Finding faults in coaxial cables

Coaxial cables are essential transmission lines in many RF/microwave applications. Coaxial cables are usually reliable, but sometimes coaxial cables can develop unseen faults that may be anywhere in their length. Finding those faults can often be challenging, typically requiring the use of time-domain reflectometry (TDR) which operates much like a radar system.

Analysis of the reflected signal gives insight into the location and type of fault. The resolution of a distance measurement depends on the risetime of the pulsed test signal. There are commercially available TDR devices. For some less demanding applications a normal oscilloscope with cheap TDR pulse generator will do. For example my easy to build  Time Domain Reflectometer (TDR) circuit has been available as kit made by Far Circuits.

Microwaves&RF magazine article Method Finds Faults in Coaxial Cables that I just read presents a straightforward technique that works in the frequency domain without need of exotic test equipment to accurately find the distance to a fault in RF/microwave coaxial cables. The (FD)2 method does not require specialized test equipment or very high test frequencies to determine the location of a cable fault. In this approach the pulse generator can be replaced by an RF signal generator and the scope by an RF voltmeter. (FD)2 method provides a simple means to find the distance to a gross fault, such as an open or short, in a transmission line using only a relatively low-frequency signal generator and some form of amplitude measuring instrument.

At particular frequencies and line lengths, the reflected signal wave will be completely out of phase with the initial forward-wave signal, resulting in cancellation of the signal wave. With the (FD)2 approach, the longer the distance to the fault, the lower the frequency required to find it.

The (FD)2 method for finding faults in coaxial cables can be simplified when performed with a spectrum analyzer and a tracking generator (no hand tuning or generator and and continuously reading meter readings as you see the results as picture on screen):

For more details read Method Finds Faults in Coaxial Cables article.


  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Arcom Builds upon the Success of Quiver with New Innovations

    Cable impairment detection luminary Arcom has added to their Quiver line of field fault location tools. Now, in addition to exclusive CPD detection and Xcor technology, Quiver is equipped with Network Traffic Compatible Time Domain Reflectometer technology (NTC TDR), which allows the Quiver full functioning capability on an active network – there is no longer any reason to shut down service and frustrate your customers during troubleshooting.

    Hunter’s innovative radar technology identifies the source of Common Path Distortion (CPD), way before your network is affected.

    Identifying the causes of network impairments and being able to pinpoint their locations are key to eliminating them. Quiver® is the only field-troubleshooting tool that can do just that. The unique power of Quiver comes from our patented Xcor® technology, which uses advanced passive radar signal correlation to measure the presence of CPD and any other nonlinear distortion. Quiver allows technicians to consistently detect well below the system noise floor, revealing impairments previously invisible or intermittent. Quiver boosts your productivity by determining the precise distance to a problem source, eliminating hours of guesswork. Most importantly (especially to your customers) your technicians can identify and locate issues without ever disturbing your network.

    We’ve seen it time and time again – once a technician demos a Quiver, they don’t want to give it up. On top of Xcor, we’ve added a lightning-fast FFT, forward and return spectrum analyzer, and our latest innovation, an optional NTC TDR, that works as a PNM companion tool. It’s the first TDR able to operate accurately on a live plant without network disruption – truly a game changer in network maintenance.

  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Page has one interesting fault locating technique:

    Finding Faults Underground – Murray Loop Test

    The Murray loop test is a method of using a Wheatstone bridge to find the location of a fault in underground wiring without having to dig first.

    The faulty cable is the one that’s underground with a ground fault at some unknown location along its length.

    With this used for a Wheatstone bridge, we first have to balance the bridge, meaning that the current through the galvanometer has to be made zero.

    once it’s balanced, we know R1, R2 and L and we can solve for Lx. Knowing the length Lx, we know where to dig to repair the fault

  3. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Simple trick to measure plane impedance with a VNA

    The question of time vs. frequency, as the most useful measurement domain, has long been a controversial topic. In some cases, it leads to rather heated discussions. The argument in favor of a vector network analyzer (VNA), a frequency domain instrument, is that the dynamic range and signal to noise ratio (SNR) of a VNA are much better than they are for a time domain reflectometer (TDR). The argument in favor of TDR measurements is that they tend to be lower cost and are taken from a direct reading, so there is little to interpret. Fortunately, most new TDRs can also transform measurements to S-parameters (much like a VNA) and most new VNAs can also transform to time (providing TDR equivalent data).

    Having said all of this, the measurement of a PCB plane using a VNA may not be as straightforward as you might expect. One simple trick makes it easy.

    The general method of determining the characteristic impedance of the plane is to measure the open circuit capacitance and the short circuit inductance.

    Rather than calculating the inductance and the capacitance, which takes time and effort, there is an easier way. Since the capacitive impedance is falling at 6dB/octave and the short circuit inductance is increasing at 6dB/octave, we can average the short circuit and open circuit impedance at any frequency.

    The TDR and VNA characteristic impedance measurements are almost 20% apart, which can result in degraded signal and/or power integrity.

    The simulation results, shown in Figure 4, clearly show the frequency shift and impedance shift resulting from the 1nH shorting inductance. Without knowing the precise inductance of the short circuit, it is difficult to determine the exact answer.

    This is where we employ the trick and make the measurement both easier and more accurate.

    In conclusion, measuring the impedance from a short and open plane can have a significant error due to the inductance of the short. Rather than making the measurement more complicated by attempting to include the short inductance, the measurement is simplified using a single open sweep. The simplified measurement has been shown to be within 1% of the exact answer. This small error is likely due to the accuracy at which the cursors can be placed.

  4. Tomi Engdahl says:

    System models help correlate measurements to simulations

    Do you use an oscilloscope to verify the operation of your design or do you simply trust your simulation? Being a conscientious engineer, you probably probe your DUT and view the waveform data on an oscilloscope. You also believe that you have an accurate device or component level schematic model, perhaps a SPICE model. You simulate the behavior at your test point (TP) in your model, and the results don’t exactly match what is shown on the oscilloscope. Is your model correct or is the measurement system, including probes and oscilloscope, at least partly to blame?

    You may also notice that your circuit behavior changes when you probe the TP. In some cases, it gets worse or in others it gets better. Regardless, the simulation and measurements aren’t aligning and you’re stuck. How can you explain—or better yet simulate—why this is happening?

  5. Tomi Engdahl says:

    What’s in Your Coaxial Cable?
    Coaxial cables are a standby of the RF/microwave industries, as they connect vital components ranging from smartphones and laptops for everyday life to radar and GPS for military and aerospace.


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