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10 best electronics analyses of 2015

23 Dec 2015  | Stephen Padilla

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Validating RF ASIC of a satellite transceiver

ASIC validation in the RF world comes with its own set of hurdles and challenges, with high quality lab equipment, experience and know-how as essentials. A recently completed RF sub-system validation at S3 Group is presented in the form of a case study of the execution. The validation PCB design focused on impedance matching and shielding RF signals from noise sources. We built up an efficient, automated test harness based on LabVIEW, MATLAB and python. This unified test framework facilitated instrument set-up, test-case running, data collection, traceability, plotting of measurements, waveform generation and analysis.

Planning for validation

This is a case study of the validation of a complex RF sub-system, carried out by S3 Group. It suggests some best practices and approaches to adopt.

A specialised S3 Group ASIC RF development team designed a complex satellite transceiver, for use in handsets (phones) and modems. Die samples were fabricated in three lots (Best, Typical and Worst Case) by TSMC in a 0.18µm RF CMOS process, which were packaged and tested. Approximately 100 of these samples were used to validate the IC design's functionality and performance.

1. Make a Plan

It all starts with a clear black box specification, on which a testing strategy can be built. It must include individual, numbered, test items with their pass/fail criteria, usually in the form of an RF parameter, e.g. Phase Noise, ACPR. The aim is to build and execute a minimum set of tests to cover all these identified test items. In our case we had 194 test items covered by 68 different tests.

2. Have the right team

The correct range of disciplines is essential.

Skilled RF board designers, experienced with the manufacture and assembly of custom validation boards, experienced engineers with DSP and wide-ranging programming experience and of course, experienced RF engineers.

3. Build up the lab environment

At RF frequencies assume that expensive, high-end lab equipment is an essential requirement. How many benches/stations are needed? Our recommendation is at least one per validation engineer. We split the validation team up into Support, PLL/SYNTH, TX, RX, and Auxiliary Functions.

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