the function of the device under test (DUT).

The network analyzers are basically classified into three types.

  • SNA -Scalar Network Analyzer used to measure only the amplitude properties.
  • VNA - Vector Network Analyzer is used to measure both amplitude and phase of the signal.
  • LSNA- Large-signal network analyzer, which has the measurement capability of amplitude and phase of both fundamental frequency and its harmonics.

To learn more about RF and Microwave systems, we recommend you to check the following Books.

To understand the Scalar Network Analyzer in a better way, we recommend understanding the following components, which are used along with the SNA for testing applications.

In this RF and Microwave Scalar Network Analyzer article, we will cover,

  • What is a Scalar Network Analyzer?
  • Key measurements using Scalar Network Analyzer.
  • Scalar Network Analyzer vs Vector Network analyzer.
  • Application of Scalar network analyzers.
  • Calibration and error correction in Scalar Network Analyzer?
  • Main specifications of a Scalar Network Analyzer:
  • RF and Microwave Scalar Network Analyzer Manufactures

Key measurements using Scalar Network Analyzer:

Scalar Network Analyzer is a type of RF and microwave network analyzer used to measure the amplitude of the DUT connected to it. Below are the prime measurements using an SNA as these measurement capabilities are part of any standard Scalar Network Analyzer.

  • Distance to a fault, return loss measurement of Cable and antenna.
  • Cable loss / Insertion loss measurements, VSWR measurements.
  • Transmission and S parameter measurements.
  • Measurements of the Spectrum analyzer.
  • Measurements of Interference analyzer.
  • Measurements of Power meter with the USB power sensor.
  • Voltmeter measurements.

In general, scalar network analyzers are very useful in measuring the amplitude parameter response of a variety of RF and Microwave components.

Scalar Network Analyzer vs Vector Network analyzer:

 Scalar Network Analyzer and the Vector Network analyzer are two main types of network analyzers. Below is the list of prime differences between the scalar and vector network analyzers. 

  • Scalar Network Analyzer (SNA) is used to measure only the magnitude-related parameters of the incident and reflected waves at ports of DUT whereas Vector Network Analyzer (VNA) is designed to measure both magnitude and phase parameters.
  • Scalar Network Analyzeperform frequency sweep faster than Vector Network Analyzer.
  • Vector Network Analyzer (VNA) required complex hardware of heterodyne receiver to down-convert and measure amplitude and phase parameters, whereas it is simple downconversion for Scalar Network Analyze (SNA).

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Design and Application

Application of Scalar network analyzers:

Scalar analyzers have been used for the basic network analyzer measurements on many types of RF and microwave components. Below listed are some of the common devices measured using scalar analyzers.

Amplifier measurements: 

Scalar network analyzers have been used for basic parameters like return loss and/or VSWR, gain, gain flatness, gain compression, reverse isolation, and absolute power measurements on RF amplifiers.

Mixer measurements with a scalar analyzer:

Scalar network analyzers are commonly used to measure the conversion loss of an RF mixer, and also used for the measurement of mixer input match. Using a Scalar network analyzer, the test engineers can measure the conversion loss, return loss, absolute output power, and isolation as well as nonlinear magnitude measurements like gain compression, etc.

  • Very wideband diode detectors of the scalar network analyzer help for the simultaneous measurements of output IF frequency and input RF frequency to the mixer.

Frequency selective devices: 

Scalar network analysis is used for all the basic measurements like insertion loss, return loss, and isolation of frequency-selective devices like RF and Microwave filters. In general vector network analyzer provides the most accurate and complete characterization for the frequency-selective devices.

Millimeter-wave Measurements: 

Scalar network analyzers are used very commonly for the measurements of scalar values of transmission and reflection of the mm-wave devices in waveguide bands, by using waveguide source modules, waveguide couplers, and detectors. The advantage of scalar network analyzers is their lower cost compared to VNA in the mm-wave bands.

Research and Development SNA Measurements:

In general Scalar network analysis can use for the basic magnitude test requirements like insertion loss, return loss, and isolation for the Research and development (R&D) activities.  

  • Even though SNA can perform most of the test requirements of R&D activities, R&D preferred to have a wide range of instrumentation capability and flexibility, hence vector network analyzers, will be the preferred measurement instrumentation, if the cost can be affordable.

Manufacturing Test using SNA:

For the Manufacturing sector Test requirements, Scalar network analyzers have been ideal for the basic test due to their low capital cost, fast sweeps capability, and real-time tuning. In addition Scalar network analyzers is able to simultaneously display both the transmission and reflection response.

  • Scalar network analyzers provide the best value in the Manufacturing sector involving cost reduction, faster measurements, simpler operation, and easier measurement by ensuring reliable, and quality.

Remote transmission and power measuring applications: 

Most of the Scalar vector analyzers have the ability to remote their RF power detectors from the analyzer unit, it help for the remote detection and measurement of the devices located far (difficult to access) from the analyzer.

The architecture of Scalar Network Analyzer:

The basic architecture of a scalar network analyzer includes a signal generator, a test set, receiver, processor, and display. In 2 port SNAs have two test ports, for the measurement of amplitude parameters of the DUT.

Signal generator:

The built-in signal generator will generate the test signal to the DUT for the measurements. High-performance scalar network analyzers will have two sources for providing the test signals to multiple ports of the DUT.

Test set:

The test set of an SNA is used to route the generated signal to the different ports of the DUT and then to the receivers for further measurements and process.


The receivers in the SNA have a detector and make the amplitude measurements of the received signals from the ports. The received RF signal first will down converts using a down converter for further measurements, as it is easy to have amplitude measurements at a lower frequency.


An inbuilt processor will execute the mathematical calculations and measurements of the reflection and transmission signal and make the information available in the display in an easily understandable way as possible.


In the display of the scalar network analyzer, the processed RF signal from the receiver is displayed in a format like log formats, polar plots, Smith charts, which can be easily interpreted to the uses.

Calibration and error correction of SNA:

A scalar network analyzer requires periodic calibration either by any certified calibration laboratory or by the manufacturer. 

  • Calibration of scalar network analyzer helps to identify and correct the systematic errors in the instrument.

The calibration process usually involves measuring the instrument against the know standards for systematic errors identification and compensation.

Methods of calibration.

Mainly there are three types of calibration are followed for the scalar network analyzer SOLT (Short, Open, Load, Through) and TRL (through-reflect-line calibration). In addition, Electrical Calibration ( E-Cal) is used for quick user celebrations.

SOLT (Short, Open, Load, Through):

SOLT calibration is done by the known standards of Short, Open circuit, load (usually a precision 50 ohms), and a through connection. SOLT calibration is suitable for coaxial measurements in scalar network analyzers.

Electrical Calibration ( E-Cal):

An electrical calibrater or E-Cal is an electronic calibration module that comes with the network analyzers to generate the required open, short, load, and through values electrically for quick calibration.

TRL (through-reflect-line calibration):

TRL of scalar network analyzer uses a transmission line of known length and impedance of know value as one standard and a high-reflection standard for the calibration. TRL calibration is ideal for noncoaxial microwave test setups such as fixtures, waveguides, or wafer probing, etc.  

Type of Scalar Network Analyzer:

Scalar network analyzers are of mainly four types based on the form package it offers, like Benchtop SNA, portable SNA, handheld SNA, and USB-based SNA.

Bench-top Scalar Network analyzer:

Benchtop scalar network analyzers are AC power-operated bulky instruments, for the regular lab environment test and measurement applications. Now PXI based scalar network analyzers (FPGA card-based), are available with a wide range of measurement capabilities.

Portable Scalar Network analyzer:

Portable Scalar Network analyzer has an internal AC rechargeable battery for the field test application.

Handheld Scalar Network Analyzer:

Handheld Scalar network analyzers are light-weighted and small size units with battery operation capability. These units may have only a limited accuracy and measurement capability.

USB Scalar Network Analyzer:

USB Scalar Network Analyzer is a low-cost measurement solution that uses separate computers for the measurements, processing, control, and display purposes using the software associated with SNA. USB SNA will connect to a computer over the USB port for the test and measurement applications.

Basics & Selection Feature

Main specifications need to consider in the selection of a Scalar Network Analyzer: 

For the selection of a Scalar Network Analyzer, below are some of the key parameters test engineers need to consider for the optimization of the system cost and test features.

Frequency range:  

The frequency range defines the start and stops frequencies range of the scalar network analyzer. When selecting an SNA for the RF test application RF test engineers need to select a unit that covers the harmonics frequency range of the DUT.

The number of test ports:  

A scalar network analyzer is available with different options for the number of ports like two, four, or more test ports. As cost will increase with the number of ports, the selection is dependent upon the number of RF ports in the DUT.

Dynamic range:  

The dynamic range of a scalar network analyzer defines the range of power levels over which the network analyzer will support and perform the amplitude parameter measurements.

Measurement speed:  

The measurement speed of the SNA indicates the time required to perform a sweep over the entire range of frequencies. In general, a scalar network analyzer is faster than a vector network analyzer. Test engineers need to check for the user calibration time, as regular user calibration will improve the measurement accuracy. 

External Interface:

Nowadays scalar network analyzers need to communicate with the other instruments as part of the automation setup and the data transfer. In general, SNA is available with interfaces like ethernet, RS232, GPIB for easy interface.


The display of the scalar network analyzer is another factor that needs to consider as easy readability of the measured readings will help the test engineers to proceed with the test fastly.


Scalar network analyzers are one of the prime test and measurement instruments required in the RF and microwave industry for the measurement of amplitude parameters. Scalar network analyzers are available with various test features that can be offered by other test and measurement instruments like spectrum analyzerspower meters, etc.

Below are the top scalar network analyzers manufacturers. If you would like to add any specific scalar network analyzer manufacturer details, articles, etc please feel free to contact me through the contact or article submission page.

Thanks & Regards

RFMWC: RF & Microwave Community

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