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Design of a Radio Front-end Module at 5 GHz

Shaofang Gong, Magnus Karlsson and Adriana Serban


Department of Technology and Natural Sciences, Linkping University
SE-601 74 Norrkping, Sweden
Abstract - A radio frequency (RF) front-end
module at 5 GHz has been designed. The module
consists of two switches, two bandpass filters, a
balun, a low noise amplifier (LNA) and a power
amplifier
(PA).
The
top-down
design
methodology is used in our design. Firstly, the
module function is specified with input and
output (I/O) ports. Secondly, the RF front-end is
partitioned into functional blocks. High-level
simulations can be done with block parameters.
Thirdly, each block is implemented into a
schematic circuit and simulated. Fourthly, the
schematic is implemented into a layout. Finally,
simulation and optimization are done on the
layout level. It is shown that the conventional
design methodology with lumped element
models has difficulties to meet the requirement
at a frequency of above 5 GHz. Distributed
components and sub-circuits based upon the
transmission line theory must be utilized. In the
paper, designed filters, switches and baluns at 5
GHz using microstrip lines will be presented.
The whole design is finally implemented into a
module form. The CAD (computer aided design)
tool used is ADS (advanced design systems) from
Agilent Technologies Inc.
I. INTRODUCTION
In the last century, electronic engineers usually
dealt with electronics below 1 GHz, while
microwave engineers worked in the frequency
range of above 1 GHz. However, this traditional
approach of two separated disciplines in both
education and research is meeting ever-growing
challenges. This is due to the fact that current and
future communication technologies are working in
the frequency range of 1-100 GHz. For instance, the
3rd generation (3G) mobile telephony utilizes the
frequency band 1.9-2.2 GHz, wireless local area
networking (WLAN) utilizes the frequency band of
2.4 and 5 GHz, and the automobile radar systems
work at 77 GHz. Moreover, todays microprocessor
can already have an on-chip clock frequency of 4
GHz and is increasing towards 10 GHz in the
future. In other words, the digital electronics is
entering into the microwave spectrum as well.
Obviously,
this
evolution
in
electronics
development imposes new demands on university
education and research as well as industrial
development. The traditional approaches for
electronic engineering and microwave engineering
must meet each other towards a unified

methodology in both design and product


development [1]. In this work, we have chosen the
typical IEEE802.11a WLAN (wireless local area
network) standard at 5 GHz, and designed a
complete RF front-end module. The objective of the
work is not only to design and implement such a
module at 5 GHz, but also to compare two different
design methods using either lumped or distributed
elements.
II. SPECIFICATION

RF pass-band = 5.15-5.35 GHz


Receive gain 10 dB
Transmit gain 18 dB
Out-band signal power < -100 dBm
Implementation in a module form
III. BLOCK DIAGRAM

As shown in Fig. 1, the block diagram consists


of, from left to right, two ports for two antennas, a
switch for antenna diversity, an bandpass filter
(BPF) for out-band signal rejection, a switch for
TDD (time division duplexing), a LNA (low noise
amplifier) for amplification of received signals, and
a PA (power amplifier) for amplification of
transmitting signals. After the LNA, a balun
(balanced to unbalanced converter or vise versa) is
used for transformation of the single-ended signal
to two differential signals. In addition, a BPF is
used before the PA to reject out-band signals in the
transmit path.
Port
P2
Num=2

BALUN1
Bal1

Amplifier
AMP1

BPF

Port
P1
Num=1

LNA

Balun

PA

BPF

Port
P3
Num=3

SPDT_StaticBPF_Chebyshev
SPDT_Static
SWITCH2 BPF1
SWITCH1

Switch

Switch

Port
P5
Num=5
Amplifier
AMP2

BPF_Chebyshev
BPF2

Port
P4
Num=4

Fig. 1. Block diagram of the RF front-end

IV. SUB-CIRCUIT DESIGN


Sub-circuits of the blocks shown in Fig. 1 are
designed, simulated and implemented using ADS.
The substrate used is a two layer printed circuit
board (PCB) with the Rogers material RO4350B

which has lower dielectric dissipation factor, tg,


compared to conventional PCB material such as
FR4. The board parameters used in this design are
listed in Table 1.
Table 1. Double layer PCB parameters
Material
RO4350B
Dielectric thickness
0.254 mm
Dielectric constant
3.48 0.05
Dissipation factor
0.004
Metal thickness
0.045 mm
Metal conductivity
5.8x107 S/m
Surface roughness
0.001 mm

A. Bandpass filter
The two BPFs shown in Fig. 1 are designed to
have the same characteristics, having the pass-band
between 5.15 and 5.35 GHz. There are two ways to
design this type of BPFs: 1) to use lumped elements
of inductors and capacitors, and 2) to use coupled
transmission lines, i.e., distributed elements. The
following shows both the designs and simulated
results.

Port
P1
Num=1

L
L1
L=85.123878 pH
R=1e-12 Ohm

Port
P1
Num=1

MBEND3
Bend1

MCFIL
CLin1

MBEND3
Bend4

MCFIL
CLin2

MBEND3
Bend2

MBEND3
Bend5

MBEND3
Bend8

MCFIL
CLin3

MBEND3
Bend3

MLIN
TL1

MLIN
TL2

Port
P2
Num=2

MCFIL
CLin4

MBEND3
Bend6

MLIN
TL3

MBEND3
Bend7

a) Schematic

C
C2
C=17.024776 f F

C
C1
C=10.601935 pF

BPF with distributed elements


Fig. 3a shows the schematic of a 3rd order
coupled hairpin BPF, and Fig. 3b shows the
simulated results of the worst case when the line
varies with 10%. It is seen that 10% variation of
line width results in less than 0.5 dB changes in the
pass band of 5.155.35 GHz.

L
L3
L=85.123877 pH
R=1e-12 Ohm

-10

Port
P2
Num=2

C
C3
C=10.601935 pF

-20
S21 (dB)

L
L2
L=53.009674 nH
R=1e-12 Ohm

BPF with lumped elements


Fig. 2a shows the schematic of a 3rd order BPS
with lumped L and C elements, and Fig. 2b shows
the simulated filter characteristics when C2 varies
with 10%. It is seen that 10% variation of C2 is
unacceptable, since the pass-band loss can be larger
than 5 dB. Similar curves are obtained when L2
varies with 10%.

-30
-40

a) Schematic
-50

0
-60
4.0

-10

S21 (dB)

-20

4.5

5.0
5.5
Frequency (GHz)

6.0

b) Simulation

Fig. 3. Distributed hairpin BPF: a) schematic and


b) simulated S21 when the line width varies with 10%.

-30

B.

-40
-50
-60
4.0

4.5

5.0

5.5

6.0

Frequency (GHz)
b) Simulation

Fig. 2. Lumped BPF: a) schematic and b) simulated S21


parameter when C2 varies with 10%.

Switch
Fig. 4a shows the schematic of the designed
switch composed of two /4 (=wavelength at 5.25
GHz) microstrip lines, two PIN diodes (MPP4203
from Microsemi) and a current limiting resistor. A
/4 radial stub is used for RF short. Fig. 4b shows
the simulated switch function with an insertion loss
of 0.5 dB and an isolation of 23 dB. The simulation
also shows that 10% variation of line width results
in only minor effects on the switch function. Fig. 4c
shows S33 in the Smith Chart; the two markers
indicate that the switch is well matched to 50 at
5.15.3 GHz.

Diode
DIODE1

PIN diode

C. Balun
Fig. 5a shows the schematic of the designed
balun. Port 1 is for single-ended signal, while Port 2
and 3 are for balanced differential signals. The line
connected to Port 1 is a half wavelength (/2)
microstrip with en open end, while two lines
connected to Port 2 and 3 are of quarter wavelength
(/4) with short ends. Fig. 5b shows the simulated
S11, S21 and S31 curves, when the line width
changes with 10%. Fig. 5c shows S11 in the Smith
Chart. It is seen that the designed balun has a rather
wide bandwidth, but has 0.5 dB loss at Port 2 and 3,
respectively, when 3dB power division is taken into
account.

MLIN
TL7
MTEE
Tee1

Port
P2
MLIN
TL2

/4 microstrip

MLIN
TL10

MTEE
Tee2

Port
P1

Diode
DIODE2

PIN diode

MLIN
TL8
MTEE
Tee3

3
Port
P3

MRSTUB
Stub1

MLIN
TL1

/4 microstrip
1

/4 radial stub

Port
P1
Num=1
MLIN
TL7

MLIN
TL9

Resistor

MBEND
Bend2

R_Pad1
R2

s/w control

MLSC
TL10

MLIN
TL6

MLSC
TL11

a) Schematic

MLOC
TL8

MLIN
TL2

a) Schematic
0

MCLIN
CLin5

MBEND
Bend1

MCLIN
CLin4

Port
Cntrl

Port
P3
Num=3

-5

-5
Transmission and reflection (dB)

S31

-10
-15
-20
-25

S21

-30

-10

S31
S21

-15

-20

S11

-25

-30

-35

10

-35

Frequency (dB)

10

Frequency (GHz)

b) Simulated S21 and S31

b) Simulated S21, S31 and S11

m1
m3

S11

S33

S21 and S31 (dB)

Port
P2
Num=2
MLIN
TL6

m1
freq=5.100GHz
S(3,3)=0.043 / 35.470
width1=0.000490
impedance = Z0 * (1.072 + j0.054
m3
freq=5.300GHz
S(3,3)=0.034 / -142.336
width1=0.000530
impedance = Z0 * (0.947 - j0.039

c) Smith Chart freq (1.000GHz to 10.00GHz)

Fig. 4. Microstrip switch: a) Schematic, b) S21 and S31,


and c) S33 in Smith Chart.

c) Smith Chart

freq (1.000GHz to 10.00GHz)

Fig. 5. Microstrip balun: a) Schematic, b) S11, S21 and


S31, and c) S11 in the Smith Chat.

D. LNA and PA
The LNA and PA used are two discrete
components from Maximum. Some main
parameters are summarized in Table 2. To
minimize parasitic effects from packaging, the two
devices use chip scale packages (UCSP) with small
solder balls directly attached to the chip. Detailed
work for designing matching networks for the LNA
using distributed microstrip lines will be presented
in another paper in the future.
Table 2. LAN and PA parameters
LNA
PA
Part number
MAX2649
MAX2840/41
Frequency range
4.9-5.9 GHz
4.9-5.9 GHz
Gain
17 dB
23 dB
Noise figure
2.1 dB
IIP3
0 dBm
Supply voltage
2.7-3.6 V
2.7-3.6 V
Size
1x1.5 mm
1.5x2.0 mm
Package
UCSP
UCSP

V. IMPLEMENTATION
After design and simulation of sub-block circuits
as described above, the whole radio front-end
function is implemented as a 30x50 mm module.
Fig. 6 shows the layout of the module with most of
the front-end components integrated in the PCB,
except LNA, PA, PIN diodes, and a resistor.
Definitions of the I/Os of the module are listed in
Table 3.
Table 3. I/O definitions of the module, see Fig. 6
I/O names
Description
Ant1
Antenna 1
Ant2
Antenna 2
Ant_s/w
Antenna switch
Tx_Rx_s/w
Transmit/receive switch
PA_ctr
PA power down
PA_bias
PA bias voltage
VCC
Power 3.3 V
Tx
Transmit input
Rx_n
Receive output Rx_p
Receive output+
LNA_bias
LNA bias
LNA_ctr
LNA power down
GND
Ground

VI. RESULTS AND DISCUSSIONS


Fig. 2 shows that, at 5 GHz, it is difficult to
design a bandpass filter using lumped elements of
inductors (L) and capacitors (C), since 10%
variation of C2 or L2 results in unacceptable passband losses. If all components in Fig. 2 have 10%
variations, the results will be even worse. In reality,
it is very likely to have 10% variations or more
when surface mount components are utilized.

GND

LNA_ctr LNA_bias VCC

Ant1

Rx_p

Rx_n
Ant2
Tx

Ant_s/w

Tx_Rx_s/w PA_ctr

PA_bias VCC

Fig. 6. Layout and I/Os of the module.

This is due to the following facts:


L usually has parasitic C in parallel, so
inductance is frequency-dependent. Similarly, C
usually has parasitic L in series, being frequencydependent.
Assembly of surface mount components
introduces as well parasitic L, C or both of them.
To use lumped elements in circuit design is
common practices at low or medium high
frequencies, e.g., in the kHz or MHz range. Mobile
phones, e.g., GSM, at 0.9 and 1.8 GHz have used
lumped elements so far. Even WLAN
IEEE802.11b/g and Bluetooth at 2.4 GHz have
been utilizing lumped elements in RF front-end
designs. However, the above mentioned parasitic
problem associated with lumped elements become
more and more prominent when frequency
increases. This work has shown that it is already
questionable to use this traditional design
methodology at 5 GHz.
This work has also showed that to use
distributed elements for RF front-end design at 5
GHz results in robust RF functions, see Figs. 3-5. A
complete 5-GHz RF front-end module can be
implemented into a PCB module with most RF
components integrated in the PCB.
VII.

CONCLUSIONS

A 5-GHz RF front-end module has been


designed using distributed microstrip lines to
implement RF functions such as filter, switch and
balun, etc into a PCB.
10% variation of microstrip line width leads
to only limited change of RF functions.
10% variation of lumped elements results in
unacceptable malfunctions of the BPF at 5 GHz.
REFERENCE
[1] S.F. Gong et al, RF passive device integration
for wireless communication systems, Proc. of
IMAP HDP conference, Denver, April 2000.