Silicon-based Microwave/Millimeter-wave Monolithic Power Amplifiers

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Virginia Tech

There has been increased interest in exploring high frequency (mm-wave) spectrum (particularly the 30 and 60 GHz ranges), and utilizing silicon-based technology for reduced-cost monolithic millimeter integrated circuits (MMIC), for applications such as WLAN, inter-vehicle communication (IVC) automotive radar and local multipoint distribution system (LMDS). Although there has been a significant increase in silicon-based implementations recently, this area still has significant need for research and development. For example, one microwave/mm-wave front-end component that has seen little development in silicon is the power amplifier (PA).

Two potential technologies exist for providing a solution for low-cost microwave/mm-wave power amplifiers: 1) Silicon-Germanium (SiGe) HBT and 2) Complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS). SiGe HBT has become a viable candidate for PA development since it exhibits higher gain and higher breakdown voltage limits compared to CMOS, while remaining compatible with BiCMOS technology. Also, SiGe is potentially lower in cost compared to other compound semiconductor technologies that are currently used in power amplifier design. Hence, this research focuses on design of millimeter-wave power amplifiers in SiGe HBT technology.

The work presented in this thesis will focus on design of different power amplifiers for millimeter-wave operating frequencies. Amplifiers present the fundamental trade-off between linearity and efficiency. Applications at frequencies highlighted above tend to be point-to-point, and hence high linearity is required at the cost of lowered efficiency for these power amplifiers. The designed power amplifiers are fully differential topologies based on finite ground coplanar waveguide (FGC) transmission line technology, and have on-chip matching networks and bias circuits. The selection and design of FGC lines is supported through full-wave EM simulations. Tuned single stub matching networks are realized using FGC technology and utilized for input and output matching networks.

Two 30-GHz range SiGe HBT PA designs were carried out in Atmel SiGe2RF and IBM BiCMOS 8HP IC technologies. The designs were characterized first by simulations. The performance of the Atmel PA design was characterized using microwave/mm-wave on wafer test measurement setup. The IBM 8HP design is awaiting fabrication. The measured results indicated high linearity, targeted output power range, and expected efficiency performance were achieved. This validates the selection of SiGe HBT as the technology of choice of high frequency point-to-point applications. The results show that it is possible to design power amplifiers that can effectively work at millimeter-wave frequencies at lower cost for applications such as mm-wave WLAN and IVC where linearity is important and required transmitted power is much lower than in cellular handset power amplifiers. Moreover, recommendations are made for future research steps to improve upon the presented designs.

mm-wave, linearity, Power Amplifier, monolithic, integrated circuit, Finite ground coplanar waveguide, 30 GHz