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Press Releases & Publications

 Microwaves & RF: Power-Amplifier Systems Get Smarter [ July 2014 ]

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Power-Amplifier Systems Get Smarter

The following is an article written by Jean-Jacques DeLisle, Microwave and RF Technical Editor where Jon Jacocks (CEO) and Paulo Correa (Chief Technology Officer) are providing comments regarding new technologies, techniques and other factors that are influencing the evolution of High Power Solid State Amplifiers.

RF/microwave power-amplifier systems traditionally have been chosen based on their SWaP-C characteristics. But recently, factors like intelligent features are being added to the mix.

For military radar, test and measurement, and telecommunications applications, a full-featured RF/microwave power-amplifier (PA) system is necessary and critical in the design chain. These systems often are driven by reliability, efficiency, size, and cost of installation. Understandably, the growth of the telecommunications industry has influenced the evolution of PA systems.

To keep pace with the RF/microwave industry while providing better size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) modular assembly techniques, engineers are increasingly leveraging intelligent system monitoring and the latest semiconductor technologies. To reduce size and increase power efficiency at higher frequencies, for example, gallium-nitride (GaN) PA technology is being readily adopted by the industry.


"For broadband scenarios with higher than 1-GHz frequency requirements, implementing an amplifier using LDMOS (laterally diffused metal oxide semiconductor) is difficult," says Paulo Correa, chief technology officer of Empower RF. "Broadband LDMOS can be used below 1 GHz, whereas GaN (gallium nitride) for broadband becomes very attractive above 1 GHz. You do see LDMOS being used successfully in narrowband applications (e.g., wireless infrastructure, ISM [industrial, scientific, medical], etc.) at frequencies above 1 GHz."

Most PA manufacturers have offerings in various different package technologies for GaN PAs, such as TriQuint, Cree, MACOM, Microsemi, RFHIC, RFMD, NXP, Toshiba, and Miteq. GaN devices are primarily used in systems that require large amounts of wideband power to high frequencies. To some extent, they have replaced more expensive gallium-arsenide (GaAs) FETs, although these legacy devices are still used in certain applications.

In PA system design, the passive components surrounding the amplifier often can't handle the frequency performance, heat, or power of which GaN PAs are capable. This generally leads to significant design efforts to achieve the highest efficiencies and performance for a GaN-based PA system.

"Attention to losses between the active devices and the output of the system are critical for providing clean RF power and maximizing efficiencies," says Correa.

With the increased heat flux of GaN PAs, more consideration is being devoted to reducing the thermal resistance at a device/component level. The whole thermal stack has become a significant design problem, as the individual junction temperatures from the die to the system assembly can affect the amplifier's performance.

"How fast you can extract the heat from the PA in your device is where you gain a competitive advantage, or not," says Correa.

In cases where the wideband frequency range is lower, PAs based on LDMOS are still very common. This is predominantly due to the cost and proven technology factor. For certain satellite-communications (satcom) applications, TWT-based (traveling-wave-tube) amplifiers are still used. Here, several kilowatts of RF power are needed to 50 GHz, or Q-band, frequencies.

Amplifier Topologies

Currently, the typologies of amplifier designs also are shifting. Class A and AB are still used with radar, test and measurement, and electronic-warfare (EW) applications. The linearity of a class A amplifier is often desired with these applications. Yet the balance required for gain, power, and efficiency could lead to an AB amplifier system being the best fit.

For telecommunications, the efficiency boost of Doherty configurations has taken the foremost position. Here, the cost-per-bit considerations for mobile data have contributed to a price-driven market. Most GaN PA manufacturers provide Doherty-based PAs as a result of this trend. To avoid high costs and increase the available market of goods, techniques that utilize the commonalities between designs could lower the hands-on costs of PA systems.

New Techniques

To reduce the manufacturing and design costs of building systems on a customized per-customer basis, platforming techniques have arisen in the industry (Fig. 1).

"The dollars per watt for most power amplifiers is the same value regardless," notes Jon Jacocks, president and CEO of Empower RF. "How you can achieve better costs is in volume production, reusing components in multiple designs, and reducing labor costs by making the design more manufacturable." For example, Xicom Technologies uses a universal and field-replaceable power supply in its rack-mount, solid-state PA (SSPA) products (Fig. 2).

As has occurred in other areas of the RF/microwave industry, cost pressures have driven innovations in PA-system integration and assembly. PA system manufacturers are beginning to differentiate their products by using the same techniques developed by test and measurement manufacturers to reduce costs and increase functionality: trading wires for fixtures, using a standard chassis with modular packages, adding low-level sensor feedback, and including compact computers to add software features within an assembly.

One example hails from RES-Ingenium, which includes an option with its 300-W DVB-T2 OEM broadcasting transmitter for a wireless interface that is compatible with a tablet. In addition, the software boasts many enhanced graphical-user-interface (GUI) options (Fig. 3).

Other Factors

Component-level diagnostic and control features also are increasingly in demand (Fig. 4). These features are being integrated to leverage the computation-based control and optimization capability as more advanced computers are included within a PA system.

"Our customers have an insatiable desire for data, and they want to drill down into the design. They want to monitor operational status down to a component level and isolate faults if something occurs," says Jacocks. Empower RF, for example, now offers a Web-based diagnostic and control-based system in its newest line of PA systems.

"Doing that in a remote setting without having to physically remove your amplifier is of great interest to customers. You are fielding expensive systems, and they must be easy to operate and troubleshoot," Jacocks says. Built-in tests and enhanced stability controls also are building their capability to monitor PA system conditions and even correct for thermal and other drifting effects.

When purchasing a complex and high-performing system, such as PA systems, more factors need to be considered beyond simple power, frequency, linearity, intermodulation distortion, and cost. Many other criteria may be present, such as efficiency, drift, size, and weight, depending upon the installation footprint. Thermal management, automation, control, and remote sensing may be high-value features for installations in harsh environments or remote conditions. In addition, the PA system configuration will be influenced by user expertise and the specific considerations for the devices with which the PA system will be interfacing.

"Be clear on your specified requirements, how you have measured them, and under what conditions you will be operating," Jacocks recommends.

As PA systems may excel in certain applications or fields, consulting with a manufacturer's technical experts also can be a critical part of the acquisition.

"When you address your questions to the amplifier provider, try to understand the implications of the waveforms you will be transmitting and the tradeoffs with performance, efficiency, and bandwidth," Jacocks says.



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November 2022
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August 2022
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July 2022
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June 2022
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February 2022
Patent: Amplifier System with an Optical ComLink

August 2021
1 to 2.5 GHz 2 kW HPA [2180]

April 28, 2021
Tri-Band Amplifier [2198]

February 3, 2021
Transmitter for Radar and Jamming [2217]

January 13, 2021
Power Amplifier for Satcom Uplink [2224]

November 9, 2020
S-Band Magnetron Driver [2239]

September 1, 2020
Liquid Cooled Hot Swappable SSPA Family

July 7, 2020
90KW Liquid Cooled Hot Swappable SSPA [2225]

April 13, 2020
Transmitter for Radar and Jamming [2213]

January 31, 2020
4KW S Band SSPA for Satcom Uplink [2176]

October21, 2019
Amplifier for GPS Denial [2226]

May 08, 2019
EW Europe 2019 Presentation

February 25, 2019
GaN Module [1219]

November 23, 2018
Three EW Emitters Controlled at AOC 2018

October 8, 2018
GaN System Amplifier [2223]

July 26, 2018
Hands on Demo at EMC Symposium 2018

June 5, 2018
Live Demo at IMS 2018

April 23, 2018
Multi-Mode Power Amplifier [2215]

January 23, 2018
HF Communications-Jamming Transmitter [2203]

November 17, 2017
AOC 2017 Presentation

September 25, 2017
Mil Standard 810

July 31, 2017
Live Demo at EMC 2017

May 16, 2017
IMS 2017 Technical Presentation

May 16, 2017
IMS 2017 Remote Demo

March 2, 2017
Pulsed Scalable Amplifier

October 27, 2016
10KW Radar Amplifier [2185]

July 2016
First Remote Live Demo at EMC 2016

May 2016
Live Demo at IMS 2016

February 2016
TEVET partnership

January 2016
Low Power Amplifier Systems

August 2015
Patent Approval 9,093,731 B2

May 2015
Patent Approval 9,007,125 B2

April 2015
Rental Partnership

March 2015
Live Demo at MTT-S IMS 2015 [2170]

February 2015
Live Demo at EMC & SI 2015 [2170]

January 2015
80 to 1000 MHz, 500W HPA [2175]

December 2014
1 to 3 GHz 1 kW HPA [2170]

August 2014
Wireless Design & Development: EMC Top 10

July 2014
"Live" at EMC 2014

July 2014
Microwaves & RF: Power-Amplifier Systems Get Smarter

July 2014
Patent Approval

January 2014
Year end (2013) Recognitions

December 2013
Systems "Shrink Job"

October 2013
"Size Matters" Live Demo at AOC 2013

October 2013
Recent and Unique SATCOM Solution

September 2013
500W HPA in 3U Chassis

September 2013
Microwaves & RF: Amps Pack High Power To 1 GHz

August 2013
1 kW PA Demonstrations at Industry Events

June 2013
Empower's Live Demo of 20 to 1000 MHz, 1 kW PA at IMS 2013

March 2013
Next Generation HPA Software Update Capability

February 2013
1 kW PAs are Available for Immediate Delivery + Free Accessory Kit

January 2013
Executive Chairman Role and CEO Transition

January 2013
2.5 to 6 GHz Module SKU # 1191

October 2012
Microwave Journal: Interview with Barry Phelps

June 2012
1 kW System in 5U Chassis Introduction

June 2012
Amplifier Module 125W P3dB, minimum SKU # 1163