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Xavier Trulls Fortuny

Ph.D. Thesis title:
Design of broadband inductor-less RF front-ends with high dynamic range for

Diego Mateo / Adrià Bofill

Reading date:

System-on-Chip (SoC) was adopted in recent years as one of the solutions to reduce the cost of integrated systems. When the SoC solution started to be used, the final product was actually more expensive due to lower yield. The developments in integrated technology through the years allowed the integration of more components in lesser area with a better yield. Thus, SoCs became a widely used solution to reduced the cost of the final product, integrating into a single-chip the main parts of a system: analog, digital and memory.
As integrated technology kept scaling down to allow a higher density of transistors and thus providing more functionality with the same die area, the analog RF parts of the SoC became a bottleneck to cost reduction as inductors occupy a large die area and do not scale down with technology. Hence, the trend moves toward the research and design of inductor-less SoCs that further reduce the cost of the final solution.
Also, as the demand for home networking high-data-rates communication systems has increased over the last decade, several standards have been developed to satisfy the requirements of each application, the most popular being wireless local area networks (WLANs) based on the IEEE 802.11 standard. However, poor signal propagation across walls make WLANs unsuitable for high-speed applications such as high-definition in-home video streaming, leading to the development of wired technologies using the existing in-home infrastructure. The ITU-T recommendation (G.9960 and G.9961) unifies the most widely used wired infrastructures at home (coaxial cables, phone lines and power lines) into a single standard for high-speed data transmission of up to 1 Gb/s.
The recommendation defines a unified networking over power lines, phone lines and coaxial cables with different plans for baseband and RF. The RF-coax bandplan, where this thesis is focused, uses 50 MHz and 100 MHz bandwidth channels with 256 and 512 carriers respectively. The center frequency can range from 350 MHz to 2450 MHz. The recommendation specifies a transmission power limit of 5 dBm for the 50 MHz bandplan and 8~dBm for the 100 MHz bandplan, therefore the maximum transmitted power in each carrier is the same for both bandplans.
Due to the nature of an in-home wired environment, receivers that can handle both very large and very small amplitude signals are required; when transmitter and receiver are connected on the same electric outlet there is no channel attenuation and the signal-to-noise-plus-distortion ratio (SNDR) is dominated by the receiver linearity, whereas when transmitter and receiver are several rooms apart channel attenuation is high and the SNDR is dominated by the receiver noise figure. The high dynamic range specifications for these receivers require the use of configurable-gain topologies that can provide both high-linearity and low-noise for different configurations. Thus, this thesis has been aimed at researching high dynamic range broadband inductor-less topologies to be used as the RF front-end for a receiver complying with the provided specifications.
A large part of the thesis has been focused on the design of the input amplifier of the front-end, which is the most critical stage as the noise figure and linearity of the input amplifier define the achievable overall specifications of the whole front-end. Three prototypes has been manufactured using a 65 nm CMOS process: two input RFPGAs and one front-end using the second RFPGA prototype.