Microwave CMOS VCOs and Front-Ends - using integrated passives on-chip and on-carrier

University dissertation from Department of Electrical and Information Technology, Lund University

Abstract: The increasing demand for high data rates in wireless communication systems is increasing the requirements on the transceiver front-ends, as they are pushed to utilize more and wider bands at higher frequencies. The work in this thesis is focused on receiver front-ends composed of Low Noise Amplifiers (LNAs), Mixers, and Voltage Controlled Oscillators (VCOs) operating at microwave frequencies.
Traditionally, microwave electronics has used exclusive and more expensive semiconductor technologies (III-V materials). However, the rapid development of consumer electronics (e.g. video game consoles) the last decade has pushed the silicon CMOS IC technology towards even smaller feature sizes. This has resulted in high speed transistors (high fT and fmax) with low noise figures. However, as the breakdown voltages have decreased, a lower supply voltage must be used, which has had a negative impact on linearity and dynamic range. Nonetheless, todays downscaled CMOS technology is a feasible alternative for many microwave and even millimeter
wave applications.
The low quality factor (Q) of passive components on-chip usually limits the high frequency performance. For inductors realized in a standard CMOS process the substrate coupling results in a degraded Q. The quality factor can, however, be improved by moving the passive components off-chip and integrating them on a low loss carrier. This thesis therefore features microwave front-end and VCO designs in CMOS, where some designs have been flip-chip mounted on carriers featuring high Q inductors and low loss baluns. The thesis starts with an introduction to wireless communication,
receiver architectures, front-end receiver blocks, and low loss carrier technology, followed by the included papers.
The six included papers show the capability of CMOS and carrier technology at microwave frequencies: Papers II, III, and VI demonstrate fully integrated CMOS circuit designs. An LC-VCO using an accumulation mode varactor is presented in Paper II, a QVCO using 4-bit switched tuning is shown in Paper III, and a quadrature receiver front-end (including QVCO) is demonstrated in paper VI. Papers I and IV demonstrate receiver front-ends using low loss baluns on carrier for the LO and RF signals. Paper IV also includes a front-end using single-ended RF input which is converted
to differential form in a novel merged LNA and balun. A VCO demonstrating
the benefits of a high Q inductor on carrier is presented in Paper V.