Abstract Introduction Common Switch Configurations Ideal Vs Practical Switches Types of RF Switches Reflective or Absorptive Switches Advantages PIN Diode Fundamentals RF Switch Considerations and Terminology Classification based on circuit combinations (a) Series connected switch (b) Shunt Connected Switch (c) Compound Switch FET Switches (a) Single(Series) FET Switch (b) Series Shunt Switch PIN Vs FET Switches- which one to use? Comparison of PIN Diodes & FET¶s Conclusion Future Scope References Page No¶s 1 3 3 4 4 4 5 5 7 10 10 11 12 13 13 14 16 19 19 20 20


Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering, College of Engineering, Osmania University, Hyderabad-07


Switches are widely used in many RF Systems, from low power transmit-receive switches in time division duplex wireless transreceivers to millimetric wave beamforming systems for satellite tracking to high power(often military) phased array systems. PIN diode operation is reviewed such that the impact of device choice and characteristics on the design can be understood. This Paper examines basic design techniques employing PIN diode as switching element and FET switches concentrates on circuit layout techniques to achieve high isolation. The Paper concludes with a comparison of PIN and FET based switching components.


INTRODUCTION A switch is an electrical component for opening and closing the connection of a circuit or for changing the connection of a circuit device. An ³Ideal Switch´ exhibits zero resistance to current flow in the ³ON´ state and infinite resistance to current flow in the ³OFF´ state. A practical switch design exhibits a certain amount of resistance in the ³ON´ state and a finite resistance in the ³OFF´ state. The use of PIN diodes as the switching element in microwave circuits is based on the difference between the PIN diode reverse and forward bias characteristics. At lower microwave frequencies, f < 2 GHz), the PIN diode (including package parasitics) appears to be a very small impedance under forward bias and a very large impedance under reverse bias. It is the difference in performance between forward and reverse bias states upon which switch operation relies. Most switch designs to be considered use a difference in reflection, rather than dissipation, to obtain switch performance. Very little power is dissipated by the diode itself, thus permitting small devices to control relatively large amounts of microwave power. Thus, PIN diode switches are reactive networks, where losses are a second order effect. In subsequent sections, we will see that switch circuits resemble filter circuits in many ways. Common Switch Configurations Switches may be implemented in many configurations. These configurations are described in terms of the number of poles and the number of throws implemented in the switch. The number of poles describes the number of signal paths controlled by the switch. The number of throws indicates the number of potential directions into which a pole may be placed. For example, the simplest switch configuration is a single pole, single throw (SPST) switch. This configuration has one signal path which can either be completed by the switch or interrupted by the switch. A single pole double throw switch (SPDT or SP2T) can connect a single transmission line to either of two other transmission lines. The number of poles and throws, and the combinations thereof, is unlimited in the ideal sense, but has practical limitations


Ideal vs. Practical Switches In practical solid state RF/microwave switches, it is not possible to produce neither perfect open impedance nor a perfect short circuit. Consequently, there is always some small amount of incident signal that is absorbed by the switch and a bit more reflected by the switch¶s non-ideal impedance when the switch is in the state in which it should ideally pass all incident signal energy. This small reduction in signal amplitude is known as insertion loss (IL) and is typically described in terms of decibels (dB). Insertion loss is simply the ratio of the output power to the input power. TYPES OF RF SWITCHES  Mechanical Relays, Rotary Switches, Push Buttons  Electronic Switches Semiconductor Switches (FET¶s, Diodes) Reflective or Absorptive Switches? Reflective Switches A reflective switch is one in which the incident power at the ³off´ port is reflected back to the source as a result of the impedance mismatch presented by the PIN diode. In contrast, an absorptive switch is designed to present 50-ohm impedance in the ³off´ state, and to absorb incident power. The operating bandwidth of the switch is determined by the blocking capacitors selected, the bias circuitry, and the diode¶s reverse-bias capacitance. Reducing the diode¶s shunt resistance increases isolation in this type of switch. This reduction is achieved either by increasing the current or decreasing the diode¶s overall resistance. Absorptive Switches Multi-throw absorptive switches typically employ the series-shunt approach. The required 50-ohm terminating impedance is achieved by the series combination of the diode and terminating resistance to ground. This type of termination has good high-frequency characteristics, but power-handling ability is limited by the ability of the diodes and resistors to dissipate RF power. In addition, absorptive switches


typically exhibit somewhat slower switching speeds. These types of switches are usually not absorptive at their common port (in the ³all-off´ state) but can be made absorptive for special applications. Advantages of Electronic Switches over Mechanical Switches are as follows:     High Switching Speed Small in Size More efficient and reliable Cost effective

The PIN diode finds wide usage in RF, UHF and microwave circuits. It is fundamentally a device whose impedance, at these frequencies, is controlled by its DC excitation. A unique feature of the PIN diode is its ability to control large amounts of RF power with much lower levels of DC. PIN Diode Fundamentals: The PIN diode is a current controlled resistor at radio and microwave frequencies. It is a silicon semiconductor diode in which a high-resistivity intrinsic I region is sandwiched between a P-type and N-type region. When the PIN diode is forward biased, holes and electrons are injected into the I region. These charges do not immediately annihilate each other; instead they stay alive for an average time, called the carrier lifetime, t. This results in an average stored charge, Q, which lowers the effective resistance of I region to a value RS. When the PIN diode is at zero or reverse bias there is no stored charge in I region and the diode appears as a capacitor, CT, shunted by a parallel resistance RS.

PIN DIODE PIN diodes are specified for the following parameters:


RS : Series resistance under forward bias CT : Total capacitance at zero or reverse bias RD : Parallel resistance at zero or reverse bias VR : Maximum allowable DC reverse bias voltage : Carrier lifetime AV : Average thermal resistance PD : Maximum average power dissipation Pulse : Pulse thermal impedance PP : Maximum peak power dissipation In simplest form the capacitance of a PIN is determined by the area and width of the I region and the dielectric constant of silicon. This minimum capacitance is obtained by the application of a reverse bias in excess of VPT, the voltage at which the depletion region occupies the entire I layer.

Equivalent Circuit of I-region before punch Through

Simplified Equivalent Circuit, series A good way to understand the effects of series resistance is to observe the insertion loss of a PIN chip series mounted in a 50 Ÿ line.

Simplified Equivalent Circuit, shunt


RF switch considerations and terminology  Frequency and Bandwidth Although most of the switching systems do not have a limit on the lowest frequency of operation, they do have an upper limit. For semiconductor devices this is due to the ¿nite time in carrier mobility. The losses incurred from resistance and parasitic reactances are the main cause limiting the performance of electromechanical switches at higher frequencies.  Insertion loss The insertion loss of an RF device is a measure of its efficiency for signal transmission. In the case of a switch, the insertion loss is speci¿ed only when its state is such that signal is transmitting or when the switch is in the on-state. This is speci¿ed in terms of the transmission coefficient, S21, in decibels, between the input and output terminals of the switched circuit. Usually speci¿ed in decibels, one of the design goals for most of the RF switches is to minimize the insertion loss. The insertion loss tends to degrade with increase in frequency for most of the solid-state switching systems. Compared with these, RF MEMS switches can be designed to operate with a small insertion loss at several gigahertz. Resistive losses at lower frequencies and skin-depth effects at higher frequencies are the major causes for losses.  Isolation The isolation of a switching system is speci¿ed when there is no signal transmission. This is also measured as S21 between the input and output terminals of the switched circuit, under the no-transmission state or when the switch is in the off condition. A large value (in decibels) indicates very small coupling between input and output terminals. Thus the design goal is to maximize the isolation. In RF MEMS switches isolation may degrade as a result of proximity coupling between the moving part and the stationary transmission line as a result of leakage currents.


RF Power handling RF power handling is a measure of how efficiently a switch passes the RF signal. This is commonly speci¿ed in terms of a 1 dB compression point, which is adopted from the ampli¿er characterization industry. It is commonly assumed that the output power level follows the input power with a linear ratio. But in many devices there is a maximum power above which this linearity does not hold. The 1 dB compression point is de¿ned as the maximum input power level at which the output power differs by 1 dB with respect to linearity. The 1 dB compression points and the power handling of many devices such as PIN diodes and MMIC switches are functions of frequency.  Switching time (Rise time & Fall time) These parameters, fundamental too many designs, are actually composed of several subsets, each one defining the time required for switching to take place between two states in the switch response (Figure 3a). Rise time is defined as the period between full ³off´ and full ³on," specifically from 10 percent of this condition to 90 percent of the square-law-detected RF power. Conversely, fall time is the period between 90 percent of full ³on´ to 10 percent of full ³off." Rise time and fall time do not include driver propagation delays.  On time and Off time The time lapse between 50 per cent of full input control signals from the driver to 90 percent of the square-law-detected RF power when the device is switched from full ³off´ to full ³on´ is called the ³on´ time. The ³off´ time begins when the 50 percent point of control signal occurs, to the point when it achieves 10 percent of its square-law detected RF power and the unit is switched from full ³on´ to full ³off." On and off times include driver propagation delays. This is sometimes referred to as "Modulation Time."  Switching Transients Switching transients are the exponentially decaying voltage spikes at the input, output or both of an RF signal path, due to a change in the control voltage. These switching transients are often called sidebands due to switching, and it shows important indications of the performance of a switching system. It is often required to monitor the output RF spectrum during the design of an RF system,


and hence components of the RF chain, such as ampli¿ers and switches, must be tested with a known stimulus. Both electromechanical and electromagnetic transients exist during the switching process. While the electromechanical transient is due to mechanical motion (wherever present) of the switch element, the electromagnetic transient is due to energy exchange between electric ¿elds and magnetic ¿elds of the electric equipment in the network. It may be noted that these transients arise from nonlinearities in the network. The switching transients in PIN diode switches are due to the stored charge in the intrinsic region being quickly discharged by the control voltage. In balanced Schottky barrier designs, the charge stored by the diode is very small and the majority of the transients are caused by the mismatch within the drive circuits. However, the switching transient mechanism of the gallium arsenide ¿eld effect transistor (GaAs FET) MMIC circuits results when the rapidly changing gate voltage is coupled to the switch output through the gate-to-channel capacitance of the FET, thus experiencing a greater feed through because of its faster switching speed. Classification based on the circuit combination:  Series Combination  Shunt Combination  Compound Combination (Series-Shunt)


Series Connected Switch: Figures below show two basic types of PIN diode series switches, (SPST and SPDT), commonly used in broadband designs. 

Principal operating parameters of switch are calculated as follows: (A) (B) Insertion Loss (dB) = 20 Log10(1  Rs / 2 Zo ) Isolation (dB) = 10 Log [1  4TfCZ 0) 2 ] 10

(C) Power Dissipation (Forward Bias)
PD ! ( 4 s 0 ) /( 2 0  s ) 2 .Pav [ watts ]

For Z o "" Rs , this becomes (D) Peak Current

«2 » ¨ 2W ¸ I ! ¬ ¹[ amps ] ¼ *© ­ Zo ½ ª W  1 º

(E) Peak RF Voltage

VP ! (8 o PAV )[ volts ]
¨ 2W ¸ VP ! ( 2 o PAV ) * © ¹[Volts ] ª W 1º




¤£ ¢


PD } ( s / 0 ).PAV [Watts ]



Shunt Connected Switch: Figure below shows two typical shunt connected PIN diode Switches.

The Principal equations describing the operating parameters of shunt switches are given by (A) (B) (C) Insertion Loss

IL ! 10 Log10 [1  (Tf T Z o ) 2 ]dB I ! 20 Log10 ?  ( Z o / 2 Rs )A 1 dB

Switch Isolation

Power Dissipation (Forward Bias)

PD ! ( 4 Rs Z o ) /( Z o  2 s ) 2 * PAV [ watts ]
(D) Power Dissipation
¨Z PD ! © o © Rp ª Peak RF Current ¸ ¹ * P [Watts ] ¹ AV º


¨ 8P I P ! © AV © Z ª o

¸ ¹ [ amps ] ¹ º



Zo Peak RF Voltage

¨ 2W ¸ V ! 2 Z o AV * © ¹[Volts ] ª W 1º 


I !


¨ 2W ¸ *© ¹[amps ] ª W 1 º




Compound Combination (Series-Shunt): Compound Switches are series-shunt switches used in combinations to improve overall switch performance. The broad band Insertion Loss of the series switch is combined with the broad band Isolation of the shunt switch in a number of combinations to follow. Here are few combinations:

FET Switches:

FET Switches The control field effect transistor (FET) or switching FET functions as a three port device, where the channel between source and drain ports forms a conduction path for the RF signal and the gate port, controls whether an RF signal is blocked or may pass. A DC control voltage applied between the gate and channel is required to create this function. Most control FETs use a depletion mode configuration, which means that the channel is normally in its low impedance state with no control voltage applied and in its high impedance, pinched off state when a negative voltage with respect to the channel is applied (thus the term ³pinch off voltage´).


Single FET Switch Figure below shows a single FET configured as a simplified single pole, single throw (SPST) switch. The first challenge in fabricating a switch using a GaAs FET is to isolate the DC gate control from the RF path. This is done by using a 5 kŸ to 10 kŸ resistor in series with the gate of the FET. This is a very simple bias network that has many advantages which will be discussed later. The next step is to DC block the RF source and drain ports using a capacitor with adequately low capacitive reactance at the desired frequency of operation. This creates an SPST switch. The insertion loss of the ³ON´ path of the switch will be affected by the channel resistance. Likewise the isolation of the ³OFF´ path is limited by the capacitance created by the source and drain spacing as well as FET physical size (periphery). Hence a balance of channel resistance (RS) and off capacitance (Coff) must be met. The following equations show the relationship of the RS and Coff as expressed in insertion loss (dB) and isolation loss (dB) for a single series FET SPST switch.

Assume the FET has the following characteristics:

¨ R ¸ Insertionl oss (db ) ! 20 log©1  s ¹ © 2Z ¹ oº ª

¨ X ¸ Isolation(dB ) ! 20 log©1  c ¹ © 2Z ¹ oº ª


Series-Shunt Switch: To improve the isolation at higher frequencies, a shunt FET can be used following the series FET. In this position the FET must be ³ON´ in order to increase isolation and ³OFF´ to put it in the insertion loss state.

This requires two separate control voltages for the switch. Shunt FET has no appreciable reactive component when it is biased to its ³ON´ state, isolation will stay relatively unchanged over frequency. The negative gate voltage required for this switch can be viewed as a drawback, since in most applications only positive voltage supplies are available. Also in this series/shunt configuration one FET must be ³ON´ while the other FET is ³OFF´. A solution to this problem is the addition of two capacitors applied to the shunt FET which provide DC blocks to the RF path and allow the gate port of the shunt FET to be grounded. An additional reference voltage port must also be added. This technique also allows for a single positive voltage to be applied to the switch. The selection of the capacitor value is critical to insure proper frequency operation and bandwidth. The values can be quite small (5 to 15 pF), since the series FET can provide most of the isolation at the lower frequencies.


This SPST switch is reflective, which means that the output when in the isolation state will have a substantial VSWR. A class of switches, known as ³matched´ or ³absorptive´ will terminate the output into a 50 Ÿ load when switched to the isolation state. PIN vs. FET Switches ± Which One to Use? PIN diodes and FETs have relative advantages and disadvantages to each other for use in switching applications. The performance attributes which should be compared when the selection of one of these technologies is undertaken are more numerous than one might think at first glance. Table below lists the foremost of these attributes, but is by no means intended to be complete.


Attribute ³Integratability´ with other components Power Handling Switching Time Control Current Distortion Performance

PIN Diode Poor Very High (greater than 1KW CW) A few tens of nanoseconds to several microseconds Up to 100 milliamps I/P IP3 are in the range of +45dBm or higher

FET Excellent Moderate (10 Watts or Less) Tens to a few hundred of nanoseconds Less than 100 micro amps I/P IP3 are in the range of +30dBm

Integratability: The wafer processing required for modern FET structures such as pHEMTs is largely lateral with respect to the top surface of the wafer; it lends itself quite well to the inclusion of passive component structures -- such as metal-insulator-metal (MIM) capacitors, spiral inductors, and thin film resistors -- all of which can be formed on or near the topmost layer of the wafer. The bottom-most layer of a FET wafer is semi-insulating material, which inherently isolates one FET structure from another. In comparison, PIN diode wafer processing is vertical with respect to the top surface of the wafer; the majority of the physical thickness of a PIN diode wafer is the cathode of the diode. It is very difficult to isolate the cathodes of PIN diodes that are on the same die. Consequently, with the exception of common-cathode pairs of PIN diodes, they are inherently discrete devices. Power handling The vertical structure of a PIN diode is a relative advantage for power handling. The heat that is generated by Joule heating within the I layer of the diode can easily be conducted downwards through the diode¶s cathode layer to the system heat sink. RF FET structures such as pHEMTs and MESFETs are typically fabricated from III-V materials, such as GaAs, that has lower thermal conductivity than Si, which is the material utilized for most switching PIN diodes.


Switching Time The FET is a majority carrier device whose drain-source impedance is controlled by the thickness of a depletion layer that extends into the channel from the gate-source interface. The thickness of this depletion layer can be modulated very rapidly in response to a change in the gate-source control voltage. By contrast, a PIN diode stores minority carriers in its I layer when it is under forward bias. These charge carriers must be primarily conducted out of the I layer to change its impedance from low to high. This process is inherently slower than the change in drain-source impedance for a pHEMT or MESFET device. Control Current The FET is a voltage-controlled device. In a practical pHEMT or MESFET, the only current that flows into the control port of the transistor is the reverse leakage current of the gate-source junction, which is very small, typically less than 10 micro amps. On the other hand, a PIN diode can require a significant injection of charge carriers into its I layer to lower its impedance to the required level. The typical bias current for a PIN diode in a switch is 10 to 20 milliamps. Distortion Performance The PIN diodes produce nearly ideal, very linear series resistance when the amount of charge in its I layer -- as a result of DC forward bias current -- is at least ten times that of the charge that is alternately injected and removed by the RF signal. When the diode is nonconducting, it presents a very high resistance in parallel with its junction capacitance. This junction capacitance is independent of applied voltage for signals with sufficiently high frequency (typically greater than 100 MHz). Consequently, the PIN diode produces excellent distortion performance. An FET structure responds very quickly to the magnitude of its applied gatesource voltage, because the gate-source junction in a MESFET and a pHEMT structure is a Schottky diode. The Schottky diode¶s very nonlinear impedance with respect to applied bias conditions can be a comparatively efficient distortion generation mechanism, which results in input third order intercept for a FET switch that is roughly an order of magnitude or more lower than that of a PIN diode switch.


Comparison of PIN Diode and FET Characteristics: FEATURE Insertion Loss (typ. 1GHz) Isolation (typ. 1GHz) Current consumption Switching speed Operation DC Power Handling Circuit Size Design Flexibility Conclusion: (1) RF switches may comprise PIN diodes or FET structures such as MESFETs and pHEMTs. These two approaches to the design of the switch offer advantages and disadvantages. (2) A PIN diode switch typically can handle greater power and produce less distortion, at the expense of longer switching time and much larger control current requirements. (3) The very low bias current needs of MESFET and pHEMT switches makes them very well suited for battery powered applications. These devices can also be integrated into complex, multi-throw integrated circuit switches. Future Scope: Devices with more operating life span and extremely small in size can be fabricated such as, MEMS based switches and in near future NEMS based switches. PIN SWITCH Very Low (0.40.6dB) Excellent (typ. 50dB) High (typ. mA) Fast (typ. 100ns) No Excellent Small-Moderate Yes FET SWITCH Very Low (0.4-0.6dB) Very Good (typ. 45dB) Very Low (typ. Micro Amps) Very Fast (3-10ns) Yes Good(typ. +25dBm) Very Small N/A


References: 1. ³Design with PIN Diodes´, Skyworks Solutions application note. 2. ³PIN Diode Circuit Designers Handbook´ Micro-semi Corporation. 3. A.M.Street ³Designing with PIN Diodes´, Practical RF/Microwave Design Course, university of oxford, International Electronics and Communications Professional Development course programme, Jan 2000.


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