A 1-V CMOS ultralow-power receiver front end for the IEEE 802.15.4 standard using tuned passive mixer output pole
ABSTRACT A novel passive mixer architecture is proposed which uses a voltage-mode passive mixer with a tuned output pole. Using this technique, it is shown that the IF section's IIP3 requirements are relaxed by up to 33 dB for the IEEE 802.15.4 standard. This allows for use of an ultralow power IF section without linearity compensation. The overall receiver front end consisting of an LNA, a mixer and a third-order channel-select filter is designed in 0.18 μm CMOS technology with a 1-V supply voltage, and post-layout simulations show a 5 dB NF with only 1.7-mW total power consumption.
Article: General relations between IP2, IP3, and offsets in differential circuits and the effects of feedback[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: In the presence of offsets, all balanced circuits show an apparent second-order distortion. Differential feedback lowers third-order nonlinearity and also these second-order effects. The results are important for the baseband circuits of zero-IF wireless receivers, which often need a very large second-order intercept point. It is shown that a published analysis of distortion in a bipolar double-balanced mixer is a special case of these general relationships.IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques 06/2003; · 1.85 Impact Factor
Article: A subthreshold low-noise amplifier optimized for ultra-low-power applications in the ISM band.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Abstract—The IEEE 802.15.4 standard relaxes the requirements on the receiver front-end making subthreshold operation a viable solution. The specification is discussed and guidelines are presented for a small area ultra-low-power design. A subthreshold biased low-noise amplifier (LNA) has been designed and fabricated for the 2.4-GHz IEEE 802.15.4 standard using a standard low-cost 0.18- m RF CMOS process. The single-stage LNA saves on chip area by using only one inductor. The measured gain is more than 20 dB with an 11 of 19 dB while using 630 A of dc current. The measured noise figure is 5.2 dB. Published version
[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: We present design techniques that make possible the operation of analog circuits with very low supply voltages, down to 0.5 V. We use operational transconductance amplifier (OTA) and filter design as a vehicle to introduce these techniques. Two OTAs, one with body inputs and the other with gate inputs, are designed. Biasing strategies to maintain common-mode voltages and attain maximum signal swing over process, voltage, and temperature are proposed. Prototype chips were fabricated in a 0.18-μm CMOS process using standard 0.5-V V<sub>T</sub> devices. The body-input OTA has a measured 52-dB DC gain, a 2.5-MHz gain-bandwidth, and consumes 110 μW. The gate-input OTA has a measured 62-dB DC gain (with automatic gain-enhancement), a 10-MHz gain-bandwidth, and consumes 75 μW. Design techniques for active-RC filters are also presented. Weak-inversion MOS varactors are proposed and modeled. These are used along with 0.5-V gate-input OTAs to design a fully integrated, 135-kHz fifth-order elliptic low-pass filter. The prototype chip in a 0.18-μm CMOS process with V<sub>T</sub> of 0.5-V also includes an on-chip phase-locked loop for tuning. The 1-mm<sup>2</sup> chip has a measured dynamic range of 57 dB and draws 2.2 mA from the 0.5-V supply.IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits 01/2006; · 3.23 Impact Factor
Abstract—A novel receiver architecture is proposed which uses
a voltage-mode passive mixer with a tuned output pole. Using this
technique, it is shown that the IF section’s IIP3 requirements are
relaxed by up to 33 dB for the IEEE 802.15.4 standard. This
allows for use of an ultralow power IF section without linearity
compensation. The overall receiver front end consisting of an
L?A, a mixer and a third-order channel-select filter is designed
in 0.18 µm CMOS technology with a 1-V supply voltage, and
post-layout simulations show a 5 dB ?F with only 1.7-mW total
Index Terms—RF Front End, CMOS RF Integrated Circuits,
Low Power, System on Chip.
HE IEEE 802.15.4 standard  was designed to cater to
the increasing demand for low-power, low data-rate
applications such as wireless sensor networks, and wireless
personal area networks (WPAN). Such applications often
require mobile devices or devices in remote locations without
a connection to the power mains. Therefore, low power
consumption is a critical requirement for extending the battery
life of such devices.
This work deals with the upper band of the IEEE 802.15.4
standard which is the 2.4-GHz Industrial Scientific and
Medical (ISM) band. The system bandwidth is 83.5 MHz from
2.4 GHz to 2.4835 GHz. The standard offers 16 channels with
5-MHz spacing, and an IEEE 802.15.4 signal occupies a
2-MHz bandwidth and provides a data rate of 250 kb/s. The
standard features relaxed requirements in terms of adjacent
and alternate channel interference (+0 dBc and +30 dBc
respectively) and a sensitivity requirement of -85 dBm.
This work focuses on receiver architecture design for low-
power operation. In section II we make the case for the use of
passive mixing over active mixing. In section III, we discuss
the proposed passive mixer topology and show that it can offer
a 33 dB improvement in IF section IIP3. In section IV we
Manuscript received April 4th 2010.
The authors are with Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
639798 (email: email@example.com;
discuss the overall system design, and in section V we present
simulation results of the proposed design. The design has been
sent for fabrication in a 0.18 µm RFCMOS process and will be
II. THE CASE FOR PASSIVE MIXERS
Among recent low-power research works, architectures
using passive mixers have generally out-performed those using
active mixers in terms of overall sensitivity (for the IEEE
802.15.4 standard) -. This is mainly attributable to the
fact that passive mixers minimally distort the input signal (due
to the passive operation), and do not add flicker noise to the
system. However, a standard Gilbert-Cell mixer does both.
Given the IEEE 802.15.4 standard receiver blocking profile
, we can calculate the sensitivity based on IIP3 as,
23 S?RP Sen
where Pblk is the interfering power, S?Rreq is the required
output signal to noise ratio (SNR), and IIP3 is the receiver
input-referred third order intercept power. From , we
estimate the S?Rreq to be approximately 14 dB while Pblk is -52
dBm in the worst case when the input power is 3-dB higher
than the required sensitivity (-85 dBm ). The sensitivity
based on noise figure (?F) can be easily calculated as,
A 1-V CMOS Ultralow-Power Receiver Front
End for the IEEE 802.15.4 Standard Using
Tuned Passive Mixer Output Pole
Aaron V. Do, Member, IEEE, C. C. Boon, Member, IEEE, Manh Anh Do, Senior Member, IEEE, Kiat
Seng Yeo, Member, IEEE, Alper Cabuk, Member, IEEE
OVERALL SENSITIVITY VERSUS MIXER TYPE FOR RECENT LOW-POWER
Reference       B
A A: Active, PV: Passive Voltage-mode, PC: Passive Current-mode
B Second gain mode
C Estimated only.
0.5 0.75 1.15 4.5 - 0.36
where kT∆f is -111 for a 2 MHz signal bandwidth. Table I
shows the sensitivity of designs - and the mixer type
used. We have included the overall power consumption as was
published, but it is important to note that different works
presented more or less complete systems. Furthermore, certain
designs ,  were not specifically designed for the IEEE
802.15.4 standard. Table I clearly shows the advantage of
using passive mixers in IEEE 802.15.4 systems. Of the two
designs using active mixers,  fails to meet sensitivity
requirements based on IIP3, and  requires more power
consumption than other works.
Two different types of passive mixers have emerged in
recent literature, namely, current-mode and voltage-mode
passive mixers. Current-mode passive mixers use a passive
switching stage followed by a transimpedance amplifier (TIA)
 in order to convert the switching stage’s output current into
a voltage. Voltage-mode passive mixers require that the
following stage have high input impedance so that the output
of the switching stage is in voltage form. Therefore, current-
mode passive mixers connect naturally with op-amp based
channel-select filters (CSF), while voltage-mode passive
mixers connect naturally with Gm-C type CSFs. This is
illustrated in Fig. 1. The switching stages are represented by
variable resistors controlled by a local oscillator (LO) voltage,
The required filter should be of high enough order to
remove the unwanted adjacent and alternate channel
III. THE PROPOSED PASSIVE MIXER ARCHITECTURE
As the RF circuitry (LNA, Mixer) must pass the entire
system bandwidth (83.5 MHz for the IEEE 802.15.4 standard),
the IIP3 requirements are based on worst-case interference.
Blocks following the CSF such as limiting amplifiers, variable-
gain amplifiers (VGA), etc, do not need to meet such stringent
linearity requirements since all of the interference is presumed
to have been filtered off by the CSF. However, the CSF itself
must still meet IIP3 requirements which are tightened by the
high gain of the RF front end required for good noise
The high IIP3 requirements of the IF section has led most
designers to chose one of two options. The first option is to
use a comparatively low RF section gain  (only 17 dB) and
boost the noise performance of the IF section, which requires
more power consumption in the IF section. The second option
is to use highly linear CSFs such as op-amp based filters 
as was done in ,  and . Op-amp based filters are able
to achieve excellent linearity, but require a high loop-gain 
possibly over the entire system bandwidth to reliably do so.
In this work, we propose an alternate method for relaxing
the IIP3 requirements of the IF section without requiring high
power consumption. Going back to Fig. 1b, we note that the
voltage-mode passive mixer is effectively an RC low-pass
filter at the IF in cascade with a Gm-C type filter. In general,
the real pole formed by the switch resistance and the output
capacitance is not used for filtering because of the
considerable variation in the switch resistance. The switch
resistance can vary due to variations in the LO voltage (VLO),
the switch threshold voltage, the switch size, and even the
output impedance of the previous stage (the LNA output
resistance affects the passive mixer output resistance ). As
the passive switching stage is highly linear, using the passive
mixer’s output pole provides filtering at no cost in noise,
linearity or power consumption; it is essentially “free”. As this
pole is a first-order low-pass filter, it works best when coupled
with a direct-conversion system. Fig. 2 shows the effect of the
free pole on IEEE 802.15.4 interference.
Fig. 1 A simplified illustration of connection between (a) a current-mode
passive mixer and an op-amp based filter, and (b) a voltage-mode passive
mixer and a gm-C based passive mixer.
5101520-5-10-15 -20f (MHz)
Fig. 2 Illustration of the effect of a single pole low-pass filter on IEEE
802.15.4 standard interference. The striped signals are interferers while the
shaded signal is the desired signal.
The most stringent IIP3 requirement is based on the
intermodulation of two tones at 10 MHz and 20 MHz offset
from the desired signal. Before filtering, their IIP3 requirement
for -85 dBm sensitivity and 14 dB SNR is approximately -30 +
GRF dBm (using (1) where once again we take the signal
strength to be 3 dB above the sensitivity level). Here GRF is the
gain in dB of the LNA plus the mixer. A first order filter
provides 20 dB/decade or 6 dB/octave attenuation above the
corner frequency. Given a 1-MHz signal bandwidth  at
zero-IF, the corner frequency is set at 1 MHz. Therefore, after
filtering, the 10 MHz tone is reduced by 20 dB and the 20
MHz tone is reduced by 26 dB. The new IIP3 requirement of
the filter is therefore -63 + GRF dBm. This is a 33 dB
improvement in the IIP3 requirements over the standard case.
Likewise, considering interfering tones at 5 MHz and 10 MHz
offset from the desired tone, the improvement is 24 dB.
This 33 dB improvement can potentially be used to either
improve the noise performance of the overall design by
increasing the RF gain, or to reduce the current consumption
of the IF section by using nonlinear Gm-C filters. The latter
approach was adopted here. To give an idea of the importance
of reducing IF section power consumption, we have included
the IF section power consumption of recent works in Table I.
The average IF section required 48% of the total receiver front
end power consumption. The next section will describe the
IV. RECEIVER DESIGN
A block diagram of the receiver is shown in Fig. 3. The
entire system uses a 1-V supply. The tuning circuitry is only
operational in the tuning mode and therefore doesn’t
contribute to the overall power consumption. Differential IQ
LO signals are derived externally to the system. The RF
section consists of a single-ended LNA connected to voltage-
mode passive mixers. The output pole of the passive mixers
together with the Gm-C biquads form third-order butterworth
type filters. The individual circuit blocks are described in more
A. The L?A and Mixers
A schematic of the LNA and mixers is shown in Fig. 4.
Input matching is achieved using a series resonant network
with a resistor in series. Under matched conditions, the noise
figure of the matching network is 3 dB , and the voltage
gain of the matching network is equal to the quality factor (Q)
of the network. In this work, an 11.5 nH inductor was used
resulting in a Q of 3.54 and a voltage gain of 11 dB. An LC
tank was used to tune the output node of the LNA. The load
inductor was 6.5 nH with a Q of 8.6 resulting in an effective
output resistance for the LNA of 860 Ω. The LNA includes
three gain control steps of 6 dB to ease the gain compression
requirements of the IF section, and to allow for reduced power
consumption at high input signal levels .
Single-balanced passive mixers were used to convert the
single-ended RF signal into a differential IF signal. This
allowed the use of a single-ended LNA thereby saving half of
the LNA power consumption. The justification for this strategy
is the relaxed IIP2 requirements of the IEEE 802.15.4 standard.
The main concern is unwanted DC-offset related to the self-
mixing of either LO signals or strong interfering signals. Self
mixing of LO signals results in a static DC offset which must
be filtered before introducing any high gain stages to the
signal. We can estimate the require IIP2 based on self mixing
of interfering signals as,
where Sen is the required sensitivity. Given alternate channel
interferers equal to -52 dBm, the required IIP2 is 2(-52) – (-82)
+ 14 = -8 dBm. The achieved IIP2 of the down-converter can
be estimated as PLO/Gleak where Gleak is the ratio of the
differential RF signal at the gates of the switching stages to the
single-ended RF signal at the source of the switching stages
(note that Gleak does not include common-mode leakage) and
Fig. 4 Schematic of the LNA and single-balanced mixers including replica
mixers used for tuning.
LO IQ Signals
Fig. 3 Block diagram of the receiver front end. Differential LO IQ signals
are externally derived and injected into the system. Replica mixers are used
as part of the tuning circuitry for the passive mixer output pole. Single-
balanced passive mixers convert the single-ended RF signal to a differential
PLO is the LO power. Gleak is effectively a single-ended to
differential leakage gain. In , it is shown that the IIP2 of
active mixers has similar dependency, while IIP2 on the order
of +40 dB is typical.
B. The Channel-Select Fitler
A third-order low-pass butterworth filter has two complex
poles and a single real pole. As previously mentioned, the real
pole is formed at the output node of the passive mixer.
Therefore, each Gm-C filter needs only provide a pair of
complex conjugate poles. A diagram of the Gm-C biquad is
shown in Fig. 5. The DC gain of the filter is equal to gm1/gm2
while the corner frequency is equal to C-1√(gm2gm3) and the Q
is equal to √(gm3/gm2). With four variables and three equations,
we have one degree of freedom. This is used to select gm1 to
provide the desired overall noise performance of the receiver
system. The individual transconductors are configured as
simple differential pairs. Using the passive mixer pole tuning
method described in Section III, linearization of the
transconductors  was not required. This allowed for the
design of ultralow power biquads without sacrificing either
noise or linearity performance.
As flicker noise is an important consideration in the design,
PMOS devices were used as the inputs of the differential pairs.
Although PMOS devices are generally slower than NMOS
devices, the operation frequency of the biquads is low. With
only a 1-V supply voltage, selection of the common-mode
voltage of the IF section is important  as it will determine
the maximum output swing of the filter. The common-mode
voltage, VCM was set at 0.3 V which allows approximately
0.5 Vpk-pk of differential output swing. Gain compression
requirements were further relaxed by the gain control in the
C. The Passive Mixer Tuning Loop
The principle of the tuning loop is illustrated in Fig. 6. The
passive mixers are represented by variable resistors controlled
by the LO signal. The output pole of the passive mixer consists
of the resistance of the passive mixers and a bank of digitally
controllable metal-insulator-metal (MIM) capacitors. A replica
of the passive mixers without the output capacitors is also
implemented. At the desired pole frequency, the real passive
mixer will have a 3-dB lower output impedance than its
A signal at the desired pole frequency (1 MHz in this case)
is fed into the passive mixers’ outputs via high output
impedance transconductors which do not affect the passive
mixers’ output impedances. The 3-dB lower output impedance
of the real passive mixer is imitated on the replica side by a 3-
dB attenuation of the 1 MHz tuning signal. The output
amplitudes of the transconductors are then detected and
compared. This signal is filtered and fed into a digital
comparator. The output of the comparator drives a 6-bit
counter which is connected back to the passive mixers output
capacitor to close the loop.
If the transconductor output on the real side is lower than
that on the replica side, then the counter count down in order
to lower the capacitance, and vice-versa. The tuning scheme
implemented in this work is rather primitive and is only
designed to illustrate the potential of tuning the output pole of
the passive mixer. In a more advanced implementation, a
successive approximation architecture  for the loop would
reduce the required tuning time significantly.
V. SIMULATION RESULTS
The design has been implemented in a 0.18 µm RFCMOS
process and sent for fabrication. The process features a 6 metal
layers including a 2.5 µm thick top metal for inductor design,
and both 2-metal and 3-metal MIM capacitors for high density
capacitance. The overall performance of the receiver front end
is shown in Table II and compared with recent literature. At
this phase of the design, the proposed design compares
favorably to recent literature, although the raw performance
attained by  is still superior. It should be noted that in ,
several techniques were used which may or may not be
allowable in a robust design, such as the lack of input
matching , and the lack of an LNA. As this is only
simulated performance, we expect the overall performance
may degrade in measurement.
Fig. 6 Illustration of the passive mixer output pole tuning loop. The mixer is
represented by variable resistors and the digital amplitude comparator
provides peak detection, filtering, and analog to digital conversion.
Fig. 5 Configuration of the Gm-C biquad and a transconductor.
A. ?oise Figure and Gain
The overall double-sideband (DSB) NF of the design is
shown in Fig. 7. The minimum NF obtained was 4.8 dB. The
flicker noise corner frequency is around 10 kHz and is
significantly lower than sufficient in order to minimize overall
flicker noise contribution. Fig. 8 shows the front-end gain up
to both the CSF input and the CSF output. The LNA and
mixer gain is 30 dB while the overall gain is 47 dB. The
attenuation at 10 MHz is 20 dB and 60 dB respectively. The
overall gain and out-of-channel attenuation are high enough
that the following stages noise and linearity performance will
not significantly affect the overall receiver performance.
Due to limitations in the device models used, IIP3 results of
devices operating at zero drain-source voltage are highly
inaccurate . Regardless, passive mixers have been shown
to demonstrate high IIP3 . Therefore, in this section, we
only demonstrate the effect of the use of the passive mixer
output pole on the IIP3 of the CSF. The IIP3 of the CSF can be
simulated by taking interfering tones at either 5 MHz and 10
MHz, or at 10 MHz and 20 MHz. The requirement for the
former condition is looser than the latter, but conversely, the
receiver IIP3 under such conditions is worse. Fig. 9 shows the
IF section IIP3 under the former condition with and without the
additional mixer pole. As expected, the improvement is 24 dB.
The IIP3 is +8.3 dBV which is equivalent to 18.3 dBm into a
50-Ω resistor. Therefore, with 30 dB front-end gain, the
overall IIP3 is expected to be approximately -12 dBm.
This work has presented a novel receiver architecture for
low power low data-rate applications. Operating in the 2.4
GHz ISM Band, the proposed architecture improves IF stage
IIP3 by up to 33 dB for the IEEE 802.15.4 standard. This
allows for use of a nonlinear low-noise IF section. The
proposed idea was implemented in a 0.18-µm RFCMOS
process and has been sent for fabrication. The proposed
system compares favorably to recent literature while
consuming the lowest power in the IF section among the
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-80-60-40 -200 20
Input Voltage (dB)
Output Voltage (dB)
Fig. 9 IIP3 of the CSF with and without the mixer output pole. The input
tones are at 5 MHz and 10 MHz offset from the desired signal.
Fig. 8 Gain of the receiver front end up to the CSF input and the CSF
DSB Noise Figure (dB)
Fig. 7 DSB NF of the full receiver front end. The flicker noise corner
frequency is approximately 10 kHz.
SIMULATED PERFORMANCE OF THE PROPOSED DESIGN
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ARF Bandwidth (GHz)
Power Consumption (mW)
IF Power (mW)
Noise Figure (dB)
ATechnology Node (µm)
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C Estimated only
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