Ask the Applications Engineer—30 by Adrian Fox [] PLL SYNTHESIZERS

Ask the Applications Engineer—30 by Adrian Fox [] PLL SYNTHESIZERS
Ask the Applications Engineer—30
by Adrian Fox [[email protected]]
Q. What is a PLL Synthesizer?
A. A frequency synthesizer allows the designer to generate a variety of
output frequencies as multiples of a single reference frequency.
The main application is in generating local oscillator (LO)
signals for the up- and down-conversion of RF signals.
The synthesizer works in a phase-locked loop (PLL), where
a phase/frequency detector (PFD) compares a fed back
frequency with a divided-down version of the reference
frequency (Figure 1). The PFD’s output current pulses are
filtered and integrated to generate a voltage. This voltage drives
an external voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) to increase or
decrease the output frequency so as to drive the PFD’s average
output towards zero.
Figure 1. Block diagram of a PLL.
Frequency is scaled by the use of counters. In the example
shown, an ADF4xxx synthesizer is used with an external filter
and VCO. An input reference (R) counter reduces the reference
input frequency (13 MHz in this example) to PFD frequency
(FPFD = FREF/R); and a feedback (N) counter reduces the
output frequency for comparison with the scaled reference
frequency at the PFD. At equilibrium, the two frequencies
are equal, and the output frequency is N F PFD. The
feedback counter is a dual-modulus prescaler type, with A and B
counters (N = BP + A, where P is the prescale value).
to the power found in a 1-Hz bandwidth at a defined frequency
offset (usually 1 kHz for a synthesizer). Expressed in dBc/Hz,
the in-band (or close-in) phase noise is dominated by the
synthesizer; the VCO noise contribution is high-pass filtered
in the closed loop.
Reference Spurs: These are artifacts at discrete offset
frequencies generated by the internal counters and charge
pump operation at the PFD frequency. These spurs will
be increased by mismatched up and down currents from
the charge pump, charge-pump leakage, and inadequate
decoupling of supplies. The spurious tones will get mixed down
on top of the wanted signal and decrease receiver sensitivity.
Figure 2 shows a typical application in a superheterodyne
receiver. Base station and handset LOs are the most common
application, but synthesizers are also found in low frequency
clock generators (ADF4001), wireless LANs (5.8 GHz), radar
systems, and collision-avoidance systems (ADF4106).
Lock Time: The lock time of a PLL is the time it takes to jump
from one specified frequency to another specified frequency
within a given frequency tolerance. The jump size is normally
determined by the maximum jump the PLL will have to
accomplish when operating in its allocated frequency band.
The step-size for GSM-900 is 45 MHz and for GSM-1800
is 95 MHz. The required frequency tolerances are 90 Hz and
180 Hz, respectively. The PLL must complete the required
frequency step in less than 1.5 time slots, where each time
slot is 577 µs.
Q. What are the key performance parameters to be considered in selecting
a PLL synthesizer?
A. The major ones are: phase noise, reference spurs, and
lock time.
Phase Noise: For a carrier frequency at a given power level,
the phase noise of a synthesizer is the ratio of the carrier power
–104dBm to –60dBm
640MHz to 675MHz
Figure 2. Dual PLL used to mix down from GSM RF to baseband.
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Source: Analog Dialogue 36-03 (2002)
Q. I’ve selected my synthesizer based on the output frequency required.
What about choosing the other elements in the PLL?
A. Frequency Reference: A good, high quality, low-phase-noise
reference is crucial to a stable low-phase-noise RF output. A
square wave or clipped sine wave available from a TCXO crystal
offers excellent performance, because the sharper clocking
edge results in less phase jitter at the R-counter output. The
ADF4206 family features on-board oscillator circuitry allowing
low cost AT-cut crystals to be used as the reference. While
predictable AT crystals cost one third as much as TCXOs, their
temperature stability is poor unless a compensation scheme
with a varactor is implemented.
VCO: The VCO will convert the applied tuning voltage to
an output frequency. The sensitivity can vary drastically
over the full frequency range of the VCO. This may make the
loop unstable (see loop filter). In general, the lower the tuning
sensitivity (Kv) of the VCO, the better the VCO phase noise
will be. The synthesizer phase noise will dominate at smaller
offsets from the carrier. Farther away from the carrier, the
high-pass-filtered noise of the VCO will begin to dominate.
The GSM specification for out-of-band phase noise is
–130 dBc/Hz at a 1-MHz offset.
Loop Filter: There are many different types of loop filter. The
most common is the third-order integrator shown in Figure 3.
In general, the loop filter bandwidth should be 1/10 of the PFD
frequency (channel spacing). Increasing the loop bandwidth
will reduce the lock time, but the filter bandwidth should never
be more than PFD/5, to avoid significantly increasing the risk
of instability.
Figure 3. A third-order loop filter. The R2C3 pole provides
extra attenuation for spurious products.
A loop filter’s bandwidth can be doubled by doubling either the
PFD frequency or the charge-pump current. If the actual Kv
of the VCO is significantly higher than the nominal Kv used to
design the loop filter, the loop bandwidth will be significantly
wider than expected. The variation of loop bandwidth with Kv
presents a major design challenge in wideband PLL designs,
where the Kv can vary by more than 300%. Increasing or
decreasing the programmable charge-pump current is the
easiest way to compensate for changes in the loop bandwidth
caused by the variation in Kv.
Q. How do I optimize PLL design for phase noise?
A. Use low N-value: Since phase noise is multiplied up from the
PFD (reference frequency) at a rate of 20 logN, reducing N
by a factor of 2 will improve system phase noise by 3 dB (i.e.,
doubling the PFD frequency reduces phase noise by 10 log2).
Therefore the highest feasible PFD frequency should always
be used.
Choose a higher frequency synthesizer than is required: Operating
under the same conditions at 900 MHz, the ADF4106 will give
6-dB better phase noise than the ADF4111 (see Table 1).
Use the lowest Rset resistor specified for operation: Reducing the
Rset increases the charge-pump current, which reduces
phase noise.
Table 1. The integrated phase jitter depends heavily on the
in-band phase noise of the synthesizer. System parameters:
[900-MHz RF, 200-kHz PFD, 20-kHz loop filter]
Phase Noise
Phase Error
Degrees rms
100 to 1 M
100 to 1 M
100 to 1 M
100 to 1 M
Q. Why is phase noise important?
A. Phase noise is probably the most crucial specification in PLL
selection. In a transmit chain, the linear power amplifier (PA)
is the most difficult block to design. A low-phase-noise LO
will give the designer greater margin for non-linearity in the
PA by reducing the phase error in the up-conversion of the
baseband signal.
The system maximum phase error specification for GSM
receivers/transmitters (Rx/Tx) is 5° rms. As one can see in
Table 1, the allowable PA phase-error contribution can be
significantly greater when the phase noise contributed by the
PLL is reduced.
On the receive side, low phase noise is crucial to obtaining
good receiver selectivity (the ability of the receiver to
demodulate signals in the presence of interferers). In the
example of Figure 4, on the left the desired low level signal
is swamped by a nearby undesired signal mixing with the
LO noise (enclosed dashed area). In this case the filters will
be unable to block these unwanted interferers. In order to
demodulate the desired RF signal, either the transmit side
will require higher output power, or the LO phase noise will
need to be improved.
Figure 4. A large unwanted signal mixing with LO noise
swamps the wanted signal. Increased phase noise will
reduce the sensitivity of the receiver, since the demodulator
will not be able to resolve the signal from the noise.
Q. Why are spur levels important?
A. Most communication standards will have stringent maximum
specifications on the level of spurious frequency components
(spurs) that the LO can generate. In transmit mode, the spur
levels must be limited to ensure that they do not interfere with
users in the same or a nearby system. In a receiver, the LO spurs
can significantly reduce the ability to demodulate the mixeddown signal. Figure 4 shows the effect of reciprocal mixing
Source: Analog Dialogue 36-03 (2002)
where the desired signal is swamped with noise due to a large
undesired signal mixing with noise on the oscillator. The same
effect will occur for spurious noise components.
A high level of spurs can indirectly affect lock time by
forcing the designer to narrow the loop bandwidth—slowing
response—in order to provide sufficient attenuation of these
unwanted components. The key synthesizer specifications to
ensure low reference spurs are low charge-pump leakage and
matching of the charge pump currents.
Q. Why is lock time important?
A. Many systems use frequency hopping as a means to protect data
security, avoid muti-path fading, and avoid interference. The
time spent by the PLL in achieving frequency lock is valuable
time that cannot be used for transmitting or receiving data; this
reduces the effective data rate achievable. Currently there is no
PLL available than can frequency-hop quickly enough to meet
the timing requirements of the GSM protocol. In base-station
applications, two separate PLL devices are used in parallel to
reduce the number of wasted slots. While the first is generating
the LO for the transmitter, the second PLL is moving to the
next allocated channel. In this case a super-fast (<10-µs) settling
PLL would significantly reduce the bill of materials (BOM)
and layout complexity.
Q. How do I minimize lock time?
A. By increasing the PFD frequency. The PFD frequency
determines the rate at which a comparison is made between the
VCO/N and the reference signal. Increasing the PFD frequency
increases the update of the charge pump and reduces lock time.
It also allows the loop bandwidth to be widened.
Figure 5. Loop bandwidth has a significant effect on the lock
time. The wider the loop bandwidth, the faster the lock time,
but also the greater the level of spurious components. Lock
time to 1 kHz is 142 µs with a 35-kHz LBW—and 248 µs
with a 10-kHz LBW.
Loop Bandwidth. The wider the loop bandwidth, the faster
the lock time. The trade-off is that a wider loop bandwidth
will reduce attenuation of spurious products and increase
the integrated phase noise. Increasing the loop bandwidth
significantly (>PFD/5) may cause the loop to become unstable
and permanently lose lock. A phase margin of 45 degrees
produces the optimum settling transient.
Avoid tuning voltages nearing ground or Vp. When the tuning
voltage is within a volt of the rails of the charge pump supply
(Vp), the charge pump begins to operate in a saturation region.
Source: Analog Dialogue 36-03 (2002)
Operation in this region will degrade settling time significantly;
it may also result in mismatch between jumping-up in frequency
and jumping down. Operation in this saturation region can be
avoided by using the maximum Vp available or using an active
loop filter. Using a VCO with a higher Kv will allow Vtune
to remain closer to Vp/2 while still tuning over the required
frequency range.
Choose plastic capacitors. Some capacitors exhibit a dielectric
memory effect, which can impede lock time. For fast phase
locking applications ‘plastic-film’ Panasonic ECHU capacitors
are recommended.
Q. What factors deter mine the maximum PFD frequency
I can use?
A. In order to obtain contiguous output frequencies in steps of
the PFD frequency
VCO Output Frequency
(P − P)
where P is the prescaler value.
The ADF4xxx offers prescaler selections as low as 8/9. This
permits a higher PFD frequency than many competitive parts,
without violating the above rule—enabling lower phase noise
PLL design. Even if this condition is not met, the PLL will lock
if B > A and B > 2 in the programming registers.
Q. Fractional-N has been around since 1970.What are its advantages
to PLL designers?
A. The resolution at the output of an integer-N PLL is limited to
steps of the PFD frequency. Fractional-N allows the resolution
at the PLL output to be reduced to small fractions of the
PFD frequency. It is possible to generate output frequencies
with resolutions of 100s of Hz, while maintaining a high PFD
frequency. As a result the N-value is significantly less than for
integer-N. Since noise at the charge pump is multiplied up
to the output at a rate of 20 logN, significant improvements
in phase noise are possible. For a GSM900 system, the
fractional-N ADF4252 offers phase noise performance of
–103 dBc/Hz, compared with –93 dBc/Hz for the ADF4106
integer-N PLL.
Also offering a significant advantage is the lock-time
improvement made possible by fractional-N. The PFD
frequency set to 20 MHz and loop bandwidth of 150 kHz will
allow the synthesizer jump 30 MHz in <30 µs. Current base
stations require 2 PLL blocks to ensure that LOs can meet the
timing requirements for transmissions. With the super-fast lock
times of fractional-N, future synthesizers will have lock time
specs that allow the 2 “ping-pong” PLLs to be replaced with
a single fractional-N PLL block.
Q. If fractional-N offers all these advantages, why are integer-N PLLs
still so popular?
A. Spurious levels! A fractional-N divide by 19.1 consists of
the N-divider dividing by nineteen 90% of the time, and by
twenty 10% of the time. The average division is correct, but
the instantaneous division is incorrect. Because of this, the
PFD and charge pump are constantly trying to correct for
instantaneous phase errors. The heavy digital activity of the
sigma-delta modulator, which provides the averaging function,
creates spurious components at the output. The digital noise,
combined with inaccuracies in matching the hard-working
charge pump, results in spurious levels greater than those
allowable by most communications standards. Only recently
have fractional-N parts, such as the ADF4252, made the necessary
improvements in spurious performance to allow designers to
consider their use in traditional integer-N markets.
Q. What PLL devices have you released recently, how do they differ,
and where would I use them?
A. ADF4001 is a <200-MHz PLL, pin-compatible with the
popular ADF4110 series, but with the prescaler removed.
Applications are stable reference clock generators, in cases
where all clocks must be synchronized with a single reference
source. They are generally used with VCXOs (voltagecontrolled crystal oscillators), which have lower gain (Kv) and
better phase noise than VCOs.
ADF4252 is a dual fractional-N device with <70 dBc spurious.
It offers <20-µs lock times vs. 250 µs for integer-N, with
<100 dBc/Hz phase noise due to the high PFD frequency—a
ground-breaking product with a software-programmable
trade-off between phase noise and spurs.
ADF4217L/ADF4218L/ADF4219L are low-phase-noise
upgrades for the LMX2331L/LMX2330L/LMX2370. They
consume only 7.1 mA, with a 4-dB improvement in phase noise
over competitive devices. Great news for handset designers!
ADF4106 is a 6-GHz PLL synthesizer. Ideal for WLAN
equipment in the 5.4-to-5.8-GHz frequency band, it is the
lowest-noise integer-N PLL on the market.
Q. What tools are available to simulate loop behavior?
A. ADIsimPLL is a simulation tool developed with Applied Radio
Labs. It consists of extensive models for the ADI synthesizers
as well as popular VCOs and TCXOs. It allows the user to
design passive and active loop filters in many configurations,
simulate VCO, PLL, and reference noise, and model spurious
and settling behavior. Once a design is completed, a custom
evaluation board may be ordered based on the design using an
internal weblink to Avnet.
NOISE –91dBc/Hz
A. Phase noise is the critical specification for many system
designers. Phase-noise performance in the ADF4113 family
is typically 6 dB better than the National equivalent and
>10 dB better than Fujitsu or Philips equivalents.The extended
choice of prescaler settings protects the designer from being
compromised in selecting a higher PFD frequency by the
‘P2 – P’ rule. Another major advantage is the choice of
eight programmable charge-pump currents; in wideband
designs where the gain of the VCO changes dramatically, the
programmable currents can be adjusted to ensure loop stability
and bandwidth consistency across the entire band.
Q. What is the future direction of the PLL industry?
A. While chipset solutions are prominent in the headlines,
particularly for GSM, the new generation of cellular phone
and base stations are still likely to initially favor discrete
solutions. Discrete PLL and VCO modules offer improved
noise performance and isolation, and are already in high
volume production at the start of the design cycle.
The demand for reduced size and current consumption in
handsets has driven the development of the ADI L-series of
dual synthesizers on 0.35-µm Bi-CMOS in miniature CSP
packages. Integrated VCO and PLL modules will be a major
growth in newer system designs, where board area and cost
reduction of an initial design is crucial.
However the most exciting developments are likely to be
in fractional-N technology. Recent improvements in spur
performance have allowed the release of the ADF4252 and
created unprecedented interest. The phase-noise improvement,
super-fast lock times, and versatility inherent in the architecture
are likely to dominate LO blocks of future multi-standard highdata-rate wireless systems.
(1) “Fractional-N Synthesizers,” (Design Feature), Microwaves and
RF, August 1999.
TIME – s
The author would like to thank Mike Curtin, Brendan Daly, and
Ian Collins for their valuable contributions.
NOISE –103dBc/Hz
Figure 6. Lock time and phase noise are just two parameters that can be modeled by ADIsimPLL. While phase noise
is reduced by >8 dB, the wider loop bandwidths and high
PFD frequency allowed by fractional-N reduce the lock time
to <30 µs for 30-MHz jumps (as shown).
Q. Do ADI proprietary parts have specific advantages over comparable
competitive parts?
The tool is free and may be downloaded from
pll. Also widely used are the commercially available Eagleware
and MATLAB tools.
(2) Microwave and RF Wireless Systems, by David M. Pozar.
Wiley (2000).
(3) “Phase locked loops for high frequency receivers and
transmitters,” by Mike Curtin and Paul O’Brien. Analog
Dialogue Volume 33, 1999.
(4) Phase-locked Loops, by Roland E. Best. McGraw-Hill (1993).
(5) “Phase Noise Reference” (Application Note), Applied
Radio Labs.
Source: Analog Dialogue 36-03 (2002)
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