Harmonic Mixer Primer: The Gateway to the Millimeter Wave Frontier is Harmonic Mixer Technology

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  • Author: David J. Vondran, Marketing Manager

The next frequency frontier is the millimeter wave (mm-wave) band, which occupies the 30 GHz to 300 GHz spectrum (wavelengths from 10 to 1 mm). Emerging applications now span radio astronomy, communication, imaging, space research, and homeland security, and are starting to seriously populate this vast spectrum resource. Market forecast and limited available spectrum suggest that attractive growth is just over the horizon so explorers are naturally migrating to stake their claim in this next frontier.

Those intrepid explorers of this mm-wave frontier need reliable and economical tools to investigate, design, characterize, model, test, troubleshoot, maintain, and verify key performance attributes of their applications. Unfortunately, convenient off-the-shelf mm-wave tools are very limited commercially. Practically speaking, most engineers improvise by extending their existing test equipment into this mm-wave spectrum with frequency extension accessories based on harmonic mixer technology.1

The purpose of this article is to overview the low-cost harmonic mixer technology (retail pricing is currently between $2,000 and $6,000 USD) and to present practical tips on how to apply this commercially available down conversion technology to spectrum analysis as a means to explore the mm-wave frontier.