Today, there appeared an interestng (and perhaps general) question posted on the Linkedin Analog RFmixed signal group. The question was this “Regarding multi-mode multiband RF transmitters for handsets (CMOS), what do you think are the hot issues (besides PA)?” I have given a short overview of the challenges that I could see when a multi mode phone is to be designed on CMOS: The phone has to support a wide range of frequency bands as well as multiple standards/technologies/modulation/air interface. Here is what I wrote.  I am not sure whether the discussion is accessible to public. Hence I repost here. 

Integrating the RF transmitter and receiver circuits is a challenging thing since we have to support multiple bands (within a single mode. Say GSM/EDGE should support GSM900 to 1900 bands) as well as support for multiple phone modes. For instance a natural multi mode multi band phone supporting GSM/GPRS/EDGE/WCDMA/LTE will have to consider a wide frequency ranges from 850MHz to over 2GHz. If we were to consider incorporating GPS and WLAN, add that extra consideration. Not just the transceiver circuitry, but also other components such as oscillators, filters, passive components, frequency synthesizers and power amplifiers. Another thing is that, for multi mode, the sensitivity requirements are much more stringent than a single mode, multi band design. 

Since CMOS offers low cost, better performance and better scaling, to me that is the way forward. The natural choice of transceiver in CMOS would be the direct conversion/Zero IF, since it eliminates the costly SAW filters, and also reduce the number of on chip oscillators and mixers. Now, there would be several key design issues to be considered now with direct conversion architecture. Most notable ones are the well known ghost “DC offset” and the 1/f noise. Designers will have the task cut out to get a cleaner front end and as well as near ideal oscillators. 

Now I see another problem with multi mode, depending on what level of flexibility we prefer on this integration. Do we need the phone to operate in multiple modes simultaneously? Say a voice call on GSM and at the same time a multimedia streaming on LTE. In such a case, the question of sharing components are completely ruled out. If not, say some components such as synthesizers and mixers (if in the same band for multiple modes) can be shared. Clearly, simultaneous mode operation will ask for increased silicon die size as well as cost. Challenges may be there for circuit isolation for different modes as well. 

In all, depending on the level of sophistication (and of course all these things will have to be scaled economically too) the design,partitioning, architecture challenges are aplenty. Now the choice between a single chip (containing both analog baseband and digital baseband) versus two chips (analog and digital partitioned) will get a little more trickier with multiple modes. With multiple antennas (MIMO), add another dimension to this whole thing:-(.