Interview with Thorsten Chmielus from Aaronia AG

  • Thorsten Chmielus - CEO at Aaronia AG

everything RF recently interviewed Thorsten Chmielus who is the CEO of Aaronia AG.Aaronia AG is a manufacturing company based in Strickscheid, Germany that develop, trade and sell measuring and shielding equipment for RF and High frequency applications. Aaronia was founded in 2003 by Thorsten Chmielus and mainly produces Spectrum Analyzers which base on a patented spectrum analyzer process. 

Q. Can you give us a brief overview of the history of Aaronia? When was the company founded and what was the goal?

Thorsten ChmielusAaronia AG is a technology company based in Strickscheid in the Eifel region of Germany. Founded in 2003 by Thorsten Chmielus, the company mainly produces spectrum analyzers based on patented spectrum analysis processes. From conception and design to final assembly and software development, everything takes place in Germany. High tech made in Germany.

The first Spectrum Analyzer was produced and delivered in 2004. In 2008, the next generation of Spectrum Analyzers was presented with the V4 series, which set a world record in handheld sensitivity of DANL -170dBm (Hz). The 6th generation of SPECTRAN analyzers has been on the market since 2020, for over 9 years now in the form of real-time measuring devices.

With the new generation of spectrum analyzers, AARONIA is raising the bar in terms of speed. By cascading several SPECTRAN devices, real-time bandwidths in the gigahertz range can be realized. The SPECTRAN® V6 series thus sets new benchmarks in the USB compact class. The system is used worldwide in numerous individual installations and complex systems.

The current object of the company is the development, trade and distribution of measuring instruments, technologies and rights in the field of low- and high-frequency measurement technology, robotics, as well as the shielding of low- and high-frequency fields of all kinds and basic research in the field of communications and measurement technology; furthermore, the construction of own circuits and measurement methods, in particular for the development of extremely sensitive and precise high-frequency measurement technology.

Q. Can you tell us more about your product portfolio?

Thorsten ChmielusIn addition to the world's leading drone detection system Aartos, Aaronia AG develops and produces spectrum analyzers and is a full-range supplier in the field of measurement technology. The customer can choose from numerous ready-made solutions, but the individualization of the products is one of the company's great strengths. For example, the spectrum analyzers can be adapted precisely to the customer's needs by choosing from a large number of form factors and then determining which hardware is to be installed in the device. This modular approach also allows additional functions to be retrofitted as and when requirements change.

Q. Which market segments do you cater to?

Thorsten ChmielusAaronia AG specializes in spectrum analysis and broadband monitoring of all types of signals. There is also the area of technical monitoring and countermeasures. This includes the analysis of usable frequency spectra as well as the localization of signals or interferers or the detection of hidden devices. In addition, Aaronia's Aartos system is the world's leading high-end solution for drone detection. The decisive factor is that Aaronia provides customers with exactly the solution they need for their requirements.

Q. Aaronia has developed a range of solutions for spectrum analysis. Can you tell us about this product range? How do your products differ from those of other analyzer manufacturers?

Thorsten ChmielusWith the SPECTRAN® V6 ECO, Aaronia is currently establishing a new market segment in real-time spectrum analysis and now also offers high-performance measuring devices based on SDR in the entry-level price segment. Aaronia is closing the gap here between simple SDR systems designed as USB sticks with a limited range of functions and expensive desktop measuring devices that can do a lot but are inflexible. In addition, devices with a USB connection can be adapted to changing conditions and brought to market much more quickly than desktop devices - another aspect that sets them apart from classically designed measuring devices.

Benchtop devices usually also quickly reach their limits when it comes to extracting raw data. With SDR systems, the storage and further processing of IQ data is limited solely by the performance of the PC system used, which opens up completely new possibilities for pre- and post-processing. For example, the digitized signals can be transferred to in-house software solutions or to existing applications such as MATLAB or similar for further processing.

In addition, the screens built into the rather large desktop devices are unsuitable for real-time spectrum analysis. Too small and with far too low a resolution, detailed analyses can hardly be carried out. Even a standard PC screen with a diagonal of more than 20", full HD resolution and 65 million colors puts any built-in monitor in the shade. If that's not enough, you can use one (or more) 80-inch 8k monitors to visualize every last detail. The end of Stone Age technology has arrived, the measuring device dinosaurs are dying out.

Q. Can you tell us more about the antennas you have developed for EMC testing? How do these antennas differ from conventional antennas?

Thorsten ChmielusAs a full-range supplier, Aaronia AG offers its customers high-quality equipment from a single source. In addition to USB real-time spectrum analyzers, this also includes antennas, amplifiers and signal generators as well as cables and connectors. With nine antenna series, all conceivable scenarios are covered.

When developing new antennas, Aaronia always focuses on broadband capability and multiple benefits. For example, the HyperLOG® EMI antennas are designed as combined antennas consisting of biconical and logarithmic-periodic components and can therefore be used in a very broadband range from 20 MHz to 3 GHz or 6 GHz. Due to their very high accuracy and maximum power of over 300 W, they are predestined for immunity tests on the one hand, but are also suitable as reference antennas for professional EMC and pre-compliance tests on the other. In addition, their mounting is designed so that the antenna can be reversed within a few seconds if the other plane is to be measured. This means that only a single antenna is required for the entire measurement setup. In addition to the conversion times, this also eliminates the usual sources of error in EMC measurements caused by constantly switching between different test antennas. Thanks to its robust design, the antenna can also be used for free-field measurements.

Figure 1. The Hyperlog Antenna
Aaronia has also developed near-field probes specifically for EMC measurements on components or at PCB level. These are compatible with any spectrum analyzer or oscilloscope. An active and a passive set are available, with each set containing 4 probes for magnetic fields and one probe for electric fields. As the measurement is potential-free, the interference signal is not affected. The probes are surrounded by an insulating layer to enable safe measurements on oscillating circuits or power lines. In addition, they are deliberately designed as passive devices so that they can also be used for transmission.

Figure 2. Near Field Probes

Q. Aaronia has developed a range of outdoor/mobile test devices. Can you tell us more about this product line? What are the use cases and who are the target customers?

Thorsten ChmielusRemote solutions are coming more and more into focus, for example for comprehensive 24/7 spectrum monitoring. Numerous private and civil organizations in various countries require detailed information on whether the required frequency bands are free or how high the level of RF signal pollution is in a certain area. In conjunction with the SPECTRAN V6 ECO, Aaronia is able to provide very cost-effective and incredibly good solutions for these applications.

The various SPECTRAN® V6 remote solutions include IP66-certified outdoor boxes (RODB) equipped with the SPECTRAN® V6 real-time spectrum analyzer and a PC for the continuous streaming of broadband spectrum data (FFT). The SPECTRAN® V6 RSA series devices, which are also designed for streaming FFT data, are available for installation in 19" cabinets. Here, for example, the RF antenna signal can be fed in via RF-over-fiber. The IQR series, on the other hand, consists of high-performance systems for storing IQ data and can also be tailored to customer requirements.

The V6 MIL is an extremely robust outdoor measuring device in combination with a laptop. With this solution, all tasks that occur in the field - from measurement and recording to data export and report preparation with standard PC software - can be carried out with just one device.

Q. Can you tell us about your drone detection solutions? Where have your solutions already been used?

Thorsten ChmielusThe Aartos DDS system is based on the real-time spectrum analyzers of the SPECTRAN V6 series. It uses the same hardware, the same antennas and the same software as the measurement technology solutions. However, for the drone detection system, significantly more components are being interconnected to form extremely complex composite systems. Among others, the Aartos DDS system is used at London Heathrow, Singapore Airport and Muscat in Oman. Those who choose Aaronia rely on products that can be used to solve all tasks from measurements to complex detection systems.

Q. Aaronia has recently launched a range of splitters, couplers and RFOF (RF over Fiber) solutions. Can you tell us more about these product lines? What prompted you to enter this field?

Thorsten ChmielusAs a full-range supplier, Aaronia AG offers all the high-quality products that measurement technology customers need. Of course, this also includes appropriate, high-quality accessories. 

Especially in the field of RF signal transmission over long cable runs, copper cables are not suitable. Aaronia offers its customers optical connections (RF-over-fiber links) for various frequency ranges, which operate with low losses and at the same time provide galvanic isolation for interference-free EMC measurements. In addition, various passive or active splitters or combiners as well as a high-quality directional coupler and corresponding phase-stable measurement cables are available.

Q. Most of the new test devices from Aaronia are modular and can be controlled via a computer. Can you tell us about the software that controls your testers?

Thorsten ChmielusOn the one hand, the modular structure allows the customer to assemble his device on the hardware side according to his requirements. On the other hand, with the modular real-time spectrum monitoring software "RTSA-Suite PRO", Aaronia provides a powerful software package for signal recording and data analysis. The software offers, among other things, the simultaneous display of several spectra, histogram function, waterfall display in 2D or 3D, unlimited number of markers or a complex limit value display.

Despite its complexity, the RTSA-Suite PRO can be configured intuitively using drag & drop to connect a wide variety of hardware and customize settings or views. Individual blocks are put together and connected to each other in such a way that a visual image of the measurement setup is created as a block diagram. Over 100 blocks with predefined functionalities are currently available. Frequently required measurement setups are simply saved as a finished mission and can therefore be called up again at any time.

The ability to record IQ data in real-time is exceptional. The Record & Replay function of the SPECTRAN® V6, in conjunction with the RTSA-Suite PRO, allows the recording and replay of the full IQ bandwidth of up to 245MHz and more. In this way, all the information required to restore a signal can be saved. The data is stored locally on the connected computer and can be retrieved at any time to examine or even decode a signal in more detail. The recording time is only limited by the capacity of the storage media used.

Figure 3. Detailed analysis of signals by zooming into data captured via the SPECTRAN® V6 

An example is shown in Figure 3. The enormous real-time bandwidth of up to 245 MHz and the ultra-fast sweep speed of the SPECTRAN® V6 enable EMC measurements in real-time. A major problem is always the limited resolution capability of the graphics cards. A new, special deep memory folding algorithm extends the spectrum and waterfall resolution to up to 1 billion (109) points. The graphs in Figure 3 show a recording with the analyzer stopped and a marker set to 2,400,017 kHz. The memory is successively zoomed into at 4 different levels (20MHz range without zoom down to 20kHz with the highest zoom). Figure 3 clearly shows that the system still offers perfect spectrum resolution even at the highest zoom level.

This shows just how powerful the Aaronia solutions are. Only at this resolution is it ultimately possible to recognize that it is not a single signal, but several signals, each only around 1 Hz apart. This is not visible with normal equipment at normal settings.

By using the patented WRAPPED SPECTRUM BLOCK, the spectrum can be divided into several lines. With a good PC and a good graphics card as well as four 8k monitors and thus good resolution, every gradation can be displayed in Hertz resolution.

Q. Over the years, Aaronia has expanded its product portfolio to include a wide range of products. What's next on the horizon? Are there any new products on the horizon?

Thorsten ChmielusAaronia AG is already working on the next Members of SPECTRAN® V6 family. With a frequency range of up to 110GHz (depending on the model), the SPECTRAN® V6 XPLORER will be the new player in the high-frequency range. As a cost-effective development platform, its performance opens up completely new areas of application.

The recording and analysis of IQ data is also becoming increasingly important. The big problem here is the amount of data generated. This fills the mass memory with superfluous data and makes it difficult to search for specific information. Aaronia AG has solved this problem and developed a new tool that only records predefined events. For example, everything that is at 2.4 GHz and has to do with Wifi can be written away during operation. Several events can also be defined if required. In this way, the technician can create a database that contains all events but only requires a fraction of the memory space. It is also relatively easy to set up 24/7 recording with this tool, as little hard disk capacity is required. Recording IQ data in a meaningful way and being able to search through it afterwards is the undisputed supreme discipline. Aaronia masters this too.