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RF integration strategies for HF, LF systems

By Freek van Straten Senior Principal RF Product Concept Development Philips Semiconductors E-mail: freek.van.straten@ philips.com

Integration of RF wireless systems is fundamentally different at lower and higher frequencies. At HF, the most important systems are those for wireless connectivity. CMOS will eventually be the preferred process technology because it can offer the needed bandwidth better than bipolar technology. RF CMOS

tion trends within the RF part itself. These arise from the fact that, depending on the system, different technologies are needed and used for the required RF function. For example, some systems require sharp filtering of the received signal before it is passed to a LNA. A receive filter, usually either ceramic or SAW, is needed for this, which cannot be integrated in a transceiver IC. An important distinction between systems at LF and those at HF is that the latter only operate when transmitter and re0.10m

receiver sensitivity. We will use 2.4GHz as the transition frequency for this article. At HF, the line-of-sight systems can be subdivided into long and short haul systems. Long haul systems like radar, satellite links, basestation links, fixed wireless broadband access have a need for higher transmit powers than short haul wireless connectivity systems like Bluetooth, 802.11a and b, and WLAN. Integration at HF Targeting the consumer market, short haul wireless connectivity systems have cost and size pressure compounded the need for ever-increasing data rates from voice, via data to streaming video. In general, these systems are portable and battery driven, which specific requirements lead to long stand-by and talk time. Working at HF (>2GHz) have certain advantages: availability of larger frequency bandwidths needed to obtain higher data rates and moderate receiver selectivity due to few transmitters within range. For the same reason the receiver SNR can be higher and/or the transmitter output power lower. As an example: the 802.11b WLAN standard offers 11MBps at 2.4GHz and the 802.11a standard even 54MBps at 5GHz. Using wider bands or more complex modulation schemes puts stronger demands on signal linearity, which is especially relevant

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0.18m 0.25m





Development of the maximum oscillation frequency fmax of CMOS and BiCMOS technologies.

will in general not be integrated with digital CMOS on one chip. At LF, where the most important systems are for cellular communication, RF integration for these systems will focus at the passives. This gives an overview on the needs and options for integrating passive components and technologies together with the RF active parts in a multichip package or module approach. Only consumer handset applications are treated because integration in cellular base stations has a low priority. RF functions are always part of larger communication systems that transfer information from one point to another. The RF function is usually physically separated from other functions in such systems. RF transmitting and receiving is generally performed by different ICs. Reduction of system size and cost drives a trend to integrate RF with other functions of the system, notably DSPs. Besides this trend to integrate RF with nonRF, there are also other integra-

ceiver are in the line of sight of each other, whereas at LF, direct sighting is not necessary thus providing larger coverage area. While there is no sharp boundary, the transition takes place somewhere in the 2GHz to 5GHz range and depends on system characteristics such as transmitter output power and

A Bluetooth module with embedded antenna.

for the transmitter. HF has consequences for the choice of technologies to be used in the systems. Assuming that fmax is directly related to obtainable operating frequency, CMOS obviously offers good possibilities for these applications. Also, CMOS can fulfill the relaxed specifications on selectivity, SNR and output power but at continuous lower supply voltages, reducing dynamic range. Although this is generally true, many systems operate in frequency bands that are open to all kinds of applications. This can increase the number of transmitters even within the line of sight. Microwave ovens that interfere with Bluetooth applications are notorious examples. Despite the advantages of CMOS at HF, there may be good technical reasons to use BiCMOS. This includes better developed RF models for bipolar technology, transistor parameter matching and other practical reasons such as more experience in BiCMOS designs. Size does not matter: a Bluetooth transceiver function in CMOS 0.18 m or BiCMOS have similar sizes. If CMOS is the technology of choice, the trend is standard digital CMOS and not to add multiple options on top of this already multi-masklayer process. The digital function will occupy the largest chip area hence will have the highest cost contribution. When using mainstream CMOS, does the integration of digital and RF functions in a single chip make sense? The answer is two-fold. From a technical perspective, it may be possible to use standard CMOS with technology modifications for RF purposes such as high resistive substrates to reduce crosstalk through the substrate and thick dielectrics to achieve higher quality factors for passive components. From an integration perspective, there is not much benefit in trying to use standard CMOS for RF and to integrate digital and RF functions in one chip because of the fundamental differences in

multichip packaging.
Variable gain IF Power amplifier SAW Isolator


Block diagram of a CDMA RF front-end.

models and libraries for digital and RF. Digital circuits are often designed in VHDL or Verilog languages. Redesign in a shrunken technology version is straightforward. Digital libraries for CMOS technology are usually available before the technology itself while following the road map from one generation to the next so the designer can make digital designs before the next process generation is released. From an RF design perspective, models and libraries only become available after the process has been released and RF components have been characterized. Since RF functions in general do not contain 1:1 reusable blocks, they have to be developed almost from scratch. The availability of RF libraries generally lags one to two years behind their digital counterpart. Meanwhile, a new generation of CMOS technology will emerge. Using mainstream CMOS for RF implies a lag of one generation. Integration of digital and RF in one chip will therefore lead to an older generation CMOS for the digital functions usually at a higher cost. Also passive components like inductors and RF/analog functions do not really scale with the technology so the surface area of the RF part will grow relative to the digital part on the chip in each generation. Other obstacles of singlechip integration of digital and RF are: 1.Crosstalk via the substrate between the digital and RF parts has to be controlled; 2.Very high mask costs of advanced CMOS processes, leading to prohibitive costs in development of digital RF

integrated chips due to the inherently higher number of design iterations for RF designs; 3.RF IC yields usually are design determined resulting in a significant lower yield compared to the parametric determined yield for digital ICs; 4.Packages used for digital CMOS hamper RF efficiency through high lead inductance. Technically the best solution for short-haul systems at HF are multichip packages and modules in which digital and RF functions are made in separate ICs and in separate BiCMOS processes. While these preferred solutions are available to vertically integrated companies, multichip packaging and modules are not readily available to fabless companies that work with foundries. Therefore it is likely that fabless companies will advance toward digital-RF integration in one chip. Wireless connectivity systems also need antennas and switches for band selection, transmit-receive switching and antenna diversity. To embed these odd components, module integration is preferred over

Duplex filter

Power control

Integration at LF At frequencies below 2.4GHz, cellular systems are by far the most widespread and important application. Due to lower cost and smaller size requirements of cellular handsets, further integration is in demand. The components used are diverse because of the stringent requirements of cellular systems. On the receiver side high sensitivity and selectivity is required, commonly achieved by incorporating a receive filter, for example, a SAW f ilter. Large SNR is achieved by the LNA in which inductors are used for emitter degradation to achieve the best trade-off between noise and gain matching. Often this LNA function is integ rated in a single chip

for the power amplifier function is Si bipolar or GaAs HBT (Si LDMOS) because of ease of application, added power efficiency and good performance. SiGe HBT can also be used, but does not offer much improvement over silicon bipolar junction transistors. After the final amplifier stage a low-loss output matching circuitry is needed, which is technically difficult to realize on-chip. Often this function is partly integrated in the substrate in combination with discrete SMDs or realized by means of special low cost passive integration (PI) chips. Technologies used include GaAs HBT for the power amplifier, Si BiCMOS for the power amplifier-driver, biasing stages and power control loop Si PI chips for output matching. Todays cellphones are

BGY284, quad band GSM PA module.

BGY281, triple band GSM TX-FEM.

transceiver IC. Baseband functionality is always realized in mainstream CMOS ICs. The transceiver function is traditionally in BiCMOS but CMOS is increasingly drawing attention. At the same time multiband or system integration is evolving. This low risk route leads towards a single baseband/protocol engine with separate RF functions. Another challenge is the transmit path. High output power of 24dBm to 33dBm is required for these omni-directional, non-line-of-sight systems. The technology of choice

5 m Al metal 2nd metal

1st metal High-ohmic Si


Via to bottom metal

Cross section of PASSI technology.

multiband and multimode requiring extensive switching and filtering capabilities between the power amplifier, receiving path and the antenna. The switching part usually is done by GaAs pHEMT or pin diodes and, later, RF-MEMS. Duplex filters (Rx-Tx separation), diplex filters for band selection and harmonic filters complete the passive front-end part towards the antenna. The logical second step in forward integration after the multiband PAM is a Tx-FE module. The next step after this is the full radio module, adding the transceiver function to the package. Cost-effective integration of all these technologies in cellular systems is extremely challenging. System on silicon (SOS) integration can be done for the transceiver function, including LNA. However, a receive filter still needs to be placed off-chip. The power amplifier and, in general, the RFfront-end cannot be put on one chip. The challenge is in the passives and multi-technology packaging. A modular integration on an LTCC or organic

laminate substrate is preferred. All FE and power amplifier suppliers are taking this path. A crucial step towards the reduction of passive components advancing passive integration is PASSI technology. This process features capacitors with 145pF/mm2 and a 4 percent (3) accuracy, plus inductors with Q-factors over 50. It also serves as a platform to integrate lateral pin diodes,

grate the BAW technology onto a BiCMOS process. Integration on modules and PI on-chip can offer the designer the most flexibility in system partitioning and in achieving the best trade-off between performance and cost for a particular system. This consists of an active transceiver IC flipped on a passive IC, containing RF and decoupling capacitors, inductors and resis-

Cross section of ChipScalePackaged BAW filter.

high-density capacitors and, in the future, MEMS variable capacitors and switches. Another related development is the bulk acoustic wave (BAW) technology, which is capable to replace ceramic and SAW technologies in filters. Advantages of BAW over SAW technology are performance, losses, thermal characteristics, size and cost especially at frequencies above 1GHz where SAW technology requires the use of submicron litho. The losses of SAW filters quickly increase above 2GHz due to the submicron structures, while BAW technology can be used at least up to 10GHz. Due to the costs associated by adding extra mask steps and yield limitations, it may not be attractive to inte-

tors needed for the transceiver function, the total sandwich then being flipped in a HVQFN package. This combination can be used as RF-subsystem on a

module substrate that also houses the power amplifier control loops, matching, RF switching and filter functions, providing a complete RF system solution. A non-technical, trend in the cellular market is the outsourcing of RF functions and full system solutions are becoming an accepted business model. Trends in forward integration as described above will continue into the baseband and power management domain. Full system solutions will take off if the function (for example, a GSM phone) is so mature that OEMs regard it as a commodity, not something that provides them a competitive edge. Until now we have assumed a system partitioning as it is valid today, with a clear boundary between RF and baseband functionality. However if the trends in connectivity standards are successful and prove feasible for cellular applications as well, RF integration might stop at Tx-FEM type products, not delivering full radio functions. At HF, mainstream CMOS technology will offer the required bandwidths. However, this RF CMOS may at least dif-

fer from standard digital CMOS by lagging one generation behind as far as RF is concerned. One-chip integration of digital and RF may be technically optimal but is the best design philosophy for fabless companies. In the cellular domain, integration issues focus mainly on the numerous passive components that are needed in this multi-band, multi-system environment. Dedicated processes for active technology including GaAs HBT are used and for passive integration include PASSI. Single-chip digital and RF integration might become technically feasible. Today, RF integration is from the PA to the antenna on the module level since this offers the needed multi-technology integration and optimal performance at minimum cost with maximum f lexibility. The transceiver, power management and baseband function is built-up with SMDs around. Overall, module integration systems in package may dominate as they enable multi-technology integration and additional features like embedded antennas and plug and play functions at low cost.

Ultra integration system in package.