TriQuint Semiconductor Reduces RF Power Amplifier Characterization Time Using NI PXI and LabVIEW

ATE/Instrument, RF/Communications, semiconductor

TestStand, LabVIEW, PXI-4071, PXIe-5442, PXI-5690, NI PXIe-5673, NI PXIe-5122, PXI-2596, PXIe-5663, NI PXI-4110

Shorten the characterization time of increasingly complex wireless power amplifiers (PAs) without sacrificing measurement accuracy or increasing equipment cost.

Using NI LabVIEW software and NI PXI modular instrumentation to develop a power amplifier characterization system allowed us to increase test throughput by a factor of 10 while reducing asset equipment cost, power consumption, and physical space.

“Using NI PXI, we were able to reduce the characterization time of new components from two weeks to about a day.”

About TriQuint Semiconductor
TriQuint is a leader in high-performance RF solutions for complex mobile devices, defense and aerospace applications, and network infrastructure. Today, TriQuint provides innovative solutions to organizations around the world using GaAs, GaN, SAW and BAW technologies. Engineers and scientists rely on TriQuint’s innovations to improve the performance of their products and reduce the total cost of their applications.

Challenges of Existing Power Amplifier Characterization Techniques
Although wireless RF power amplifiers are mainly designed to operate in a single frequency band and single mode, modern power amplifiers have to meet more diverse needs. In fact, modern power amplifiers are designed to operate in eight or more frequency bands and can be used for a variety of modulation types including GSM, EDGE, WCDMA, HSPA+, LTE, and more.

At TriQuint Semiconductor, we need to test increasingly complex components over multiple frequency, voltage level, temperature and power ranges. A typical component complete characterization process requires approximately 30,000 to 40,000 rows of data to fully test the design. Using traditional rack RF test equipment, each line of data takes approximately 10 seconds to collect, which would take over 110 hours to test each individual component.

Designing an Alternative PXI Test System
To address the challenge of reducing RF component characterization test time, we developed a power amplifier characterization test system based on NI PXI, LabVIEW, and NI TestStand. Our power amplifier test benches contain the following instruments:
• NI PXIe-5673 6.6 GHz vector signal generator
• NI PXIe-5663 6.6 GHz vector signal analyzer
• NI PXI-5691 8 GHz Programmable RF Amplifier
• NI PXIe-5122 100 MS/s high-speed digitizer
• NI PXI-4110 programmable power supply
• NI PXI-4130 Power Source Measure Unit
• NI PXI-2596 dual 6×1 26 GHz multiplexer
• 100 Mbit/s digital I/O modules
• Traditional rack spectrum analyzer
• External power meter, power supply
•NI TestStand
• NI GSM/EDGE Measurement Suite
• NI Measurement Suite for WCDMA/HSPA+

We updated our existing test plan using LabVIEW software to complete the same measurement sequence on an NI PXI test bench. Because measurements are faster on PXI test systems, we configure the characterization sequence to use PXI test benches whenever possible, using traditional rack instruments only when needed.

Advantages of NI PXI
The main reason for deciding to use PXI was the ability to achieve higher measurement speeds without sacrificing measurement accuracy. Typically, on previous RF amplifier test benches, the time required for RF measurements accounted for the vast majority of the overall characterization time. PXI utilizes high-speed data bus, high-performance multi-core CPU and parallel measurement algorithms to achieve the fastest possible test speed. Additionally, the NI GSM/EDGE Measurement Suite and the NI Measurement Suite for WCDMA/HSPA+ use composite measurements, all of which can be done using one set of I/Q data. We use these toolkits to measure power amplifier characteristics such as gain, efficiency, flatness, ACP, ACLR, EVM and PVT.

Results obtained using PXI
By using PXI for most of the measurements on the power amplifier test bench, we reduced the power amplifier characterization time from two weeks to about 24 hours. In addition, we observed significant improvement in measurement time in every GSM, EDGE and WCDMA measurement test. Table 1 compares the measurement time and speed improvements of a traditional test bench and a PXI test bench.

Traditional test bench test time (s)

PXI test time (s)

speed boost

GSM test



6 times

EDGE test



14 times

WCDMA test



9 times

In a single measurement sequence, the PXI test bench completed 6 to 11 times faster. Times are measured based on 100 frames.

in conclusion
Because we used NI PXI modular instrumentation, RF power amplifier characterization time was significantly reduced without sacrificing measurement accuracy. We built a new PXI test system at the same or lower cost than the original traditional instrumentation solution. We also anticipate using NI PXI in future test systems.

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