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Sensitivity and Mitigation of Reverse IMD in Power Amplifiers

Allen Katz*, David McGee, Christopher Brinton* and Joe Qiu**

Linearizer Technology, Inc., 3 Nami Lane, Unit C-9, Hamilton, NJ 08619
*The College of New Jersey, PO Box 7718, Ewing, NJ 08628-0718
**Army Research Laboratory, 2800 Powder Mill Road Adelphi, MD 20783
Abstract The generation of intermodulation distortion
products due to the coupling of signals into the output port of an
amplifier, often referred to as Reverse Intermodulation
Distortion (IMD) can be a major problem when multiple
transmitters are operated in close proximity. Such conditions
can exist at cell telephone sites, broadcast facilities and even on
satellites. This type of distortion can also be a problem when
making high linearity measurements. The sensitivity of
different types of power amplifiers to Reverse IMD and
techniques for mitigating the resulting distortion has been
experimentally investigated.
Index Terms Intermodulation distortion, IMD, reverse
intermodulation distortion, reverse IMD, distortion correction,
high power amplifiers.

relative level of these two signals (C1/C2), and the level of

any distortion products generated (C1/IMD) - see Figure 2.
These levels were determined using a separate dual
directional coupler and spectrum analyzer at the output of the
AUT. The power level and ratio of the main carrier to IMD
(C1/IMD) was also measured at the output of the system. It
was found that an isolator was needed after the output of the
interferer amplifier to ensure that IMD was not generated by
this amplifier.

The phenomena known as Reverse IMD occurs as the
result of unwanted signals entering an amplifier through its
output port and beating with the main signal in the amplifier
to produce unwanted spectral products. Reverse IMD can
cause major problems when multiple high power transmitters
are located in the same area. The resulting IMD products can
cause interference at a receiver even though the main signals
are filtered out of the receiver. It also can be the source of
error in measurements of non-linearity.
Despite the
importance of this effect, there has been little published on
Reverse IMD and no systematic studies [1]. This paper
investigates the sources of Reverse IMD and develops
techniques for mitigating the resulting distortion.
This work was conducted in the L-band frequency range,
but should be applicable to other frequency bands. A variety
of different power amplifiers (PAs), all normally biased class
AB, were evaluated for Reverse IMD and compared in
performance. The PAs evaluated included 200 watt GaN and
LDMOS solid-state power amplifiers (SSPAs) and lower
power GaAs SSPAs, a bipolar SSPA and a traveling wave
tube amplifier (TWTA).

Fig. 1 Reverse IMD test system.

Interferer, C2


Fig. 2 Spectrum of Reverse IMD test signals.


Figure 3 shows the Reverse IMD measured with a
wideband 200 watt GaN SSPA. The most extensive testing
was done with this PA. Tests were done mainly at 1.3 GHz
with a C1 to C2 spacing of 1 MHz and for coupling, C1/C2,
levels between 20 and 50 dB. As the output level (C1) of the
AUT was changed, the injected interferer was adjusted to
keep a constant coupling ratio (C1/C2). The horizontal axis
of Figure 3 is referenced to the AUTs saturated output


In order to study Reverse IMD, the test bed shown in
Figure 1 was constructed consisting of the main amplifier
under test (AUT) and a secondary amplifier, the interferer.
Controlled amounts of power from the interferer amplifier
(C2) were coupled into the output of the AUT, while
monitoring the AUTs output power to the load (C1), the

978-1-4244-7685-5/11/$26.00 2011 IEEE

Main, C1


PAWR 2011

power, 0 dB output power backoff (OPBO). Values to the

left of the 0 dB point are in OPBO from saturation. Values to
the right of the 0 dB point are for overdrive and referenced to
input power to show the effect of increasing input drive
power beyond saturation. (Similar following figures will also
use this OPBO input overdrive relationship). The vertical
axis represents the Reverse IMD product (2F1-F2) in dB
relative to the AUTs output power (C1). At a coupling
(C1/C2) of 50 dB, IMD was suppressed to a carrier to
intermodulation ratio (C/I) of 87 dB at saturation and
interestingly to about 90 dB at an overdrive of 4 dB. It will
also be noticed that there is a rapid increase in IMD
suppression that peaks at about 4 dB OPBO. By 3 dB
OPBO, the C/I level is above 100 dB and then degrades.

82 dB at saturation (coupling of 50 dB), but unlike the

previous SSPAs, displays a sharp reduction in C/I with
OPBO near saturation. The BJT PA has a C/I of only 61 dB
at saturation (coupling of 50 dB), and displays characteristics
with OPBO similar to the other lower power SSPAs.

Fig. 5 200 watt LDMOS SSPA Reverse IMD (coupling 40-50 dB).

Fig. 3 200 watt GaN SSPA Reverse IMD (coupling 20 to 50 dB).

A second GaN FET PA was evaluated. This SSPA was

also a broadband (1-3 GHz) but only 10 watts. Test data for
this PA are shown in Figure 4 and are significantly different
than the first PA. This SSPAs Reverse IMD performance is
poorer than the 200 watt SSPA reaching only a C/I of about
68 dB at saturation and degrading in overdrive.

Fig. 6 20 watt Bipolar SSPA Reverse IMD (coupling 30 to 50 dB).

For completeness the Reverse Intermodulation of a TWTA

was also measured. An L-band TWTA designed for testing
was used. The test results are shown in Figure 7. It provided
the highest Reverse IMD suppression of all the PAs tested;
C/I of 96 dB at saturation (coupling of 50 dB).

Fig. 4 Reverse IMD of 10 watt GaN SSPA (coupling 50 dB).

Two GaAs SSPAs were also tested. Both are broadband

and relatively low in power, 1 and 5 watts respectively, and
showed similar characteristics to the lower power GaN PA.
The reverse C/Is at saturation are for the first 67 dB, and for
the second 69 dB, for the same coupling ratio of 50 dB.
A 200 watt LDMOS SSPA, and a 20 watt BJT SSPA using
a Mitsubishi M57762 hybrid were also tested. These tests
were done for coupling ratios between 30 and 50 dB. Figures
5 and 6 respectively show the reverse C/I data for the
LDMOS and bipolar SSPAs. The LDMOS PA has a C/I of

Fig. 7 TWTA Reverse IMD (coupling 30 to 50 dB).


From the previous results, it can be seen that there is
approximately a dB for dB relationship between the level of
the interferer (C1/C2) and the level of the IMD,
C1/IMD = KR + C1/C2



where KR is a constant dependent on the PA and OPBO.

This relationship is illustrated in Figure 8 for the 10 watt
GaN PA near saturation, and generally applies to all PAs
tested no matter how unusual their characteristics.

The effect of bias voltage on the Reverse IMD performance

of SSPAs was also investigated. Figure 10 shows the effect
of bias class on IMD level for the 10 watt GaN SSPA. It was
found that changes in gate bias made very little difference in
IMD level when the FET was operated close to saturation or
beyond. However, operation of the SSPA closer to class A
significantly improved IMD suppression at higher OPBOs.

Fig. 8 Relationship of IMD with coupling ratio (data for 10 watt

GaN SSPA near saturation).

Figure 9 shows a comparison of all the SSPAs tested at a

coupling ratio of 50 dB around saturation. The 200 watt GaN
SSPA shows the best Reverse IMD performance of all the
SSPAs tested. It is followed by the LDMOS SSPA, which
still showed more than 10 dB better IMD suppression than
the other SSPAs. These two SSPAs also show the most
varied characteristics. They were the highest power SSPAs
tested and the only PAs that used quadrature hybrid
combining of internal amplifiers to achieve their power level.

Fig. 10 Comparison of Reverse IMD levels of GaN SSPA when

biased near class B and A.

Figure 11 shows the effect of drain voltage level on IMD

performance for the 200 W Gan SSPA. The relationship
appears quite complex. Interestingly at saturation, operation
at lower drain voltages generally produced improved IMD
suppression except at 50 V, which falls below the 40 V C/I
value. At other OPBO levels, the relationship reverses and
follows no clear pattern.

Fig. 9 Reverse IMD levels of different SSPAs at coupling = 50 dB.

Fig. 11 Comparison of Reverse IMD levels of GaN SSPA with
drain voltages between 20 to 50 V.

Quadrature combining will suppress Reverse IMD (unlike

for forward IMD) when the internal amplifiers are similar.
This suppression occurs because the angle of the IMD
product (2 C2 - C1) from the upper path is


For narrow band transmission systems, the suppression of
Reverse IMD can be achieved using filtering. For wideband
applications and where the frequency of the interfering signal
changes other techniques are need. The least complex route
to obtaining Reverse IMD improvement in such cases
appears to be the addition of an isolator(s) at the output of the
PA. Based on the measured results, the improvement in
Reverse IMD should equal the isolation of the isolator. The
major disadvantage to using isolators is their loss. Several
200 watt isolators with >20 dB insertion and < 0.5 dB of loss

angle[2 C2]angle[C1]+return angle = 2x0-90+90 = 0

and the lower path angle is

angle[2 C2]angle[C1]+return angle = 2x90-0+0 = 180

The IMD is thus canceled, and it can be concluded that when

designing power amplifiers to be insensitive to Reverse
IMDs quadrature combining should be considered. The
variation of C/I with OPBO for the quadrature combined PAs
maybe explained by changes in the gain/phase tracking of the
upper and lower amplifiers with input power level.


over 1 to 2 GHz were purchased and their IMD suppression

verified for coupling levels of 30 to 60 dB. In all cases an
improvement of approximately 20 dB was obtained as
expected. Two isolators were tested in cascade and very
close to 40 dB of IMD suppression was observed.
A system for cancelling the IMDs of two closely located
transmitters using phasing was also constructed and tested.
The principle behind this system is to sample the interfering
transmitters, and to couple the resulting signals into the
outputs of the corresponding sending transmitters 180 out of
phase with the interfering signals that are coupled in through
the antennas. This arrangement results in the virtual
elimination of the interferers (C2) at the PA outputs, and
hence the elimination of the reverse IMD. A block diagram
of the cancellation system is shown in Figure 16. Two
symmetrical parallel paths are used. One path is to couple
the signal from one PA (F1) into the other PA (F2). The
second path is to couple the other PA (F2) signal into the PA
(F1). Isolators are used to separate the paths, so that each can
be individually adjusted for optimum cancelation of their
respective interfering signal. It was found that > 35 dB, ~ 40
dB of additional rejection could be achieved. In fact the
maximum rejection measured was limited by the noise floor
of the test system.

The product can be detected and low pass filtering applied to

produce a dc voltage. A control loop can be used to adjust
the corresponding phase and attenuator settings so as to
maintain the dc voltage at a minimum.
The generation and suppression of Reverse IMD was
investigated. The relationship between the level of the main
(amplified) signal, the reverse (coupled) signal and the IMD
generated was experimentally studied. Two GaN FET
SSPAs, two GaAs FET SSPAs, a 200 watt LDMOS SSPA, a
20 watt bipolar transistor SSPA and a TWTA were evaluated.
It was found that the high power GaN SSPA displayed the
best Reverse IMD performance of all the SSPAs. At
saturation this SSPAs displayed about a 5 dB advantage over
the next highest power (LDMOS) SSPA tested. Both these
SSPAs provided more than a 12 dB performance advantage
over the other SSPAs. This superior performance is believed
to be due to the quadrature hybrid combining used in these
two SSPAs. It was shown that quadrature combining
suppresses Reverse IMD.
Of all the PAs tested, the TWTA displayed the greatest
immunity to the generation of Reverse IMD. (Since only one
TWTA was tested, this result needs testing with additional
TWTAs before it can be generalized).
The effect of amplifier bias class on Reverse IMD was also
investigated and found to have very little effect at saturation.
It was observed that the Reverse IMD suppression generally
improved in the vicinity of saturation as drain voltage is
reduced (for a GaN SSPA), but otherwise shows a very
complex relationship.
Means to increase the Reverse IMD suppression using
isolators were evaluated. It was demonstrated that by adding
an isolator, a C/I greater than 100 dB for a second carrier
coupling of -50 dB could be easily achieved. By placing two
isolators in cascade, more than 40 dB of additional IMD
suppression was measured. A demonstration phasing system
for rejecting Reverse IMD was constructed and showed > 35
dB of additional rejection. This system, when used in
conjunction with the isolators, has the potential to achieve
over 140 dB of Reverse IMD rejection.

Fig. 12 System for cancelation of Reverse IMDs by phasing.


In practice, the required attenuator and phase settings will

change with frequency. If the system is stationary, these
values can be pre-measured and put into a lookup table.
Unfortunately for a moving system, the level of the
interfering signals will depend on the environment
surrounding the antennas. Even non metallic objects such as
trees will affect the coupling. Thus if the environment
changes a different setting will be required. Consequently,
the system will need the attenuation and phase settings of
each path adaptively adjusted to maintain a high level of
cancelation. This result can be accomplished relatively
simply by multiplying a sample of the interferer signal by a
sample of the signals at the output of the respective amplifier.

The support of the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is

gratefully acknowledged. The authors also wish to thank for
their assistance and support Christian Fazi at ARL, and Brian
Eggleston, Allan Guida and Teri Ulrich at Linearizer
Technology, Inc.
[1] Koontz, F.A, A new approach to wideband architecture
for shipboard communications systems, 1988 Military
Communications Conference, vol. 1, pp. 115-119, Oct.
23-26, 1988