In reality, modern RF design tools take much of the guesswork out of RF design, but these tools are only as good as their models of the underlying components.
As wireless technology proliferates, more engineers are building wireless capability into the devices they design. The complexity of RF and wireless capability, particularly as we push for more bandwidth, higher frequencies, and multi-antenna architectures, often makes them the most challenging component of whatever device they appear in. Tighter integration of real world measurements into the design of wireless devices promises to improve the design process, lower costs, and reduce time to market.
High frequency designs are less well-behaved than their lower frequency counterparts. In fact, many people still consider RF design more of an art than a science. In reality, modern RF design tools take much of the guesswork out of RF design, but these tools are only as good as their models of the underlying components. And some components and circuits are still fundamentally difficult to simulate accurately. These complex situations are where simulations fall apart because there is no substitute for real world signals. Measurements and real-world I/O are critical to create accurate models that predict the behavior of complex RF devices. This integration also improves time to market by creating continuity later in the verification and production test phases.
On June 30th, National Instruments (NI) acquired AWR, the technology leader in high-frequency EDA. AWR’s products, including Microwave Office and Visual System Simulator, are leading tools for designing high frequency circuits and systems. Our goal is to bring NI’s expertise in instrument connectivity, measurements, and algorithm engineering to AWR tools to integrate real-world measurements into RF design. Because we have built an open, software-based platform for integrating measurements and I/O, it is the ideal bridge to connect all of the world’s measurement capability into the software tools used for engineering design.
A clear example of the need for integration of real-world I/O into RF simulation is hardware-in-the-loop, or HIL. In an HIL application, you have part of a design in prototype form and part in simulation. For example, you may have a design that uses an existing component, like a power amplifier (PA) and instead of modeling that component, you want to see the real world performance of the actual PA in the context of the rest of your design. In this case, you can play an I/Q waveform through a vector signal generator to the input of the real PA. A vector signal analyzer is then used to measure the output of the PA and import the data back into the simulation environment and through the rest of the simulated design. Using HIL techniques, you can move the line between simulation and prototyping as appropriate as you progress through a product’s design.
You can easily envision more benefits of integrated measurements in your design flow, from HIL to integrated analysis and visualization to measurement-based model generation. Clear examples of these benefits will be demonstrated at our annual NI Week conference on August 2-4, 2011 when NI and AWR will show connectivity between our tools. Integration will continue to improve the connectivity between design and test, ensuring a dramatically improved RF design process.
Dr. Truchard is president and CEO of National Instruments.