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Supply modulated GaN HEMT power amplifiers - From transistor to system

Alt, Alexander ORCID: 2021. Supply modulated GaN HEMT power amplifiers - From transistor to system. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Power amplifiers (PAs) for mobile communication applications are required to fulfil stringent requirements concerning linearity while keeping a high efficiency over a wide power range and bandwidth. To achieve this, a number of advanced PA topologies have been developed, mostly based on either load modulation, such as Doherty PAs or load modulation balanced PAs, or on supply modulation such as envelope tracking or envelope elimination and restoration. Supply modulation has an advantage over other topologies as the power range of high efficiency can be realised over arbitrary bandwidths, only limited by the bandwidth of the PA. This does, however, come at the cost of a significantly more complicated voltage supply. Instead of a static supply voltage, the PA needs to be provided with one which is rapidly changing, requiring a supply modulator capable of powering the PA while modulating its supply voltage. This thesis investigates a number of challenges in supply modulated power amplifiers, ranging from the transistor itself to circuit design and system level considerations and focusses on power levels up to 10 W and frequencies between 1 GHz and 4 GHz. Transistors, as the centre-piece of a PA, determine how well the PA reacts to a changing supply voltage. In this work, the traits that make GaN HEMTs suitable for supply modulated PAs were investigated, and gain variation with changing supply voltage was established as an important parameter. This gain variation is described in detail and its impacts on PA performance are discussed. By comparing transistors in literature, gain variation has been demonstrated to be a prevalent characteristic in transistors with GaN HEMTs showing a very wide range of gain variation. Using a small-signal model based on measurements, the voltage dependent behaviour of the feedback capacitance CGD is, for the first time, identified as the origin of small-signal gain variation. This is traced down to the gate field plate which is commonly used to combat surface trapping effects in GaN HEMTs. With this in mind, two different ways of changing the transistor geometry to reduce the impact of gain variation and thus optimise the transistor for operation in supply modulated PAs are discussed and demonstrated using a 250 nm GaN HEMT. As a result of the non-linearity of the feedback and gate-source capacitances, the input impedance of GaN HEMTs changes with supply voltage and drive power. This prevents the transistor from being matched at all supply voltages and input powers and introduces phase distortion. Using simulation and measurement, the impact of input impedance on linearity and efficiency of supply modulated power amplifiers is demonstrated on a 2.9 GHz 10 W PA. Careful selection of the input impedance allows improvement of AM/PM distortion of a supply modulated PA with little cost in terms of AM/AM and PAE. I Supply modulators have a significant impact on efficiency and linearity of the ET system. One supply modulator topology with the potential to generate a supply voltage with a high modulation bandwidth is the RF modulator in which the input DC voltage is turned into an RF signal and rectified, resulting in an output voltage which depends on the excitation of the PA. While PAs are well understood in every detail, there are gaps in the understanding of RF rectifiers. Using active load-pull/source-pull measurements, intrinsic gate and drain waveforms of a GaN HEMT operated as a rectifier are demonstrated for the first time. This allows in-detail evaluation of the impact of the gate termination in self-synchronous rectifiers. It also allows detailed analysis of the loss mechanisms in rectifiers and formulation of the required impedances to realise efficient self-synchronous operation, resulting in efficiencies exceeding 90% over wide power ranges. Using waveform engineering, a new type of RF modulator, with potentially very high bandwidths, based on even harmonic generation/injection is proposed. The necessary operating conditions of the rectifier part of the modulator are emulated using an active load-pull/source-pull system to successfully demonstrate that the rectifier behaves as predicted. Using a simple demonstrator, preliminary measurements were conducted and the RF modulator was shown to work, reaching efficiencies up to 78%. As PA and supply modulator are combined, they present impedances to each other. These impedances have a significant impact on the behaviour of both sub-systems. A simple way to characterise both the impedance presented to the PA by the modulator and the impedance presented to the modulator by the PA is described. Using a state-of-the-art modulator, these impedances are measured, the modulator impedance is demonstrated to be close to the simulated value. These measurements also demonstrate that the impedances change significantly with the operating conditions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Engineering
Uncontrolled Keywords: Power Amplifiers, GaN HEMT, Supply Modulation,Envelope Tracking, Transistor Characterisation, Supply Modulator
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 24 September 2021
Last Modified: 10 Nov 2022 09:47

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