Design and Characterization of RFIC Voltage Controlled Oscillators in Silicon Germanium HBT and Submicron MOS Technologies

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Virginia Tech


Advances in wireless technology have recently led to the potential for higher data rates and greater functionality. Wireless home and business networks and 3G and 4G cellular phone systems are promising technologies striving for market acceptance, requiring low-cost, low-power, and compact solutions. One approach to meet these demands is system-on-a-chip (SoC) integration, where RF/analog and digital circuitry reside on the same chip, creating a mixed-signal environment. Concurrently, there is tremendous incentive to utilize Si-based technologies to leverage existing fabrication and design infrastructure and the corresponding economies of scale. While the SoC approach is attractive, it presents major challenges for circuit designers, particularly in the design of monolithic voltage controlled oscillators (VCOs). VCOs are important components in the up or downconversion of RF signals in wireless transceivers. VCOs must have very low phase noise and spurious emissions, and be extremely power efficient to meet system requirements. To meet these specifications, VCOs require high-quality factor (Q) tank circuits and reduction of noise from active devices; however, the lack of high-quality monolithic inductors, along with low noise transistors in traditional Si technologies, has been a limiting factor.

This thesis presents the design, characterization, and comparison of three monolithic 3-4 GHz VCOs and an integrated 5-6 GHz VCO with tunable polyphase outputs. Each VCO is designed around a differential -G_{M} core with an LC tank circuit. The circuits exploit two Si-based device technologies: Silicon Germanium (SiGe) Heterojunction Bipolar Transistors (HBTs) for a cross-coupled collectors circuit and Graded-Channel MOS (GC-MOS) transistors for a complementary (CMOS) implementation. The circuits were fabricated using the Motorola 0.4 μm CDR1 SiGe BiCMOS process, which consists of four interconnected metal layers and a thick copper (10 μm) metal bump layer for improved inductive components.

The VCO implementations are targeted to meet the stringent phase noise specifications for the GSM/EGSM 3G cellular standard. The specifications state that the VCO output cannot exceed -162 dBc/Hz sideband noise at 20 MHz offset from the carrier. Simultaneously, oscillators must be designed to address other system level effects, such as feed-through of the local oscillator (LO). LO feed-through directly results in self-mixing in direct conversion receivers, which gives rise to unwanted corrupting DC offsets. Therefore, a system-level strategy is employed to avoid such issues. For example, multiplying the oscillator frequency by two or four times can help avoid self-mixing during downconversion by moving the LO out of the bandwidth of the RF front-end.

Meanwhile, direct conversion or low-IF (intermediate frequency) receiver architectures utilize in-phase and quadrature (I/Q) downconversion signal recovery and image rejection. Any imbalance between the I and Q channels can result in an increase in bit-error-rate (BER) and/or decrease in the image rejection ratio (IRR). To compensate for such an imbalance, an integrated tunable polyphase filter is implemented with a VCO. Control voltages between the differential I and Q channels can be individually controlled to help compensate for I/Q mismatches.

This thesis includes an introduction to design flow and layout strategies for oscillator implementations. A detailed comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of the SiGe HBTs and GC-MOS device in 3-4 GHz VCOs is presented. In addition, an overview of full-wave electromagnetic characterization of differential dual inductors is given. The oscillators are characterized for tuning range, output power, and phase noise. Finally, new measurement techniques for the 5-6 GHz VCO with a tunable polyphase filter are explored. A comparison between the time and frequency approaches is also offered.



oscillator, integrated circuit, polyphase, HBT, Graded-Channel MOS, SiGe, Low-IF, EGSM, GSM, inductor, phase noise, VCO, RFIC, U-NII, PCS, DCS