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What is Broadband Radar?

by Dave Alston

Broadband is a term that has been thrown around a lot in recent years.  Most of us are familiar with it in reference to Internet connections, but with the exception of a few transducers and depth sounders, it’s seldom used in the world of marine electronics.  However, we now have a new application for the high tech expression.  Broadband radar has now emerged onto the scene on a relatively small scale, but may become more predominate as the technology is put to the test.
Conventional radars transmit a short duration signal, or pulse, that bounces off objects (targets) and is received back by the radar.  The time difference between the transmitted signal and the received signal is used to calculate the range of the target.  Since the radar knows which direction its antenna is pointing and therefore the relative bearing of a received signal, the precise position of the target can be accurately displayed.
A broadband radar transmits a constant signal that varies in frequency.  When a signal is reflected by an object and received back by the radar its frequency is measured.  Since the radar knows when it transmitted that particular frequency it can therefore calculate range by the difference in time of transmission and reception, just like conventional pulse radars. 
The primary difference between the two methods is pulsed signals versus constant.  Broadband makes it possible to process shorter range targets due to not having to switch between transmit and receive modes, while pulse technology offers greater range through its ability to transmit much more power.     
Please keep in mind that my descriptions here of these two radar technologies is so abbreviated it’s like summarizing the Ten Commandments with “Behave”.  However, it should be sufficient to make my point.  Over time, broadband radar may prove to be the wave of the future but it is a very young and developing technology in comparison to pulse radars.  While exploring the unknown may be a trait often found in mariners, my suggestion is to exercise patience and give broadband radar enough time to either develop or fall to the wayside.  When you see all the major marine electronics manufacturers replacing their line up of radars with broadband models, it may be time to give it some serious thought.  Until then, spend your hard earned money on products that have stood the test of time and let someone else roll the dice.