A DC-Invariant Gain Control Technique for CMOS Differential Variable-Gain Low-Noise Amplifiers Muh-Dey Wei#*1, Sheng-Fuh Chang#2 and Renato Negra*3 # Department of Electrical Engineering, Department of Communications Engineering, Center for Telecommunication Research, National Chung Cheng University Chiayi, 62102, Taiwan *Mixed-Signal CMOS Circuits, UMIC Research Centre, Department of Electrical Engineering, RWTH Aachen University Aachen, 52056, Germany Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Abstract — A DC-invariant gain control technique is 3.5 GHz VG-LNA in 0.18 μm CMOS technology wasintroduced for differential CMOS variable-gain low-noise implemented to validate the proposed technique.amplifiers (VG-LNA). Such technique provides an advantage ofinvariant DC bias current when the RF power gain is tuned over VDDthe gain control range. Therefore, the transconductance ofNMOS transistor is unchanged, which minimizes the input matchdetuning. Consequently, the optimal design for noise, gain and C3 C6 OUT- C2 C5 OUT+power linearity becomes easier to achieve. The implemented LL0.18 μm CMOS VG-LNA shows a nearly constant DC current of7.8±0.5 mA from a 1.5 V supply when the RF power gain is tuned VB2 R2 R3 R6 R5 VB2from 0 to 12.3 dB at 3.5 GHz. Over this gain tuning range, the Cg1 Cg2 M2 M5input return loss is almost unchanged around 11.5 dB. Theminimum noise figure is 2.59 dB and the input-referred P1dB is VC DC-Invariant Gain−4.5 dBm corresponding to the high gain (12.3 dB) situation. The Control Circuitin-band gain flatness is as flat as ±0.2 dB. A very high FOM of VB1 R1 R4 VB120.6 is obtained. A B M3 C M6 IN+ C1 L1 L2 C4 IN- M1 M4 I. INTRODUCTION Cex LS Cex Variable gain low-noise amplifiers (VG-LNA) areindispensable to RF receivers for ever-growing high-data-ratewireless communications, which have nature of a high (a)dynamic range of received signal strength. Various techniques iCA iCBhave been proposed for CMOS low-noise amplifiers to have VCgain variation feature to accommodate the wide range of M3 M6received signal strength. These include the control of bias A Bvoltage -, the change of output load or interstageimpedance -, and the cascade of extra resistive-feedbackamplifier stage at output -. In the first two techniques, C (b)the bias current of the MOSFET amplification stage is Fig. 1. Circuit schematic diagrams, (a) the proposed VG-LNAchanged when the gain is varied. This causes a change of (DC-bypass capacitors not shown) (b) DC-Invariant gain controltransconductance, which complicates the noise and gain match circuit.over the entire gain control range. The third technique avoidsthe DC current variation of the primary amplification stage byincorporating the gain control on the third stage. II. CIRCUIT DESIGN In this paper, a DC-invariant gain control technique is The schematic diagram of the proposed VG-LNA is shownproposed, where a pair of NMOS transistors is connected in Fig. 1(a), which is a differential cascoded amplifier. Theacross the differential nodes of cascoded LNA. As a result, the first cascoded pair of NMOS transistors M1 and M2 and theDC bias current is unchanged over the gain control range. A second cascoded pair of M4 and M5 constitute the differential978-1-4244-8971-8/10$26.00 c 2010 IEEE
amplification topology. The capacitor Cex across the gate- 15 10source node reduces the gate-induced current noise  andallows the simultaneous power-constrained noise and gainmatch . Due to using a triple-well process, the resistors R3 10 8and R6 are connected to the body terminals of M2 and M5 to Noise Figure (dB)increase power gain . The center-tapped spiral inductor Ls Gain (dB) W=60 μmis used for source degeneration. The drain network, formed by 5 6 W=100 μmthe center-tapped spiral inductor LL with capacitors C3 and C6, W=140 μmprovides a shunt peaking effect for the enhancement of the W=180 μmoperation bandwidth and in-band gain flatness. W=220 μm 0 4 The DC-invariant gain control circuit is composed of theMMOS transistor M3 and M6. If M3 and M6 are biased in thedeep triode region, they can be considered as variable -5 2conductors, written as 0.6 0.8 1.0 1.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 Control Voltage (V) Wv Gds = K n (VGS − VTH ) (1) Fig. 2. Simulated gain and noise figure of a 3.5 GHz CMOS VG- Lv LNA with respect to the gain control voltage.where Kn is the device parameter, VGS is the gate-source The input return loss is 13 dB and the maximal power gain isvoltage, VTH is the threshold voltage, Wv and Lv are the gate 12.3 dB at 3.5 GHz. The in-band gain flatness is as flat aswidth and gate length of the transistor. The conductance Gds is ±0.2 dB from 3.2 to 3.8 GHz and measured noise figure iscontrollable by the gate voltage of M3 and M6. As illustrated 2.6-3.3 dB.in Fig. 1(b), the DC voltages at node A and B are identical On the gain control and related performance, Fig. 6 and Fig.due to the circuit symmetry so that no DC current flows 7 depict the measured results. The DC current is almostthrough M3 and M6. This indicates that the gain control circuit constant at 7.8±0.45 mA when the control voltage VC isis DC floating and hence consumes zero DC power. From the changed from 0.6 to 1.8 V. Reflection coefficient S11 isRF signal point of view, the RF signals at node A and B are −11.5 dB±0.8 dB over the voltage control range. The small180o out of phase and node C is indicated as a RF virtual variation of DC current and input return loss confirms theground. The amount of differential input signals can be decoupling of the RF gain control to the input impedanceshorted to the virtual ground by controlling the match. At 3.5 GHz the power gain is controllable from 0 totransconductances of M3 and M5. Therefore, the total power 12.3 dB corresponding to VC = 0.6 to 1.8 V. The noise figuregain can be controlled by VC without disturbing the DC bias is increased from 2.6 to 8.1 dB due to gain reduction. Thecurrent. In turn, the transconductances of the cascoded NMOS measured input P1dB is −4.5 dBm and +7 dBm at the highesttransistors are unchanged while the gain is tuned. Therefore, and lowest gain, respectively.the gain control is decoupled from the input impedance match. The measured results are summarized in Table I, andThis ensures that the conventional cascoded LNA design compared with other CMOS 0.18 μm VG-LNAs. A figure ofmethod is applicable over the entire gain tuning range. merit (FOM) for a fixed-gain LNA is defined by  as: The size of M3 and M6 determines the gain variation range.Different gate widths from Wv=60 to 220 μm are simulated. Gain[dB] ⋅ P dB [mW] ⋅ f [GHz ] FOM = 1 (2)The simulation results are shown in Fig. 2, where the gain PDC [mW] ⋅ ( F − 1)variation range is increased with the gate width. For the caseof Wv =180 μm, the gain variation range is 12.5 dB. In this To better evaluate the variable-gain LNA, we propose arange, the noise figure is changed from 2.5 dB to 7.8 dB, modified definition of FOMM with the inclusion of the gainresulting from the gain reduction. control range and chip size, given as: Gain[dB] ⋅ P dB [mW] ⋅ f [GHz ] FOM M = 1 ⋅ GR[ dB] (3) III. MEASUREMENT RESULTS PDC [mW] ⋅ ( F − 1) The designed 3.5 GHz VG-LNA was implemented in where GR denotes the gain control range. In Table I, both0.18 μm CMOS technology. The microphotograph is definitions of FOM are calculated. Our VG-LNA has theillustrated in Fig. 3, where the chip area is 1.2 mm2. The RF highest fixed-gain FOM of 1.67 and variable-gain FOMM ofperformance was measured with a four-port vector network 20.6.analyzer. The measured frequency responses are shown inFig. 4 and Fig. 5.
TABLE I SUMMARY OF 0.18 μm CMOS VARIABLE-GAIN LNAS P1dB Power Freq. S11 Gain Vari. NF Chip Size FOM FOMM Ref. Topology HG / LG Consump. (GHz) (dB) Range (dB) (dB) (mm2) (dBm) (mW)  Single-ended 5.2 -13 0–20 3.5 -15 / N.A. 17 1.2 0.156 3.12  Single-ended 5.5 -15 -19 − 19 3.1 -18* / N.A. 27 0.56 0.06 2.2  Single-ended 5.75 < -7 10.9–21.4 4.4 -27.5 / -15.5* 16.2 0.3 0.007 0.008  Fully-Differential 5.7 <-15 3.6 – 12.5 3.7 -11 / N.A. 14.4 1.4 0.29 2.6  Fully-Differential 0.7 N.A. -6.5 – 15.5 5.8 -5.3 / +15* 6.5 0.03 0.35 7.8 This Work Fully-Differential 3.5 < -10 0 – 12.3 2.6 -4.5 / +7 11.2 1.2 1.67 20.6 * calculated P1dB=IIP3-9 for evaluation 13.0 5.0 VC VDD 12.5 4.5 VB2 VB2 LL 12.0 4.0 Noise Figure (dB) Out Out Gain (dB) Sim. 11.5 Gain (Meas.) 3.5 NF(Meas.) 11.0 3.0 L1 L2 10.5 2.5 LS VB1 In+ Gnd In- VB1 10.0 2.0 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8Fig. 3. Microphotograph (1.16 × 1.05 mm2) Frequency (GHz) Fig. 5. Simulated and measured noise figure and in-band gain flatness. 15 10 0 10 S21 Sim. Current (Meas.) 9 S11 (Meas.) -3 5 S-Parameters (dB) Sim. 0 S21 (Meas.) Current (mA) 8 -6 S11 (dB) S11 (Meas.) -5 S11 7 -9 -10 -15 6 -12 -20 5 -15 2.5 3.0 3.5 4.0 4.5 Frequency (GHz) 0.6 0.8 1.0 1.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 Control Voltage (V)Fig. 4. Simulated and measured S-parameters. Fig. 6. Simulated and measured DC current and S11 versus control voltage.
15 10 Implementation Center (CIC), Taiwan, for chip implementation. 10 8 REFERENCES Noise Figure (dB) Gain (Sim.)  F. Ellinger, U. Lott, and W. Bachtold, “A 5.2 GHz VariableGain (dB) 5 NF (Sim.) 6 Gain LNA MMIC for Adaptive Antenna Combining,” in IEEE Gain (Meas.) RFIC Symp., 1999, pp. 197-200. NF (Meas.)  M.-D. Tsai, R.-C. Liu, C.-S. Lin, and H. Wang, “A Low- Voltage Fully-Integrated 4.5-6-GHz CMOS Variable Gain Low 0 4 Noise Amplifier,” in The 33rd European Microw. Conf., 2003, pp. 13-16.  H. W. Su and Z. H. Wang, “The Impact of Different Gain -5 2 Control Methods on Performance of CMOS Variable-Gain 0.6 0.8 1.0 1.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 LNA,” in IEEE International Symp. on Circuits and Systems, Control Voltage (V) 2007, pp. 2208-2211.Fig. 7. Simulated and measured gain and NF versus control  C.-M. Lo, S.-F. Chao, C.-C. Chang, and H. Wang, “A Fullyvoltage. Integrated 5-6 GHz CMOS Variable-Gain LNA Using Helix- stacked Inductors,” in The European Microw. Integrated Circuits Conf., 2006, pp. 348-351. IV. CONCLUSION  M. K. Raja, T. T. C. Boon, K. N. Kumar, and J. W. Sheng, “A Fully Integrated Variable Gain 5.75-GHz LNA with on Chip Design of a differential CMOS variable-gain low-noise Active Balun for WLAN,” in IEEE RFIC Symp., 2003, pp. 439-amplifier based on the DC-invariant gain control technique is 442.presented. The salient feature of the proposed gain control  H. C. Lai and Z. M. Lin, “A Low Noise Gain-Variable LNA forcircuit is its presence as an effective variable conductor with 802.11a WLAN,” in IEEE Conf. on Electron Devices and Solid-DC floating to the main cascoded amplifying transistors. State Circuits, 2007, pp. 973-976.Therefore, the DC bias current of cascoded amplifier is not  C.-H. Liao and H.-R. Chuang, “A 5.7-GHz 0.18-μm CMOS Gain-controlled Differential LNA with Current Reuse forinterfered when its power gain is varied. The WLAN Receiver,” IEEE Microw. Wireless Compon. Lett., vol.transconducances of amplifying transistors are hence 13, pp. 526-528, Dec. 2003.unchanged such that the conventional cascoded amplifier  Y.-S. Hwang, C.-J. Kim, J.-H. Kim, and H.-J. Yoo, “Adesign method is valid over the entire gain variation range. Controllable Variable Gain LNA for 2 GHz Band,” in The Asia-The effective variable conductor is implemented by the Pacific Microwave Conf. 2005, p. 4.NMOS transistors biased in the triode region and connected  Z. Hao, L. Zhiqun, and W. Zhigong, “A Wideband Variableacross the differential nodes of cascoded amplifier. The gain Gain Differential CMOS LNA for Multi-standard Wireless LAN,” in International Conf. on Microw. and Millimeter Wavecontrol range is determined by the gate width of the transistor. Technology, 2008, pp. 1334-1337.A 3.5 GHz variable-gain low-noise amplifier in 0.18 μm  P. Andreani and H. Sjoland, “Noise Optimization of anCMOS technology was implemented. The measured power Inductively Degenerated CMOS Low Noise Amplifier,” IEEEgain can be controlled from 0 to 12.3 dB, meanwhile the DC Trans. on Circuits and Systems II: Express Briefs, vol. 48, pp.current is almost fixed at 7.8±0.45 mA. The minimal NF is 835-841, Sep. 2001.2.59 dB at the highest gain and is increased to 8.1 dB when  T.-K. Nguyen, C.-H. Kim, G.-J. Ihm, M.-S. Yang, and S.-G. Lee,the gain is reduced to 0 dB. The gain flatness is within ±0.2 “CMOS low-noise amplifier design optimization techniques,” IEEE Trans. Microw. Theory Tech., vol. 52, pp. 1433-1442,dB from 3.2 to 3.8 GHz. The P1dB is −4.5 dBm and +7 dBm May 2004.corresponding to the highest and lowest gain respectively. An  C.-Y. Cha and S.-G. Lee, “A 5.2-GHz LNA in 0.35-μm CMOSenhanced figure of merit for VG-LNA is proposed to evaluate Utilizing Inter-Stage Series Resonance and Optimizing theits performance. Our designed chip has a very high FOM of Substrate Resistance,” IEEE J. Solid-State Circuits, vol. 38, pp.20.6. 669-672, Apr. 2003.  S. Asgaran, M. J. Deen, and C.-H. Chen, “A 4-mW Monolithic CMOS LNA at 5.7GHz with the Gate Resistance Used for Input ACKNOWLEDGEMENT Matching,” IEEE Microw. Wireless Compon. Lett., vol. 16, pp. 188-190, Apr. 2006. The authors would like to thank the research cluster “Ultra  M. Meghdadi, M. Sharif-Bakhtiar, and A. Medi, “A UHFHigh Speed Information and Communication” (UMIC) for variable gain amplifier for direct-conversion DVB-H receivers,”funding this work, National Science Council (NSC) and Chip in IEEE RFIC Symp., 2009, pp. 551-554.