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The RF MEMS acronym stands for radio frequency microelectromechanical system, and

refers to components of which moving sub-millimeter-sized parts provide RF

functionality. RF functionality can be implemented using a variety of RF technologies.
Besides RF MEMS technology, ferrite, ferroelectric, GaAs, GaN, InP, RF CMOS, SiC,
and SiGe technology are available to the RF designer. Each of the RF technologies offers
a distinct trade-off between cost, frequency, gain, large scale integration, lifetime,
linearity, noise figure, packaging, power consumption, power handling, reliability,
repeatability, ruggedness, size, supply voltage, switching time and weight.


More to come.

[edit] Switches, switched capacitors and varactors

RF MEMS switches, switched capacitors and varactors, which can replace field effect
transistor (FET) switches and PIN diodes, are classified by actuation method
(electrostatic, electrothermal, magnetic, piezoelectric), by axis of deflection (laterally,
vertically), by circuit configuration (series, shunt), by clamp configuration (cantilever,
fixed-fixed beam), or by contact interface (capacitive, ohmic) [2]. Electrostatically-
actuated RF MEMS components offer low insertion loss and high isolation, high
linearity, high power handling and high Q factor, do not consume power, but require a
high supply voltage and hermetic wafer level packaging (WLP) (anodic or glas frit wafer
bonding) or single chip packaging (SCP) (thin film capping, liquid crystal polymer (LCP)
or low temperature co-fired ceramic (LTCC) packaging).

RF MEMS switches were pioneered by Hughes Research Laboratories, Malibu, CA [3],

Raytheon, Dallas, TX [4][5], and Rockwell Science, Thousand Oaks, CA [6], during the
nineties. The component shown in Fig. 1, is a center-pulled capacitive fixed-fixed beam
RF MEMS switch, developed and patented by Raytheon in 1994. A capacitive fixed-
fixed beam RF MEMS switch is in essence a micro-machined capacitor with a moving
top electrode - i.e. the beam.
Fig. 1: The capacitive fixed-fixed beam RF MEMS switch

From an electromechanical perspective, the components behave like a mass-spring

system, actuated by an electrostatic force. The spring constant is a function of the
dimensions of the beam, of the Young's modulus, of the residual stress and of the Poisson
ratio of its material. The electrostatic force is a function of the capacitance and the bias
voltage. Knowledge of spring constant and mass allows for calculation of the pull-in
voltage, which is the bias voltage necessary to pull-in the beam, and of the switching

From an RF perspective, the components behave like a series RLC circuit with negligible
resistance and inductance. The up- and down-state capacitance are in the order of 50 fF
and 1.2 pF, which are functional values for millimeter-wave circuit design. Switches
typically have a capacitance ratio of 30 or higher, while switched capacitors and varactors
have a capacitance ratio of about 1.2 to 10. The loaded Q factor is between 20 and 50 in
the X-, Ku- and Ka-band.

RF MEMS switched capacitors are capacitive fixed-fixed beam switches with a low
capacitance ratio. RF MEMS varactors are capacitive fixed-fixed beam switches which
are biased below pull-in voltage. Other examples of RF MEMS switches are ohmic
cantilever switches, and capacitive single pole N throw (SPNT) switches based on the
axial gap wobble motor [7].

[edit] Microfabrication
An RF MEMS fabrication process allows for integration of SiCr or TaN thin film
resistors (TFR), metal-air-metal (MAM) capacitors, metal-insulator-metal (MIM)
capacitors, and RF MEMS components. An RF MEMS fabrication process can be
realized on a variety of wafers: fused silica (quartz), borosilicate glass, LCP, sapphire,
and passivated silicon and III-V compound semiconducting wafers. As shown in Fig. 2,
RF MEMS components can be fabricated in class 100 clean rooms using 6 to 8 optical
lithography steps with a 5 μm contact alignment error, whereas state-of-the-art
monolithic microwave integrated circuit (MMIC) and radio frequency integrated circuit
(RFIC) fabrication processes require 13 to 25 lithography steps. The essential
microfabrication steps are:
Fig. 2: RF MEMS fabrication process

• Deposition of the bias lines (Fig. 2, step 3)

• Deposition of the electrode layer (Fig. 2, step 4)
• Deposition of the dielectric layer (Fig. 2, step 5)
• Deposition of the sacrificial spacer (Fig. 2, step 6)
• Deposition of seed layer and subsequent electroplating (Fig. 2, step 7)
• Beam definition, release and critical point drying (Fig. 2, step 8)

RF MEMS fabrication processes, unlike barium strontium titanate (BST) or lead

zirconate titanate (PZT) ferroelectric and MMIC fabrication processes, do not require
electron beam lithography, molecular beam epitaxy (MBE), or metal organic chemical
vapor deposition (MOCVD). With the exception of the removal of the sacrificial spacer,
the fabrication steps are compatible with a CMOS fabrication process.

[edit] Applications
Applications of RF MEMS resonators and switches include oscillators and routing
networks. RF MEMS components are also applied in radar sensors (passive electronically
scanned (sub)arrays and T/R modules) and software-defined radio (reconfigurable
antennas, tunable band-pass filters).
[edit] Antennas

Polarization and radiation pattern reconfigurability, and frequency tunability, are usually
achieved by incorporation of lumped components based on III-V semiconductor
technology, such as single pole single throw (SPST) switches or varactor diodes.
However, these components can be readily replaced by RF MEMS switches and
varactors in order to take advantage of the low insertion loss and high Q factor offered by
RF MEMS technology. In addition, RF MEMS components can be integrated
monolithically on low-loss dielectric substrates, such as borosilicate glass, fused silica or
LCP, whereas III-V semiconducting substrates are generally lossy and have a high
dielectric constant. A low loss tangent and low dielectric constant are of importance for
the efficiency and the bandwidth of the antenna.

The prior art includes an RF MEMS frequency tunable fractal antenna for the 0.1–6 GHz
frequency range [8], and the actual integration of RF-MEMS on a self-similar Sierpinski
gasket antenna to increase its number of resonant frequencies, extending its range to
8 GHz, 14 GHz and 25 GHz [9],[10], an RF MEMS radiation pattern reconfigurable spiral
antenna for 6 and 10 GHz [11], an RF MEMS radiation pattern reconfigurable spiral
antenna for the 6–7 GHz frequency band based on packaged Radant MEMS SPST-
RMSW100 switches [12], an RF MEMS multiband Sierpinski fractal antenna, again with
integrated RF MEMS switches, functioning at different bands from 2.4 to 18 GHz [13], and
a 2-bit Ka-band RF MEMS frequency tunable slot antenna [14].

[edit] Filters

RF bandpass filters are used to increase out-of-band rejection, if the antenna fails to
provide sufficient selectivity. Out-of-band rejection eases the dynamic range requirement
of low noise amplifier LNA and mixer in the light of interference. Off-chip RF bandpass
filters based on lumped bulk acoustic wave (BAW), ceramic, surface acoustic wave
(SAW), quartz crystal, and thin film bulk acoustic resonator (FBAR) resonators have
superseded distributed RF bandpass filters based on transmission line resonators, printed
on substrates with low loss tangent, or based on waveguide cavities. RF MEMS
resonators offer the potential of on-chip integration of high-Q resonators and low-loss
bandpass filters. The Q factor of RF MEMS resonators is in the order of 1000-1000 [15].

Tunable RF bandpass filters offer a significant size reduction over switched RF bandpass
filter banks. They can be implemented using III-V semiconducting varactors, BST or
PZT ferroelectric and RF MEMS switches, switched capacitors and varactors, and
yttrium iron garnet (YIG) ferrites. RF MEMS technology offers the tunable filter
designer a compelling trade-off between insertion loss, linearity, power consumption,
power handling, size, and switching time [16].


Gabriel M. Rebeiz
This paper presents the latest accomplishments in
RF MEMS switches, and at the same time, an assessment
of their potential applications in defense and
commercial systems. It is seen that RF MEMS devices
offer spectacular performance at microwave frequencies,
but suffer from reliability problems and the
potential of relatively high-cost hermetic packaging.
Still, this technology offers such tremendous advantages
over GaAs and silicon switching devices that, in
the author’s opinion, it will find many applications in
satellite, base-station and defense applications, particularly
at high microwave frequencies.
MEMS switches are surface-micromachined devices
which use a mechanical movement to achieve a short
circuit or an open circuit in the RF transmission-line
(Figs. 1-2). RF MEMS switches are the specific micromechanical
switches which are designed to operate at
RF to mm-wave frequencies (0.1 to 100 GHz). The
advantages of MEMS switches over PIN diode or FET
switches are [1]:
Near-Zero Power Consumption: Electrostatic actuation
requires 30-80 V, but does not consume any
current, leading to a very low power dissipation (10-
100 nJ per switching cycles). On the other hand, thermal/
magnetic switches consume a lot of current unless
they are made to latch in the down-state position once
Very High Isolation: RF MEMS metal-contact
switches are fabricated with air gaps, and therefore,
have very low off-state capacitances (2-4 fF) resulting
in excellent isolation at 0.1-60GHz. Also, capacitive
switches with a capacitance ratio of 60-160 provide
excellent isolation from 8-100GHz.
Very Low Insertion Loss: RF MEMS metal-contact
and capacitive switches have an insertion loss of 0.1dB
up to 100GHz.
Linearity and Intermodulation Products: MEMS
switches are extremely linear devices and therefore re-
electrode Anchor
Fig. 1. The metal-contact Analog Devices (a) and Rockwell
Scientific switches (b).
sult in very low intermodulation products in switching
and tuning operations. Their performance is 30-50 dB
better than PIN or FET switches.
Potential for Low Cost: RF MEMS switches are
fabricated using surface micromachining techniques
and can be built on quartz, Pyrex, LTCC, mechanicalgrade
high-resistivity silicon or GaAs substrates.
RF MEMS switches also have their share of problems,
and these are:
Relatively Low Speeds: The switching speed of
most electrostatic MEMS switches is 2-40 μs, and
The 12th International Conference on Solid State Sensors, Actuators and Microsystems, Boston, June 8-12, 2003


[edit] Phase shifters

RF MEMS phase shifters have enabled wide-angle passive electronically scanned arrays,
such as lenses, reflect arrays, subarrays and switched beamforming networks, with high
effective isotropically radiated power (EIRP), also referred to as the power-aperture
product, and high Gr/T. EIRP is the product of the transmit gain, Gt, and the transmit
power, Pt. Gr/T is the quotient of the receive gain and the antenna noise temperature. A
high EIRP and Gr/T are a prerequisite for long-range detection. The EIRP and Gr/T are a
function of the number of antenna elements per subarray and of the maximum scanning
angle. The number of antenna elements per subarray should be chosen to optimize the
EIRP or the EIRP x Gr/T product, as shown in Fig. 3 and Fig. 4.

Fig. 3: Radar sensor sensitivity: EIRP x Gr/T

Passive subarrays based on RF MEMS phase shifters may be used to lower the amount of
T/R modules in an active electronically scanned array. The statement is illustrated with
examples in Fig. 3: assume a one-by-eight passive subarray is used for transmit as well as
receive, with following characteristics: f = 38 GHz, Gr = Gt = 10 dBi, BW = 2 GHz, Pt =
4 W. The low loss (6.75 ps/dB) and good power handling (500 mW) of the RF MEMS
phase shifters allow an EIRP of 40 W and a Gr/T of 0.036 1/K. The number of antenna
elements per subarray should be chosen in order to optimize the EIRP or the EIRP x Gr/T
product, as shown in Fig. 3 and Fig. 4. The radar range equation can be used to calculate
the maximum range for which targets can be detected with 10 dB of SNR at the input of
the receiver.

Fig. 4: EIRP versus number of antenna elements in a passive subarray.

Fig. 5: EIRP x Gr/T versus number of antenna elements in a passive subarray.

in which kB is the Boltzmann constant, λ is the free-

space wavelength, and σ is the RCS of the target. Range values are tabulated in Table 1
for following targets: a sphere with a radius, a, of 10 cm (σ = π a2), a dihedral corner
reflector with facet size, a, of 10 cm (σ = 12 a4/λ2), the rear of a car (σ = 20 m2) and for a
contemporary non-evasive fighter jet (σ = 400 m2). A Ka-band hybrid ESA capable of
detecting a car 100 m in front and engaging a fighter jet at 10 km can be realized using
2.5 and 422 passive subarrays (and T/R modules), respectively.

Table 1: Maximum Detectable Range

(SNR = 10 dB)
RCS (m2) Range (m)
Sphere 0.0314 10
Rear of Car 20 51
Dihedral Corner Reflector 60.9 67
Fighter Jet 400 107

The usage of true-time-delay TTD phase shifters instead of RF MEMS phase shifters
allows ultra-wideband (UWB) radar waveforms with associated high range resolution,
and avoids beam squinting or frequency scanning. TTD phase shifters are designed using
the switched-line principle [17][18][19] or the distributed loaded-line principle [20][21][22][23][24][25].
Switched-line TTD phase shifters are superior to distributed loaded-line TTD phase
shifters in terms of time delay per decibel noise figure (NF), especially at frequencies up
to X-band, but are inherently digital and require low-loss and high-isolation SPNT
switches. Distributed loaded-line TTD phase shifters, however, can be realized
analogously or digitally, and in smaller form factors, which is important at the subarray
level. Analog phase shifters are biased through a single bias line, whereas multibit digital
phase shifters require a parallel bus along with complex routing schemes at the subarray
level. In addition, usage of an analog bias voltage avoids large phase quantization errors,
which deteriorate the EIRP and beam-pointing accuracy, and elevate the sidelobe level of
an electronically scanned array [26].

The prior art in passive electronically scanned arrays, shown in Fig. 6, includes an X-
band continuous transverse stub (CTS) array fed by a line source synthesized by sixteen
5-bit reflect-type RF MEMS phase shifters based on ohmic cantilever RF MEMS
switches [27][28], an X-band 2-D lens consisting of parallel-plate waveguides and featuring
25,000 ohmic cantilever RF MEMS switches [29], and a W-band switched beamforming
network based on an RF MEMS SP4T switch and a Rotman lens focal plane scanner [30].
Fig. 6: RF MEMS components in a passive electronically scanned array

[edit] T/R modules

Within a T/R module, as shown in Fig. 7, RF MEMS limiters, tunable matching networks
and TTD phase shifters can be used to protect the LNA, load-pull the power
amplifier (PA) and time delay the RF signal, respectively. Whether RF MEMS T/R
switches - i.e. single pole double throw (SPDT) switches, can be used depends on the
duty cycle and the pulse repetition frequency (PRF) of the pulse-Doppler radar
waveform. To date, RF MEMS duplexers can only be used in low PRF and medium PRF
radar waveforms for long-range detection, which use pulse compression and therefore
have a duty cycle in the order of microseconds.

Fig. 7: RF MEMS components in a T/R module.

[edit] References
MicroElectroMechanical Systems, MEMS

This is the Home page for the research on RF MEMS at the Department of
Informatics, University of Oslo.
(This page is under construction!)

What is MEMS?
MEMS at the MES group
Research focus: RF MEMS
Course: INF5490 RF MEMS
Relevant material and resources
Send us an e-mail

What is MEMS?
Imagine thousands of tiny machines and sensors fabricated in microscale for
just a few cents per unit. This opens a new world of exciting applications!

Micromotor from Sandia

MicroElectroMechanical Systems, MEMS, are systems based on a range of

techologies whereby tiny mechanical elements, both sensors and actuators, can
be implemented.It turns out that these elements have excellent system
properties.The elements are often interfaced to microelectronical driving or
sensing components (ICs) by appropriate packaging or on the same silicon
wafer. The semiconductor silicon is not only good for making electronics but
its material properties are extremely good.

Most MEMS components are implemented by using processes resembling the

ones used for production of micro chips (VLSI circuits). In the earlier days of
the MEMS development diffusions and etchings into bulk wafers were
primarily used (”bulk micromachining”). Later on, ”surface micromaching” has
been developed, a technique which has given the field a real boost. That type of
process can be compared to baking a cream cake by stacking various layers.
The ”cream” in the cake resembles what is called ”sacrificial layers” which
separate other ”structural layers” when building up the unit. The sacrificial
layers are spacers which later on are removed, causing the structural layers to
be released. Thereby mechanical elements such as beams, diaphragms or disks
are free to move as intended. The advantage of using techniques from IC
processing is not only to be able to implement the microstructures, but also to
allow thousands or millions of equal elements to be fabricated at the same time
to a low cost (batch processing).

RF MEMS switch (C.L. Goldsmith et al.)

In this micro world the designer has to cope with effects and forces of quite
other dimensions than in the macroscopic world, such as atomic forces and
surface effects. However, a completely new degree of freeedom is also given to
the system designer. In addition to what can be achieved by using only
electronical components, another exciting range of effects are available! The
designer can utilize mechanical or other physical properties in the materials and
select the ones which are most adequate for his application. A whole bunch of
physical principles exist when selecting the one to be used for instance in an
actual detector design. Typically, a capacitor or resistor value can change when
an elastic microbeam or thin membrane is deflected. The change of mechanical
stress in a structure can be the result when the MEMS experience an
accelleration or by an applied pressure load (sensing). Microelements can be
forced to move using electrostatic activation (actuation). Thereby micro
motors, movable micromirrors or steerable gratings can be implemented, or
small fluidic particles can be forced through different temperature zones etc. To
implement complete systems it is essential that the physical effects on the
micro elements, such as strain and stress, can be converted to electrical currents
and potential differences which further on can be handled by microelectronics
in more or less integrated ways (e.g. integrated sensors).

MEMS have been used in accelerators detecting when an airbag should be

released, in video projectors having a million individually controlled
micromirrors, in gyroscopes, pressure gauges (for instance in the tires of cars)
or as micro optical systems for fiber optical communication. Very exciting is
MEMS used for fast electrophoresis in DNA amplification and separation,
various systems for biological analysis or other biomedical applications,
microrobotics, micro tweezers and neural probes. It seems to be a considerable
potential for using microsystems within areas such as medicin, car industry,
space technology, within communication, security and in a lot of the
components surrounding us in our daily life.

Today there is an increasing activity in developing MEMS processes, design

tools and applications. Great expectations exist as to the importance of the field
in the future. In the same way as microelectronics and PCs have revolutionized
our daily life and reached a widespread use, it seems likely, according to the
most enthusiastic researchers, that microsystems might be the next wave.
Numerous types of units based on MEMS technology could be produced in
large quantities and spread around for diverse applications which directly or
indirectly could detect or help us control our physical environment. Some
people say that this field will have a huge and penetrating impact on the
development in our society.

The MEMS field is by its nature a mixture of quite diverse disciplines such as
physics, chemistry, mathematics and informatics, where material technology,
electronics, modeling and CAD tools should be emphasized. The research field
is quite diverse, comprising fields as developing new fabrication and
processing techniques, investigating new physical principles and structures,
ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) for MEMS, design tools,
applications etc. A continuing development towards miniaturization (nano
technology) and thereby a denser integration, is a strong driving force.

MEMS inductor (J.-B. Yoon et al.)

MEMS tunable capacitor (A. Dec & K. Suyama)

MEMS at the MES group

Design of electronical systems containing mechanical parts is a relatively new
activity at the MES group.The MEMS (MicroElectroMechanical Systems) field
has reached a growing attention, not only internationally, but also in Norway.
An advanced MEMS laboratory (MiNaLab) has been established at SINTEF
and UiO in a building next to IFI. The Norwegian Research Council has been
engaged by sponsoring this initiative. The MES group with its strong expertise
and experience in designing analog and digital systems seems to have a lot to
contribute to developing MEMS systems in a broader context.

My personal interests in this area is more specifically directed towards design

activities where the MEMS units are used in a larger system context. Central to
this is interfacing the mechanical to the electrical world and investigating the
possibility of implementing systems containing both MEMS components and
surrounding microelectronics integrated on-chip. This will comprise activities
towards design methods, modeling and analysis, and designing and
implementing actual systems. Due to the very broad MEMS research field I
have restricted my activities to cover systems which are central to and can be
used in high frequency radio systems for wireless transmission, RF MEMS
(Radio Transmission MEMS). This is a very interesting and exciting field in
fast development. As a background to the field, intended for Master and Ph.D.
students, a brand new course in RF MEMS has been developed (INF5490 RF
MEMS) and taught for the first time in the spring 2005.

Research focus: RF MEMS

MEMS technology can be used to implement high quality switches, varactors
(variable reactors), inductors, resonators, filters and phase shifters. Among the
broad range of applications the MEMS technology gives a unique possibility to
implement micromechanical resonatores and filters with high performance
regarding selectivity and Q-factors. When combining these mechanical
structures with microelectronics, central parts in wireless systems, RF systems
(Radio Frequency systems) can be implemented. Examples can be various
types of oscillators, VCOs (Voltage Controlled Oscillators), mixers and sharp
filters. The MEMS structures can thereby replace traditional costly and large
off-chip discrete components by making possible integrated solutions that can
be batch processed. Vibrating MEMS resonators and filters that have been
implemented so far are based on mechanical vibrations in lateral or vertical
directions on Silicon wafers. Different types of beams, comb structures and
disks can be used.

RF MEMS filter (A.-C. Wong, H. Ding, and C.T.-C. Nguyen)

In an ongoing Master project the mechanical filter characteristics of coupled

clamped-clamped beams are studied. The main focus of the first phase of the
RF MEMS research is to develop complete filter and resonator structures which
can be integrated on-chip. Methods of integrating CMOS with MEMS are
studied and actual designs will be made, based on currently available
processing technology. Combined mechanical and electrical simulations are
performed by using the CoventorWare Finite Element Method CAD tool.
Methods for using resonance detection will be studied. A pressure sensitive
resonating MEMS structure will be designed allowing pressure to be measured
by alternating the vibration frequency. See Master-degree projects for further
Radio frequency microelectromechanical systems (RF MEMS) are heralded a technology
fit for the 21st centaury, offering unsurpassed RF performance over more conventional
solid-state electronic devices. In recent years, this technology has seen a rapid growth in
its development. Indeed, within the US, Asia and Europe, R&D is almost at fever pitch.
The high levels of investment come second only to the expectations for commercial

Surprisingly, the first RF MEMS device was reported more than 25 years ago by IBM.
Even more surprisingly, to date, the only true RF MEMS device that is commercially
available is a simple cantilever switch, and even this is restricted to the US market. So
why does this technology appear to be stalling? This lecture aims to address some of the
main issues that are impeding the progress of RF MEMS from the laboratory to ubiquity.
Microelectromechanical system (MEMS) and devices have advanced rapidly and have
transitioned into many defense and commercial applications. Common MEMS switch types are
a thin metal cantilever, air bridge, diaphragm, or some other structure electrically configured
in series or parallel with an RF transmission line and designed to open the line or shunt it to
ground upon actuation of the MEMS. Such switches have displayed excellent RF
characteristics, including insertion loss values of approximately 0.1 dB and isolation values of
approximately –30 dB in series-configured switches at lower RF frequencies (VHF to ~10 GHz)
and in shunt-configured switches at higher frequencies (~10 to 100 GHz). Such performance
enables superior performance in many traditional RF circuits, such as switchable routing in RF
system front-ends, direct connection to capacitor banks, and routing in time-delay phase-
shifter networks. It is also anticipated that RF MEMS will enable a new class of antenna system
that are electrically reconfigurable. In all these applications being considered, RF MEMS
switches are promising to replace traditional switches with consideration on both performance
and cost.

Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) is the integration of mechanical elements, sensors,

actuators, and electronics on a common silicon substrate through microfabrication technology.
While the electronics are fabricated using integrated circuit (IC) process sequences (e.g.,
CMOS, Bipolar, or BICMOS processes), the micromechanical components are fabricated using
compatible “micromachining” processes that selectively etch away parts of the silicon wafer or
add new structural layers to form the mechanical and electromechanical devices.

MEMS promises to revolutionize nearly every product category by bringing together silicon-
based microelectronics with micromachining technology, making possible the realization of
complete systems-on-a-chip. MEMS is an enabling technology allowing the development of
smart products, augmenting the computational ability of microelectronics with the perception
and control capabilities of microsensors and microactuators and expanding the space of
possible designs and applications.

Microelectronic integrated circuits can be thought of as the “brains” of a system and MEMS
augments this decision-making capability with “eyes” and “arms”, to allow microsystems to
sense and control the environment. Sensors gather information from the environment through
measuring mechanical, thermal, biological, chemical, optical, and magnetic phenomena. The
electronics then process the information derived from the sensors and through some decision
making capability direct the actuators to respond by moving, positioning, regulating, pumping,
and filtering, thereby controlling the environment for some desired outcome or purpose.
Because MEMS devices are manufactured using batch fabrication techniques similar to those
used for integrated circuits, unprecedented levels of functionality, reliability, and sophistication
can be placed on a small silicon chip at a relatively low cost.

At higher frequencies, basic circuit theory runs into problems. For

example, if wires are electrically long, transmission line effects can occur.
The basic theory no longer applies because electromagnetic wave reflections
bouncing back and forth along the wires cause problems. These
electromagnetic wave reflections can cause constructive or destructive
interference resulting in the breakdown of basic circuit theory. In fact,
when a transmission line has a length equal to one quarter wavelength
of the signal, a short placed at the end will appear as an open circuit at
the other end! Certainly, effects like this cannot be ignored. Furthermore,
at higher frequencies, circuits can radiate energy much more
readily; that is circuits can turn into antennas. Parasitic capacitances and
inductances can cause problems too. No component can ever be truly
ideal. The small inductance of component leads and wires can cause
significant voltage drops at high frequencies, and stray capacitances
between the leads of the component packages can affect the operation
of a high-frequency circuit. These parasitic elements are sometimes
called “the hidden schematic” because they typically are not included
on the schematic symbol.

How do you define the high-frequency regime? There is no exact

border, but when the wavelengths of the signals are similar in size or
smaller than the wire lengths, high-frequency effects become important;
in other words, when a wire or circuit element becomes electrically long,
you are dealing with the high-frequency regime. An equivalent way to
state this is that when the signal period is comparable in magnitude
or smaller than the delay through the interconnecting wires, highfrequency
effects become apparent. It is important to note that for digital
signals, the designer must compare the rise and fall times of the digital signal
to the wire delay. For example, a 10 MHz digital clock signal may only have
a signal period of 100nsec, but its rise time may be as low as 5nsec.
Hence, the RF regime doesn’t signify a specific frequency range, but
signifies frequencies where the rules of basic circuit theory breakdown.
A good rule of thumb is that when the electrical length of a circuit element
reaches 1/20, RF (or high-speed digital) techniques may need to be used.
When working with RF and high-frequency electronics it is important
to have an understanding of electromagnetics. At these higher frequencies,
you must understand that the analogy of electrons acting like
water through a pipe is really more of a myth than a reality. In truth,
circuits are characterized by metal conductors (wires) that serve to guide
electromagnetic energy. The circuit energy (and therefore the signal) is
carried between the wires, and not inside the wires. For an example, consider
the power transmission lines that deliver the electricity to our
homes at 60Hz. The electrons in the wires do not directly transport the
energy from the power plant to our homes. On the contrary, the energy
is carried in the electromagnetic field between the wires. This fact is
often confusing and hard to accept for circuit designers. The wire electrons
are not experiencing any net movement. They just slosh back and
forth, and through this movement they propagate the field energy down

MEMS switches have been in development for over 20

yearsat numerous industrial, academic and government research
laboratories. Low insertion loss, high isolation, low power consumption,
extreme linearity and the ability to be integrated with other
electronics make MEMS switches an attractive alternative to other
mechanical and solid-state switches. This seemingly simple device has been
fraught with reliability and packaging issues that have prevented
commercial success – that is, until now. Improvements in reliability and
MEMS packaging have occurred at a rapid pace over the past 5 to 10 years.
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has contributed
significantly to the funding of these efforts as they look to apply this technology to
future U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) programs.
To date, RF MEMS switches have been employed for a variety of military
demonstration systems including an electronically steerable radar antenna at X-
band containing 25,000 MEMS switches, low frequency tunable filters for radio
communication, various reconfigurable antenna concepts and reconfigurable
receiver front-ends, to name a few. However, the earlier issues with switch
reliability (that have since been resolved) and cost have prevented RF MEMS
insertion into a currently fielded system. This will be short-lived as many design
teams are currently evaluating and designing MEMS into future systems. Device
cost for sample quantities for a MEMS SPST switch (such as the Radant
RMSW101) is approximately $20. This price decreases with volume purchases
and will decrease further over time as the overall MEMS switch market volume
Radant MEMS, Inc. (RMI) has developed an electrostatically actuated broadband
ohmic microswitch, as shown in the figures, which has applications from DC
through the microwave region. Ohmic MEMS switches are characterized by
having direct metal-metal (i.e. ohmic) switching contact. The microswitch is a 3-
terminal device based on a cantilever beam and is fabricated using an all-metal,
surface micromachining process that operates in a hermetic environment
obtained through a wafer-bonding process. At RMI, we have improved ohmic
MEMS switch reliability by greater than 10,000 fold over the course of the last 8
SEM micrograph of a Radant SPST electrostatically actuated microswitch showing the cantilever beam
which can be electrostatically pulled down to provide continuity between the Source and Drain terminals.
Extensive lifetime testing has been conducted on RMI switches by Radant as well
as independently by each of the Tri-Service DoD laboratories (Air Force Research
Laboratory, Army Research Laboratory and Naval Research Laboratory) under
the auspices of a DARPA program. This testing lead to a median cycle to switch
failure of greater than 1 trillion switching cycles with the longest recorded
lifetimes exceeding 1.5 trillion switch cycles before the test was halted after 30
continuous months of testing. Infant failure modes are currently being
eliminated via device screening and on-going process improvements. Research
in contact physics, materials and packaging has contributed to the impressive
progress that has been made in improving RF MEMS switch reliability. The
number of required switching cycles for a specific application is quite variable
and can range from 25,000 cycles for an active missile seeker that is only
employed for final engagement to over 1 trillion cycles for Transmit/Receive
applications. Many military applications (such as radar) can be satisfied with a
more conservative 100 billion cycle rating while some commercial ATE
applications will find 100 million cycles exceeding current technologies by an
order of magnitude. Typical RF mechanical relays have rated lifetimes on the
order of 10 million cycles, which is 10 to 100 thousand times smaller than what is
currently achievable with MEMS switches!
Schematic representation of the microswitch shown in the figure above; a 90V actuation signal is applied
between the Gate and Source terminals results in continuity between the Source and Drain terminals.

In contrast to ohmic MEMS switches, capacitive MEMS switches contain a

dielectric in the switching region so that direct ohmic contact is not made upon
switch closing and they instead rely on capacitive coupling through this
dielectric. Hence, unlike ohmic switches, capacitive switch performance
degrades at low-frequencies and they are unable to operate at DC. However,
capacitive switches tend to have lower insertion loss than their ohmic
counterparts at millimeter wave frequencies. The failure mechanisms of ohmic
and capacitive MEMS switches are also quite different. Ohmic switches typically
fail because of adhesion, called “stiction”, in the metal-metal contact region.
Whereas, electrostatic actuated capacitive MEMS switches experience stiction
due to charging of the dielectric layer which can produce a sufficiently strong
electrostatic field to hold the switch in the down state without an actuation signal
applied. Capacitive MEMS switches have shown an equally impressive
improvement in switch reliability over the last 5 years as evidenced by the recent
results at MEMtronics and MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
Radant and other RF MEMS developers, including WiSpry, MEMtronics and
XCOM Wireless, are striving to make these products a commercial success. With
the release of nine commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) discrete MEMS switch
products, Radant is supplying both military and commercial early adopters of
MEMS switch technology. A variety of Single Pole N Throw (SPNT) devices
including SPST, SPDT, SP4T and SP6T MEMS switches with broadband, low-loss
and extremely linear performance can be readily obtained. Recent developments
in higher power handling at Radant have resulted in the introduction two high-
power models that are capable of handling 10W.

SEM micrograph of the Radant MEMS RMSW220HP high-power SPDT switch containing two
microswitches similar to that shown in the above figure and obtained through a wafer bonding process.

The future appears brighter than it did in the early stages of MEMS switch
development. Applications with clear performance advantages are seeking out
MEMS switches to evaluate for future designs. Despite the current extended
economic downturn, Radant feels that the RF MEMS industry is well poised to
participate and benefit from the eventual global recovery.
The primary challenges to MEMS switch commercialization are cost and
overcoming the inertia of employing legacy switching technologies. Our initial
application focus have been those with less cost sensitivity such as the military
and aerospace markets and select commercial applications (such as ATE) where
the combination of high-frequency operation and high-reliability of MEMS
switches far exceed existing technologies. As the MEMS switch market grows
and volume expands, MEMS switch cost will dramatically decrease which will
facilitate entry into low-cost, high volume markets.
Insertion loss of a typical PIN diode switch is approximately 1.5 dB at 25 GHz
versus less than 0.5 dB from DC to 40 GHz for the low-loss, broadband Radant
RMSW200 MEMS switch. Another important consideration for many
applications is linearity. The third order intercept point (IP3) is approximately
30 dBm for many PIN diode switches. MEMS switches are extremely linear with
measured IP3’s exceeding 65 dBm which is greater than 35 dB better than most
PIN diode switches. This aspect can be extraordinarily important for many
receiver applications. Bias power consumption of MEMS switches is virtually
zero and only occurs during the switch transition. In contrast, PIN diodes
require significant amounts of power, typically greater than 25 mW, to remain in
the low-loss ON-state while MEMS switches require nearly zero power to
electrostatically hold the switch closed.
Dr. John Maciel is the Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Radant
MEMS, Inc. and Manager, Electromagnetics Technology of Radant Technologies,
Inc. He has more than 25 years of experience in the RF, Microwave and
Microelectronics industries. Dr. Maciel manages the MEMS development effort
at Radant MEMS as well as its daily operations. Dr. Maciel received a Ph.D. and a
Master of Science, both in Electrical Engineering, from the Polytechnic
University of New York in 1990 and 1986, respectively, and a BSEE degree from
Northeastern University, Boston, MA in 1983. Dr. Maciel can be reached at