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11 Power amplifiers

Power amplifiers (PA) are required for applications that need to deliver RF power to a load,
e.g. the final output stage of a transmitter might need to deliver anything from a few milli-watts
to many kilo-watts into an antenna.
For some types of modulation such as AM, SSB, QAM or CDMA, where the amplitude of the
modulated carrier is not constant, the whole transmission path including the power amplifier is
required to be linear. Hence power amplifier operation is confined to classes A or AB. For
other types of modulation however, such as FM, FSK or PSK where the amplitude of the
modulated carrier is constant, power amplifiers can use non linear modes such as class C.
An important consideration in RF power amplifiers is efficiency. In battery-powered portable
transmitting equipment, the PA typically consumes most of the power so achieving the highest
efficiency is important. Efficiency of an amplifier is defined as:
Average RF Output power into the load
Average DC power consumption from supply
Two basic steps in PA design are to bias the active device(s) to operate in the required mode
(Class A, B, C, etc.) and to design input and output circuits that provide a conjugate match and
hence optimise power transfer into and out of the device.
The conjugate matching networks described in a previous section can be used but in the case of
RF power devices, the input and output impedances are typically much less than 50 , possibly
of the order of 1 or less.

11.1 ' Class 'A

In a Class 'A' amplifier, the DC bias exceeds the total signal swing. The active device in a
Class 'A' amplifier is never driven into saturation or cut off (provided it is operating in its linear
region, i.e. not over-driven). The conduction angle is 360 of an RF cycle. Virtually all small
signal RF (and audio) amplifiers operate in Class 'A'.
A Class 'A' amplifier is linear and is therefore suitable for all types of RF signals whether
amplitude modulated or not, i.e. AM, SSB or FM signals. A significant disadvantage of Class
'A' is poor efficiency so that for an RF power amplifier, the active device needs to have a higher
power dissipation capability and more substantial heat sink compared to Class 'B' or 'C'. A
Class 'A' PA consumes more power than a Class 'B' or 'C' amplifier with the same RF output
power, which is an important consideration for battery powered equipment,
The maximum possible efficiency for a Class 'A' amplifier is 50%. This is with an inductor or
transformer as the collector or drain load for a BJT or FET, which would be true for almost any
practical RF power amplifier. This maximum efficiency is only possible when the amplifier is
driving the maximum possible amplitude into the load, i.e. just before 'clipping' occurs. This
means that for an RF power amplifier that is handling an amplitude modulated signal, (e.g. AM
or SSB), the average efficiency is much less than 50%.
In the case of a small-signal low frequency BJT amplifier (e.g. audio) with a resistive collector
load, it can be shown that the maximum efficiency is 6.25%.

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11.2 Class 'B'

A Class B amplifier normally uses a pair of active devices in a 'push-pull' configuration. In
'pure' class 'B', there is no standing DC bias and the conduction angle is exactly 180 of an
RF cycle for each device, i.e. one device handles the positive half-cycles and the other device
handles the negative half-cycles. The efficiency is up to 78%. The amplifier is linear and is
therefore suitable for AM, SSB or FM signals.
In the case of Class 'B' RF power amplifiers (and early transistor audio amplifiers), a driver
transformer and an output transformer are normally used, as shown in the Class AB
amplifier below.

11.3 Class AB
In practice, a 'pure' Class 'B' amplifier suffers from 'crossover distortion' at the zero-crossing
points of the signal. To overcome this, a certain amount of standing DC bias is normally
applied, which results in Class AB operation where the conduction angle for each device is
more than 180 of an RF cycle but less than 360. A Class AB 'push-pull' amplifier is shown
below. It is similar to a Class 'B' 'push-pull' amplifier but T1 and T2 have forward bias provided
by R4.
Driver transformer TR1 matches the input source impedance into the input impedance of T1
and T2and it also acts as a phase-splitter so that one half-cycle of the RF waveforms is
handled by T1 and the other half by T2. Output transformer TR3 matches the output impedance
of T1 and T2 to the load impedance and also acts as a combiner, combining the two half-cycle
outputs from T1 and T2.
Class AB amplifiers may use a single active device or a pair of active devices in push-pull. Any
Class AB amplifier has sufficient forward bias applied to the transistor(s) to ensure conduction
for between 180-360 degrees of an RF cycle. This enables linear operation and improves
efficiency compared to class A.
The push-pull class AB amplifier shown below uses broad band transformer matching









OUTPUT to filter

R3 C7

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11.4 Class C
A Class 'C' amplifier can be used at RF but not for audio, It uses a single active device with
zero DC bias, as shown in the circuit below where the base of T1 is DC grounded via RFC1.
The conduction angle is less than 180 of an RF cycle. Amplifiers of this type are highly
efficient, typically 60 - 80% for 120 - 150 conduction angle but can only operate over a
relatively narrow bandwidth. This is because the collector load (L2, C2) needs to be resonant.
A Class 'C' amplifier is inherently non-linear and is therefore suitable for constant amplitude
signals such as FM only. In the circuit below, C1 and L1 match the source impedance (e.g.
50 ) into the input impedance of T1. RFC1 grounds the base of T1 at DC while providing
an RF impedance that is high compared to the input impedance of T1. RFC2 provides a path
for DC supply current to the collector of T2 while providing an RF impedance that is high
compared to the output impedance of T2. L2 and C2 form a resonant circuit and also match the
output impedance of T1 (typically a few ohms or less) to the required load impedance (e.g.
50 ). C4 is a DC blocking capacitor because the DC voltage on L2 is +Vcc.








Note that if some forward bias is applied to T1 in the above circuit, by connecting RFC1 to a
DC bias source instead of to ground, the class of operation changes from Class C to Class A or
Class AB (depending on the amount of bias current).

11.5 Power Amplifier Modules

A simple solution to PA design is to use a modular PA. These devices are available from many
manufacturers and provide a power gain block in a single module. Input and output matching
networks are included in the module to match to a specified impedance (usually 50 ). A PA
module can normally operate over a limited range of frequencies, for example a mobile phone
band. All that is needed is a power supply, some supply decoupling and filtering. A wide range
of power outputs are available and corresponding input drive levels are required. This type of
solution is compact and reliable but can be costly. The outputs of multiple modules can be
combined in cases where high power output is required.

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11.6 Linearity in RF amplifiers

There are certain cases where an RF circuit element is non-linear.

Mixers must be non-linear in order to operate.

Class 'C' RF power amplifiers are inherently non-linear but are only suitable for
transmitting signals whose amplitude is constant, e.g. FM or PSK. Although the nonlinearity generates harmonics, these can be reduced by low-pass or band-pass filtering at
the output.

In most other cases however, an RF amplifier is required to be linear but in practice, linearity
is not perfect. This can lead to the generation of unwanted harmonics and/or intermodulation
products. In a transmitter, such unwanted products result in spurious outputs, where some
power is radiated on frequencies other than the intended frequency. This can result in
interference to other users of the radio spectrum. In a receiver, such unwanted products result in
spurious responses, where the receiver has an unwanted response to signals on frequencies
other than the wanted frequency. It is therefore necessary to be able to analyse non-linearities in
linear RF amplifiers and to ensure that linearity is good enough for the required application.
An ideal linear amplifier gives an output that is directly proportional to the input:
Vo(t) = K.Vi(t)

Vo(t) = output voltage, Vi(t) = input voltage

K is ideally a constant (but in practice, it may vary with frequency)



Amplitude Characteristics a Linear Amplifier

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For a single sinusoidal input, a spectrum analyser would show:





General Representation of Non-Linearities

Non-linearities in amplifiers or RF systems can lead to second (and higher) order terms in Vi(t)
appearing at the output:

Vo( t ) = K . vi( t ) + X. vi( t )2 + Y . vi( t )3 + ...... higher order terms

Where: K=system voltage gain (Av), X & Y are the distortion coefficients
Some terms may be absent or may be at an insignificantly low level. Consider the effects of the
2nd order term on the performance of the system shown below when a sinusoidal input is fed
into it:

Vsin t


For this system we then have:

Vo( t ) = K . vi( t ) + X. vi( t )2 where vi(t) = Vsint

hence Vo(t) = K. Vsint + X. V2sin2t
But Sin2 a = 0.5(1 - Cos 2a), hence........

Vo( t ) = K . V sin t +
or Vo(t) =

X. V2 (1 cos 2 t )

X. V2
+ K . V sin t X. V2 cos 2 t


XV 2
is a DC TERM
cos2t is the SECOND HARMONIC
here, the input is a pure sinusoid but the system caused the distortion.

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A spectrum analyser would show these distortion components as follows:






Intermodulation Distortion (IMD)

Intermodulation distortion (IMD) is caused by the interaction of two or more signals in a nonlinear device or system giving rise to unwanted output signals called intermodulation
products (IMPs).
Consider a linear device such as an amplifier where two sine waves with equal amplitude are
fed into the system simultaneously so the input is of the form:
Vi( t ) = V sin 1t + V sin 2t

If the device is perfectly linear, the only frequencies present at the output will be the input
frequencies f1 and f2. If the device is non-linear however and it causes 2nd order terms to be
generated the output will contain the following components.


2 KV

f1 f2

f1 f2 2f1 2f2

Depending upon the characteristics of the non-linearity, it may generate second order, third
order or higher order intermodulation products.
In the case where f1 and f2 are nearly equal, third order intermodulation products such as
2f1 f2 and 2f2 f1 are particularly undesirable because they fall close to f1 and f2 so they
cannot easily be removed by bandpass filtering.
What undesirable effects to IMPs have in transmitters?

What undesirable effects to IMPs have in receivers?

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12 Passive Filters
A passive filter is a network of passive components designed to exhibit a specific frequency
response. Many possible topologies exist where the generic form of the transfer function is;



1 + j c

fc = filter cut-off frequency, n = the order or number of poles in the response


Bode Plots

If we plot the filter output voltage against frequency we can see exactly how the filter will
respond to a range of input frequencies. The axes can be either linear to obtain the linear
frequency response or logarithmic to obtain a bode plot.
The Bode Plot is a straight line approximation that requires a log-log plot, i.e. logarithmic
frequency axis and logarithmic amplitude axis. Normally, the amplitude axis has a linear scale
in Decibels, which are proportional to the log. of amplitude.



Roll-off is a measure of how well the filter will reject frequencies outside the passband and is
defined as the slope of the bode plot of the response at fc. Roll-off is often quoted in dB per
octave where an octave represents a factor of two along the frequency axis. Alternatively, it
can be quoted in dB per decade where a decade represents a factor of 10 along the
frequency axis. Either way, the more poles (n) in the filter response, the steeper the slope and
the better the out of band rejection. Roll- off is approximately 20n dB/decade or 6n dB/octave.


Passive High Pass Filters (HPF)

A first order passive HPF has the characteristics shown below. The example shown has a cutoff frequency of 1 MHz.

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HPF roll-off is a measure of how well the filter will reject frequencies below the cut-off
frequency (fc). Roll-off in this case is defined as the slope of the bode plot below fc. We will
look at two ways of implementing this characteristic.

Single Pole RC HPF

If we configure a resistor and capacitor as shown below, the reduction in capacitive reactance
(Z1= Xc) as we increase the input frequency means that less voltage is dropped across the
capacitor and so by KVL the output voltage must increase. Eventually, Xc = 0 and so Vo = Vi
thereafter - we have a simple HPF.

lg f



Vo =


1 + 1 CR

Vo = Tan1 1 CR

fc =

2 CR

= CR

Passive Low Pass Filters (LPF)

A first order passive LPF has the characteristics shown below. The example shown has a cutoff frequency of 1 MHz.

LPF roll-off is a measure of how well the filter will reject frequencies above the cut-off
frequency (fc). Roll-off is defined as the slope of the bode plot above fc.

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Single Pole RC LPF

As the input frequency is increased above fc, the reactance of the capacitor is progressively
reduced, thus Vo is steadily reduced. As the frequency is decreased below fc, the reactance of
the capacitor progressively increases, thus less and less voltage is dropped across the resistor
and so Vo tends towards Vi.

lg f




Vo =

1 + CR


Vo = Tan1 CR

fc =

2 CR

= CR

Passive Band Pass Filters (BPF)

A BPF is a circuit where the attenuation is low within a defined range of input frequencies
(the PASS BAND) whilst outside the PASS BAND the attenuation is large. This type of
response is used widely to ensure that a system responds only to a wanted band of frequencies
but not to other higher or lower frequencies, for example tuned RF amplifiers in radio
transmitters and receivers.
A bandpass filter can be implemented in two different ways. First a high-pass filter and a lowpass filter can be cascaded. This is suitable for filters with a relatively wide passband.
Alternatively, a passive bandpass filter can be implemented using L-C resonant circuits.
Examples of both types are shown below for a generic BPF.

lg f

Cascaded LPF and HPF (Bode plot)

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Resonant BPF (linear amplitude

and frequency scales)

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Quality Factor (Qo) and Selectivity

Selectivity is the ability of the filter to select in-band frequencies and reject those out of band.
An indication of filter selectivity is obtained in the form of its Q-factor (Qo). Higher Q circuits
are more selective.

Two Pole LCR Series Resonant BPF

Resonant (tuned) circuits are widely used to obtain relatively narrow passbands for example in
radio frequency applications where we may wish to tune to a specific transmission and reject
adjacent channels.



Vo =

fo =



1 + (L R ) (1 CR )

2 LC

Qo =

Vo = Tan1 (L R ) (1 CR )

1 L

BW =


At some frequency we can note that XL = XC hence VL = VC, since VL and VC are of opposite
signs the phasor sum will cancel, leaving all of the voltage across the resistor. This frequency is

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known as the resonant frequency (fo) at which the circuit is purely resistive giving zero
phase shift.
At frequencies below fo, the capacitor has more influence since XC > XL, the circuit is
predominantly capacitive and so we have positive phase shift.
At frequencies above fo, the inductor has more influence since XL > XC, the circuit is
predominantly inductive and so we have negative phase shift.
Two Pole LCR Parallel Resonant BPF (Tank




Vo =

1 + [(CR ) ( R L)]

Vo = Tan 1 [(CR ) ( R L)]

Qo and fo are the same as for the series circuit


Multiple pole filters

We noted generally, that the roll off of a filter can be increased if more poles are present in the
response. An ideal 'brick wall' filter has a perfectly flat passband and infinitely steep roll-off
but this requires an infinite number of poles and cannot be implemented in practice. Numerous
texts cover detailed filter design and many CAD packages offer simple facilities with which to
design higher order filters using Butterworth, Chebychev or Bessel polynomials.
A Butterworth filter response has a maximally flat passband.
A Chebychev filter response provides the highest possible rate of roll-off for a given order of
filter but it is necessary to accept a specified amount of passband ripple (e.g. 0.1 dB, 1 dB)
A Bessel filter has a linear phase response.
Multi-pole bandpass filters are an important building block in radio receivers, for example for
use in the IF or RF amplifier. Such filters are generally fixed frequency filters because it is not
generally practicable to vary the centre frequency of such a filter.

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Multiple Pole Passive HPF

The example below shows a 7th order Butterworth high-pass filter with a cut-off frequency of
900 MHz, designed using the Filter Design tool in TINA.
Highpass Filter

R6 50

C0 7.9p

C2 2p

C4 2p

C6 7.9p

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R6 50

L5 7.1n

L3 4.4n

L1 7.1n



2009 University Of Hertfordshire

Multiple Pole Passive LPF

The example below shows a 7th order Butterworth low-pass filter with a cut-off frequency of
900 MHz, designed using the Filter Design tool in TINA.
Low pass Filter

R5 50

L0 3.9n

L2 16n

L4 16n

L6 3.9n

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R6 50

C5 4.4p

C3 7.1p

C1 4.4p



2009 University Of Hertfordshire

Multiple Pole Passive BPF

The example below shows a bandpass filter designed using RFsim99. This has a 10.7 MHz
centre frequency and a relatively narrow bandwidth. This type of filter could be used as an I.F.
filter in a superhet radio receiver.
E.g. Butterworth BPF, fc = 10.7 MHz, BW = 25kHz

s 21

Arg s21

It should be noted that any filter needs to be designed to operate with a certain source and load
impedance, which normally needs to be resistive. This may be 50 in some cases but other
impedances such as 330 or 2 k may be used in crystal and ceramic bandpass filters for I.F.
For an IF Filter, 4, 6 or 8 poles may be required in order to achieve a sufficiently sharp roll-off
outside the passband. It may not be practicable to implement such a filter design using
inductors and capacitors because the values of L or C or the required 'Q' factors may not be
practical. For example in the above filter design, the values of the capacitors are all less than
1 pF and the stray capacitance of the inductors would need to be extremely low.
Instead, such filter designs may require crystal or ceramic resonator elements. Such resonators
use piezo-electric materials such as quartz or Barium Titanate. For frequencies up to about 70
MHz, the mode of operation is a bulk acoustic wave. For higher frequencies such as 100 2000 MHz, the mode of operation is a Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW). SAW filters are used
for IF and RF bandpass filters in mobile communications equipment and other applications.

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