News Analysis – Rohde & Schwarz announces entry into oscilloscope market

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While Rohde & Schwarz has its fingers in a number of pies, it is probably best known for its test and measurement products, which comprise some 50% of the company's turnover. One glaring omission from its product portfolio has been oscilloscopes, but that gap has now been filled with the company's first entry into that market.

Chief executive Michael Vohrer, who has since retired, pointed to a recent survey of customers, asking them what they associated the company with. "They answered 'scopes'," he said, "even though we have never sold them!" According to Vohrer, Rohde & Schwarz (R&S) has thought about scopes for some time. "Customers expect them from us. This introduction completes our test and measurement portfolio and offers the potential for future sales growth." Strictly speaking, R&S is already in the scopes market. It acquired German company Hameg in 2005 and has been operating the company as an independent subsidiary since then. One of the attractions of the scope market for R&S is the fact the devices are used in a wide range of markets. "It's a market worth about $1billion a year," Vohrer pointed out, "it's growing and it's not as volatile as some other sectors." R&S has divided the market for scopes into three parts, with the key parameter being bandwidth. Its new offerings – the RTM and RTO series – will both address the mid range, while the lower end of the market will be addressed through Hameg models. So far, there is no indication of if and when the company might target high end requirements. Roland Steffen, head of the test and measurement division, said: "Bandwidth is the key performance indicator and the best entry point for Rohde and Schwarz is in the performance sector." The RTO family – said to offer the fastest acquisition and analysis rate of any available scope – will initially be available in two and four channel models, with bandwidths of 1GHz and 2GHz, a maximum sampling rate of 10Gsample/s and a memory of 20Msample/channel. Meanwhile, the RTM family will feature 500MHz bandwidth models capturing 5Gsample/s and boasting a memory depth of up to 8Msample. The functions of the top end models are underpinned by an in house designed asic. This 15million gate device, manufactured on a 90nm process, has an area of 250mm2. This is complemented by another custom device – a 10GHz a/d SiGe converter with an effective number of bits of 7.5. Similarly, R&S has developed a Windows based operating system that allows fast booting of the scopes. Data is displayed on RTO models using a 10.4in touchscreen, with extensive analysis functions available to the user. R&S has used internal resources in the development of the new oscilloscope range. Josef Wolf, director of the oscilloscopes subdivision, noted: "We didn't want to build just another scope. We learned from our internal customers – we have more than 1500 development engineers, a lot of whom are scope users – what the scopes should look like." Amongst the focuses that derived from this effort were size, weight, noise and ease of operation. R&S has also taken a new approach to triggering. It says conventional analogue trigger systems struggle with the time and amplitude offset between the analogue trigger path and the digital signal acquisition path, limiting the instrument's accuracy. With a purely digital trigger architecture, the trigger and the captured data share a common signal path and a common time base. The result, said Wolf, is exceptionally low trigger jitter and exact assignment of the trigger to the signal. For the moment, R&S will sell the scopes to existing customers. "But we will decide in the future whether to use alternative channels," said Vohrer. As for market expectations, the long term goal is a 30% share, but the company will be happy with 10% in a couple of years. The introduction of scopes is only one element in R&S' growth plans. "We have expansion plans for all of our business areas," Vohrer concluded, "addressing new customers and new markets."