Mixed-signal integrated circuit

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A mixed-signal integrated circuit is any integrated circuit that has both analog circuits and digital circuits on a single semiconductor die. [1] [2] [3] [4] In real-life applications mixed-signal designs are everywhere, for example, smart mobile phones. Mixed-signal ICs also process both analog and digital signals together. For example, an analog-to-digital converter is a mixed-signal circuit. Mixed-signal circuits or systems are typically cost-effective solutions for building any modern consumer electronics applications.



An analog-mixed-signal system-on-a-chip (AMS-SoC) can be a combination of analog circuits, digital circuits, intrinsic mixed-signal circuits (like ADC), and embedded software.

Integrated circuits (ICs) are generally classified as digital (e.g. a microprocessor) or analog (e.g. an operational amplifier). Mixed-signal ICs are chips that contain both digital and analog circuits on the same chip. This category of chip has grown dramatically with the increased use of 3G cell phones and other portable technologies.

Mixed-signal ICs are often used to convert analog signals to digital signals so that digital devices can process them. For example, mixed-signal ICs are essential components for FM tuners in digital products such as media players, which have digital amplifiers. Any analog signal (such as an FM radio transmission, a light wave or a sound) can be digitized using a very basic analog-to-digital converter, and the smallest and most energy efficient of these would be in the form of mixed-signal ICs.

Mixed-signal ICs are more difficult to design and manufacture than analog-only or digital-only integrated circuits. For example, an efficient mixed-signal IC would have its digital and analog components share a common power supply. However, analog and digital components have very different power needs and consumption characteristics that make this a non-trivial goal in chip design.


Typically, mixed-signal chips perform some whole function or sub-function in a larger assembly such as the radio subsystem of a cell phone, or the read data path and laser sled control logic of a DVD player. They often contain an entire system-on-a-chip.

Examples of mixed-signal integrated circuits include data converters using delta-sigma modulation, analog-to-digital converter/digital-to-analog converter using error detection and correction, and digital radio chips. Digitally controlled sound chips are also mixed-signal circuits. With the advent of cellular technology and network technology this category now includes cellular telephone, software radio, LAN and WAN router integrated circuits.

Because of the use of both digital signal processing and analog circuitry, mixed-signal ICs are usually designed for a very specific purpose and their design requires a high level of expertise and careful use of computer aided design (CAD) tools. Automated testing of the finished chips can also be challenging. Teradyne, Keysight, and Texas Instruments are the major suppliers of the test equipment for mixed-signal chips.

The particular challenges of mixed signal include:

Commercial examples

Most modern radio and communications use mixed-signal circuits.


MOS switched-capacitor circuits

The metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET, or MOS transistor) was invented by Mohamed M. Atalla and Dawon Kahng at Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1959, and the MOS integrated circuit (MOS IC) chip was proposed soon after, but MOS technology was initially overlooked by Bell because they did not find it practical for analog telephone applications, before it was commercialized by Fairchild and RCA for digital electronics such as computers. [8] [9] MOS technology eventually became practical for telephony applications with the MOS mixed-signal integrated circuit, which combines analog and digital signal processing on a single chip, developed by former Bell engineer David A. Hodges with Paul R. Gray at UC Berkeley in the early 1970s. [9] In 1974, Hodges and Gray worked with R.E. Suarez to develop MOS switched capacitor (SC) circuit technology, which they used to develop a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) chip, using MOS capacitors and MOSFET switches for data conversion. [9] MOS analog-to-digital converter (ADC) and DAC chips were commercialized by 1974. [10]

MOS SC circuits led to the development of pulse-code modulation (PCM) codec-filter chips in the late 1970s. [9] [11] The silicon-gate CMOS (complementary MOS) PCM codec-filter chip, developed by Hodges and W.C. Black in 1980, [9] has since been the industry standard for digital telephony. [9] [11] By the 1990s, telecommunication networks such as the public switched telephone network (PSTN) had been largely digitized with very-large-scale integration (VLSI) CMOS PCM codec-filters, widely used in electronic switching systems for telephone exchanges, private branch exchanges (PBX) and key telephone systems (KTS); user-end modems; data transmission applications such as digital loop carriers, pair gain multiplexers, telephone loop extenders, integrated services digital network (ISDN) terminals, digital cordless telephones and digital cell phones; and applications such as speech recognition equipment, voice data storage, voice mail and digital tapeless answering machines. [11] The bandwidth of digital telecommunication networks has been rapidly increasing at an exponential rate, as observed by Edholm's law, [12] largely driven by the rapid scaling and miniaturization of MOS technology. [13] [9]

RF CMOS circuits

While working at Bell Labs in the early 1980s, Pakistani engineer Asad Abidi worked on the development of sub-micron MOSFET (metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor) VLSI (very large-scale integration) technology at the Advanced LSI Development Lab, along with Marty Lepselter, George E. Smith and Harry Bol. As one of the few circuit designers at the lab, Abidi demonstrated the potential of sub-micron NMOS integrated circuit technology in high-speed communication circuits, and developed the first MOS amplifiers for Gb/s data rates in optical fiber receivers. Abidi's work was initially met with skepticism from proponents of GaAs and bipolar junction transistors, the dominant technologies for high-speed circuits at the time. In 1985 he joined UCLA, where he pioneered RF CMOS technology in the late 1980s. His work changed the way in which RF circuits would be designed, away from discrete bipolar transistors and towards CMOS integrated circuits. [14]

Abidi was researching analog CMOS circuits for signal processing and communications during the late 1980s to early 1990s. In the mid-1990s, the RF CMOS technology that he pioneered was widely adopted in wireless networking, as mobile phones began entering widespread use. As of 2008, the radio transceivers in all wireless networking devices and modern mobile phones are mass-produced as RF CMOS devices. [14]

The baseband processors [15] [16] and radio transceivers in all modern wireless networking devices and mobile phones are mass-produced using RF CMOS devices. [14] RF CMOS circuits are widely used to transmit and receive wireless signals, in a variety of applications, such as satellite technology (such as GPS), bluetooth, Wi-Fi, near-field communication (NFC), mobile networks (such as 3G and 4G), terrestrial broadcast, and automotive radar applications, among other uses. [17] RF CMOS technology is crucial to modern wireless communications, including wireless networks and mobile communication devices. [18]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Asad Abidi Pakistani electrical engineer and scientist

Asad Ali Abidi is a Pakistani-American electrical engineer. He serves as a tenured professor at University of California, Los Angeles, and is the inaugural holder of the Abdus Salam Chair at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). He is best known for pioneering RF CMOS technology during the late 1980s to early 1990s. As of 2008, the radio transceivers in all wireless networking devices and modern mobile phones are mass-produced as RF CMOS devices.

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Further reading