Analog Angle Article

IC sensibilities come to RF/Microwaves

I'm just back from two busy days at the 2009 IEEE MTT-S International Microwave Symposium in Boston; you can read my two reports about it here and here. I also have a special short blog with photos of the floor (I know, maybe a little boring) and photos of the fascinating historical exhibit of microwave components and much more, you can read that here.

Among the various trends I saw at the event, one is of immediate benefit to all engineers working on the RF and microwave designs (as so many engineers are these days):vendors are increasingly providing maximum/minimum specifications for many of their components, including specs under worst-case temperature, supply rail, and other design corners. No need to tell you the benefits of this!

Why is this happening? I think there are several reasons:

  • The widespread adoption of RF into mass-market products means that design teams need products that will work despite the vagaries of high-volume manufacturing and widespread use/abuse. The era of a vendor producing a “typical specs” data sheet, then working closely with customers (designer) to see of the part will actually work in the application, is fading due to pressures of today's markets.
  • The simulation and modeling tools are getting more powerful and can actually make use of this “extra” data, to validate system performance over all component and operating conditions.
  • And there's the mind-set of traditional analog IC vendors, who are increasingly suppliers to the RF and microwave markets. The top-tier, established IC vendors are very much used to providing a full boat of specification as a normal part of product release. In addition, their manufacturing mindset is geared to doing this across all volumes of production. Many RF microwave parts are still low-to-moderate volume items, and it has been difficult or impractical to test all performance corners for these parts, but the analog IC vendors routinely do so as a matter of standard practice. At the same time, long-established non-IC vendors are now getting into ICs, and thus adopting the IC practices as well.

The end result is good news for everyone associated with RF and microwave design. Parts which are fully characterized make design (including modeling and simulation) more effective, result in fewer prototype surprises (there are still enough to keep engineers up late at night) and reduce headaches with shipped products. The “burden” of providing worst-case specs actually enforces a good discipline on the industry, and saves time and money pretty quickly for designers and customers. And that's what competitive and market pressures are all about. ♦

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