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ECE 166 Microwave Circuits Introduction to RF/Microwave Systems

Gabriel M. Rebeiz 2006 RF/Microwave engineers spend a lot of time designing and specifying systems with the purpose of receiving and/or transmitting a specific signal, filtering out all the interferers from the receive path, and making sure that the transmitted power is spectrally clean and does not contain any out-of-band signals. One has to specify the noise, gain, linearity, etc. of the system, and build components to achieve these functions (amplifiers, mixers, oscillators, etc.). Typical received powers can be as low as -104 dBm in GSM signals and typical transmit powers are around 1-3 W (30-35 dBm). The difference between transmit and receive signal levels can be as much as 1014 in the same phone and one must make sure that the transmit signal does not saturate the receiver (this is why we believe that digital is easy hard work is in analog RF). Also, while receiving a -100 dBm signal, someone may be standing 1 m from you and transmitting as much as 2 W at a slightly different frequency. How do we get rid of their signal and not let it interfere with the (wanted) received signal? Welcome to system-level design at RF/Microwave frequencies. There are few basics which need to be covered first before we go to a typical system. They will be done in a question and answer mode (pioneered by Galileo in the 15th century).

1. Why do we use RF to Microwave Frequencies (100 MHz to 6 GHz) for Wireless Communications? The basic information which we are transmitting, being voice, video or data has a bandwidth of 4-20 kHz (voice) and 0.1-2 MHz (video and data). Sometimes the bandwidth is given in bits-per-second (Kilo or Mega-bits per second) since the information is basically in digital bits. In general, it is possible to put 2 bit per hertz of bandwidth (in modern systems only), so a 1 Mbps video data will take around 500 kHz or frequency bandwidth. However, these low frequencies cannot be transmitted wirelessly since antennas operate efficiently when their dimensions are a fraction of a wavelength (typically 0.25-0.5). Therefore, an efficient 1 MHz antenna will be 75-150 meter is length! There is another reason why we do not transmit low frequencies: A 2 Mbps signal contains all frequencies from nearly DC to 1 MHz, and this is virtually a 200:1 bandwidth (5 KHz to 1 MHz), and it is very hard, if not impossible, to make an antenna at any frequency with such a wide bandwidth. Therefore, in order to solve the antenna problem, we modulate the information that we wish to send on a carrier signal. The carrier signal is heavily regulated by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and some are reserved for cell phones, some for police bands, hospital bands, radio amateur bands, etc. For example, some police bands are at 70 and 144 MHz carrier frequency, while many cell phone bands are at 850 MHz, 1900 MHz, 2100 MHz, etc. At 2000 MHz (2 GHz), the antenna dimension in air is about 3.5-7 cm, which is quite small. Also, a 1 MHz bandwidth signal which is placed on the 2 GHz carrier occupies only 0.05% bandwidth and most antennas have 3-10% bandwidth (in general, a 2 GHz cell phone band is allowed a 60 MHz bandwidth so as to handle hundreds of different channels, each about 200 kHz to 1 MHz wide, and therefore, the antenna bandwidth needs to be 3.5%). And this is why we send and transmit RF/Microwave frequencies, but only as carriers, and what we are really interested in is their content (the narrow bandwidth signal which is modulated on the carriers).

2. What is Modulation? A single-tone carrier frequency, at 2.00000000000 GHz carries no information. It is a single tone and all what we can get from receiving it is that it exists. In order to superimpose the voice, video, or data on top of it, we need to change it a bit, and there are many different ways of doing this. The first and most simple is amplitude modulation (we change its amplitude depending on the amplitude of the baseband) called AM. The second and easy one is frequency modulation (we change its phase depending on the amplitude of the baseband) called FM. We all know AM and FM from the radio stations (hmm..do you really know AM? I do not know if you even listen to AM stations anymore!). Both of these modulations are called analog modulation techniques since an analog baseband transfers to an analog control of the amplitude or frequency of the carrier frequency. These two techniques are quite easy to do, but are spectrally inefficient, that is, the spectrum around the carrier frequency takes too much frequency space to transmit a small bandwidth of baseband information! Also, they are quite sensitive to noise and one must have a good signal-to noise ratio (SNR) to receive AM signals (and FM signals) with clarity. With the advent of digital circuits and digital signal processing, we became very efficient in spectral modulation and in tolerating a low SNR while still retrieving the information quite nicely. Most of the new digital modulation techniques are based on phase modulation, that is, we change the phase of the signal depending on the baseband bits. I encourage you to take a digital communications course to learn more about them, and the common modulation techniques, in the digital domain are: FSK: Frequency Shift Keying. Just like FM, but in the digital domain. We change the frequency depending on the baseband (1 or 0). 1 sends f1 and 0 sends f2. BPSK: Bipolar Phase Shift Keying. We change the phase from 0 to 180 deg. depending on the baseband (1 or 0). The frequency stays the same. However, changing the phase quickly at Mbps does result in a specific spectrum around the carrier frequency. QPSK: Quadrature Phase Shift Keying. We change the phase from 0 to 90 to 180 to 270 deg. (or 45, 135, 225, 315 deg.) depending on the baseband signal. The frequency stays the same. However, changing the phase quickly at Mbps does result in a spectrum around the carrier frequency. GSM and CDMA phones are both based on QPSK modulation techniques. QAM: Quadrature AM. We change the amplitude and phase of the carrier depending on the baseband. We can have 16 QAM, 64 QAM, etc. In this case, we can pack a lot of data per Hz of bandwidth since we have control of both the amplitude and phase of a carrier, but QAM needs a high SNR to work well (especially 64 QAM). OFDM: Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing. We send different frequencies simultaneously so as to have different paths between the transmit and receive antennas. This is starting to get complicated and let us stop here.

So, the role of an RF/Microwave engineer is to receive the carrier (and its spectrum), amplify it, clean it from any interferers, demodulate it (that is, strip the carrier off and get the baseband information) and then send the baseband signal to the DSP chip. We typically do everything up to the digital domain. In many cases, this is not easy given that you can have some serious interferers which can be up to 1010 higher than the received signal (albeit at a slightly different frequency).

3. Why are most Communication Systems limited to 6 GHz? Most broadcast systems (point to multipoint like a base-station or cell phones) are at 70 and 144 MHz (police bands), 400 MHz (more police bands), 850 MHz (cell phones), 1700 and 1900 MHz (cell phones), 2400 MHz (WLAN, Bluetooth), 5.2 and 5.8 GHz (WLAN). This is because long wavelengths (1 m to 6 cm) propagate nicely through trees, doors, walls, etc. and therefore create a good and robust propagation environment. The higher the frequency, the worse the propagation channel is, and this is why WLAN at 5.2/5.8 GHz is quite sensitive to the propagation environment. So, why do we even go to 5.2 GHz and not do all our communications at 100-200 MHz where the propagation loss is very low? Well, first, 100 MHz needs large antennas (see before) and second, there is not enough bandwidth at 100-200 MHz carrier frequencies to put all our communication bands there! It is the quest of additional bandwidth needed for additional users (and more data) which is pushing up to go to higher and higher frequencies and to live with the nasty propagation loss and scattering which occurs when the wavelength start getting into the cm range! Having said the above, it is important to note that if we have a clear physical channel between two antennas (we call this point-to-point communications such as a roof-top antenna and a satellite, or two antennas on base station towers), then the propagation environment can be nearly ideal at any frequency and we can use directive antennas to communicate at virtually any frequency. In this case, the bandwidth can be quite large since the data shared between them can be 500 Mbps to 1 Gpbs, and therefore, we use 12 GHz, 14 GHz, 35 GHz, and even 50-60 GHz. For TV signals (DBS: Direct Broadcast Satellite), the signal bandwidth is about 500 MHz at 11.7-12.2 GHz (200 channels at 2.5 MHz each) and for basestation to base-station, the bandwidth can also be 1 Gbps (500 MHz spectrum centered at 14 GHz or 35 GHz). The topic of propagation and how to handle antenna design, scattering, multiple bounce propagation, etc. are typically covered in an antenna class (ECE 222A) and you are encourage to take it. For example, every frequency can also handle two electric field polarizations, and for example, the DBS system carries about 200 channels per polarization for a total of 400 channels (and they operate at exactly the same frequency and the same spectrum and the same modulation techniques, except that one carrier has the Efield oriented horizontally and the other carrier has the E-field oriented vertically!). 4. What does a typical receiver chain look like and what is the role of the components?

A typical receiver chain for a 11.7-12.2 GHz satellite system is shown above. We have an LNA (low noise amplifier), a filter, followed by a mixer/oscillator which translates the frequency to 1.2-1.7 GHz, 3

and then in IF (intermediate frequency) amplifier, an IF filter, followed by yet another mixer/oscillator at 1.2-1.7 GHz to bring us to the baseband.

A question which immediately arises is what is this mixer thing? And why do we need to translate the frequency to 1.2-1.7 GHz and then again to baseband? Well, read on to see the role of each component: LNA: This amplifies the signal at 11.7-12.2 GHz and adds the lowest noise possible to the receiver. Typical amplification level is 10-16 dB. This is, of course, not enough knowing that the signal is at -100 dBm, but as you will see later, all what we need is to just boost the signal to overcome the mixer loss/noise.

Before we go on, you can say: STOP..just amplify by 110 dB at 11.7-12.2 GHz, get a signal level of 10 dBm (this is about 0.7Vrms in a 50 ohm system), then take off the modulated signal from the 11.7-12.2 GHz spectrum and you are finished. The answer to this is: We wish we can! First, 110 dB gain amplifiers at 11.7-12.2 GHz (or for that matter even at 2 GHz for cell phones) are very hard to build and are prone to severe problems since any fF-level capacitance feedback from the input to the output can cause oscillations. Also, they consume an immense amount of current since we are working close to the ft of the transistor. Third, once we have amplified the signal to 10 dBm, it is still at 11.7-12.2 GHz, and we need extremely fast digital electronics (and extremely power hungry) to take off the modulation from the carrier. We have to follow the carrier at 11.7-12.2 GHz for demodulation to occur and strip the baseband information from the carrier and this is very hard to do directly at 12 GHz (even hard to do at 2 GHz for cell phone applications, which is still very very fast for low power digital electronics). This is why we use mixers! Mixers: Without mixers, we have no radios. This component is much more important than the LNA and actually, until the 1940s, most radios were build without the LNA but never without a mixer. It is an amazing device, because it is a linear and a non-linear device at the same time. Nonlinear in that it acts as a multiplier, and multiplies the local oscillator frequency (fLO) with the RF frequency (fRF) to result in a difference frequency (fRF-fLO) which is called the intermediate frequency (fIF). So, there is a frequency translation happening in the mixer which can only happen in a non-linear device. It is linear in the terms that it translates the RF spectrum in a linear nondistortion matter to the IF spectrum, that is, if you have two RF frequencies, fRF1 and fRF2 with complex levels a1 and a2, they are translated to the IF band as fIF1 and fIF2 and their respective amplitudes and phases and perfectly preserved. This is important since you want to translate a 4

complicated spectrum centered at the RF frequency to an IF spectrum while preserving all the different frequency components (amplitudes and phases). Really, mixers are amazing! In this case, the LO is set at 10.5 GHz and the IF is at 1.2-1.7 GHz. Oscillators: The oscillator provides the local signal to the mixer for the frequency translation process. They have to be extremely stable in frequency and are referenced to a Xtal resonator using a phased-locked loop (PLL). Also, they should be tunable so as to change their frequency (if needed) to access different channels. Also, they should have very low amplitude and phase noise since you do not want to inject noise into the IF spectrum from a badly designed local oscillator. IF/Baseband Chain: Now, that the frequency is lowered to 1.2-1.7 GHz, we can add about 20 dB of gain at this stage in order to boost the signal. The 1.2-1.7 GHz becomes the new carrier and the video and sound information is still on top of this carrier. In the satellite case, the IF is mixed again to baseband (0-2.5 MHz) using a second oscillator in the 1.2-1.7 GHz range. The frequency of this second oscillator is set at 1.2-1.7 GHz (variable setting) so as to select a single 2.5 MHz channel out of the 200 channels. Once it is mixed again and the signal is at baseband (0-2.5 MHz), then the signal is amplified using standard CMOS electronics by 80 dB (the amplification is done at 0-2.5 MHz), sent to the DSP chip, and the DSP does the digital demodulation.

One thing which we did not cover above is the role of filters. Filters are extremely important in communication systems, and selecting them and their frequency response is an art by itself. In the satellite receiver above, there are two filters which provide protection from un-wanted off-band signals. The first one is after the LNA and covers the 11.7-12.2 GHz range with an attenuation of 40 dB for far-away signals, and the second one is at 1.2-1.7 GHz, again with an attenuator of 40 dB for far-away signals. It is very rare to have a filter after the LNA (in most receivers, the filter is before the LNA), but in the case of DBS systems, this is a very protected frequency range and there are virtually no interferes in this band.

As an example of a Wideband CDMA cell phone and I downloaded the system architecture from the MAXIM website (see WCDMA-MAXIM.pdf). Other companies have identical chip-sets, but I used MAXIM just because I like their flashy catalogues. I also downloaded parts of the W-CDMA standard and many of the entries are digital/DSP related. Typical standards have a 20-100 page catalogue detailing everything from the interferer rejection to the minimum signal that must be received, to the transmit power control, to the communication protocol, timing diagrams, etc. Frequency band: 1920 MHz -1980 MHz and 2110 MHz - 2170 MHz (Frequency Division Duplex) Minimum frequency band required: ~ 2x5MHz Frequency re-use: 1 Carrier Spacing: 4.4MHz - 5.2 MHz Maximum number of (voice) channels on 2x5MHz: ~196 (spreading factor 256 UL, AMR 7.95kbps) / ~98 (spreading factor 128 UL, AMR 12.2kbps) Voice coding: AMR codecs (4.75 kHz - 12.2 kHz, GSM EFR=12.2 kHz) and SID (1.8 kHz) Channel coding: Convolutional coding, Turbo code for high rate data Duplexer needed (190MHz separation), Asymmetric connection supported Tx/Rx isolation: MS: 55dB, BS: 80dB Receiver: Rake 5

Receiver sensitivity: Node B: -121dBm, Mobile -117dBm at BER of 10-3 Data type: Packet and circuit switch Modulation: QPSK Pulse shaping: Root raised cosine, roll-off = 0.22 Chip rate: 3.84 Mcps Channel raster: 200 kHz Maximum user data rate (Physical channel): ~ 2.3Mbps (spreading factor 4, parallel codes (3 DL / 6 UL), 1/2 rate coding), but interference limited. Maximum user data rate (Offered): 384 kbps (year 2002), higher rates (~ 2 Mbps) in the near future. HSPDA will offer data speeds up to 8-10 Mbps (and 20 Mbps for MIMO systems) Channel bit rate: 5.76 Mbps Frame length: 10ms (38400 chips) Number of slots / frame: 15 Number of chips / slot: 2560 chips Handovers: Soft, Softer, (interfrequency: Hard) Power control period: Time slot = 1500 Hz rate Power control step size: 0.5, 1, 1.5 and 2 dB (Variable) Power control range: UL 80dB, DL 30dB Mobile peak power: Power class 1: +33 dBm (+1dB/-3dB) = 2W; class 2 +27 dBm, class 3 +24 dBm, class 4 +21 dBm Number of unique base station identification codes: 512 / frequency Physical layer spreading factors: 4 ... 256 UL, 4 ... 512 DL

The RF system architecture is shown in the attached file (WCDMA-MAXIM.pdf). Note that there is a diplexer (transmit/receive filter) before the LNA on the receive side, another filter after the LNA, a zero-IF I/Q down-converter mixer (I and Q channels) which down-converts mixes the RF spectrum directly into baseband using a local oscillator (this is different than the DBS which down-converts first to an IF frequency and then to baseband), very high variable gain at baseband (0-2.5 MHz), a low pass filter with 7-pole response at baseband (integrated with the amplifier and not shown), and then sent to the A/D converters and the DSP chip. Also, notice that the LO is changed depending on which channel you are using in the 2110-2170 MHz range. On the transmit side, the I and Q information at 0-2.5 MHz are first filtered from upper harmonics, upconverted in an I/Q up-converter to an intermediate frequency, filtered again, up-converted to the final RF frequency (mixers can down-convert or up-convert), amplified to about 0.1-10 mW, filtered from any residual noise from the medium power amplifier, amplified again to 1-2 W (with 80 dB power control), and then sent to the diplexer. On its way, the power is sampled using a -20 dB coupler for the feedback loop in the power control circuitry. Again, the LO signal selects which channel to use in the 1920-1980 MHz band (maximum is 5 MHz band). This is the tip of the iceberg on system level design and every standard has a different system architecture. The system architecture can also change from company to company (approximately) especially in multi-band designs. The newest cell phones today have 4 GSM bands, 3 CDMA bands, a GPS band, and a WLAN/Bluetooth band. You can count how many filters are used to make a multiband radio on the latest system-level SiRiFic chip (SiRiFic.pdf)! Also included is some of the latest MAXIM catalog (MAXIM.pdf)

You can learn more about system architecture, VCOs, PLL, mixers, etc. in 265AB and 264AB. This is an exciting topic and ECE 166 is only the tip of the iceberg. And do not forget 222ABC if you are interested in antennas and propagation.