PLL Frequency Synthesizer Tutorial
- an introduction or tutorial to the essentials of phase locked loop, PLL frequency synthesizer operation and design
PLL frequency synthesizer pages include:
• Frequency synthesizer tutorial
• Digital PLL synthesizer
• Analogue PLL synthesizer
• Multi-loop synthesizer
• Fractional n synthesiser
• Synthesizer / PLL phase noise
• Low phase noise synthesizer design
PLL frequency synthesizers are widely used in all forms of radio communications equipment today. From cellular phones to all forms of wireless products and domestic radios and televisions to professional radio communications equipment, the local oscillators virtually all use PLL frequency synthesizers.
PLL frequency synthesizers offer very many advantages over the use of other forms of local oscillator. Frequency synthesizers not only offer high levels of stability and accuracy (determined by the reference which is normally a crystal oscillator); they are also easy to control from digital circuitry such as microprocessors. This enables facilities such as keypad frequency entry, channel memories and more to be implemented.
In view of all their advantages, PLL frequency synthesizers are usually the preferred form of local oscillator for most applications. Accordingly synthesizers are included in many radio chip-sets from cellular phones to radio and televisions.
Most frequency synthesizers are based around a phase locked loop or PLL. The PLL uses the idea of phase comparison as the basis of its operation. From the block diagram of a basic loop shown below, it can be seen that there are three basic circuit blocks, a phase comparator, voltage controlled oscillator, and loop filter. A reference oscillator is sometimes included in the block diagram, although this is not strictly part of the loop itself even though a reference signal is required for its operation.
The phase locked loop, PLL, operates by comparing the phase of two signals. The signals from the voltage controlled oscillator and reference enter the phase comparator Here a third signal equal to the phase difference between the two input signals is produced.
The phase difference signal is then passed through the loop filter. This performs a number of functions including the removal of any unwanted products that are present on this signal. Once this has been accomplished it is applied to the control terminal of the voltage controlled oscillator. This tune voltage or error voltage is such that it tries to reduce the error between the two signals entering the phase comparator. This means that the voltage controlled oscillator will be pulled towards the frequency of the reference, and when in lock there is a steady state error voltage. This is proportional to the phase error between the two signals, and it is constant. Only when the phase between two signals is changing is there a frequency difference. As the phase difference remains constant when the loop is in lock this means that the frequency of the voltage controlled oscillator is exactly the same as the reference.
Note on Phase Locked Loops:
Phase locked loops form the basis of many RF systems. They are use the concept of minimising the difference in phase between a reference signal and a local oscillator to replicate the reference signal frequency. Using this concept it is possible to use these loops for many applications from FM demodulators to frequency synthesizers.
Read more about the Phase locked loop PLL
PLL frequency synthesizer basics
A phase locked loop, PLL, needs some additional circuitry if it is to be converted into a frequency synthesizer.
The loop is broken and additional blocks added to provide the frequency synthesizer action. These blocks add a frequency offset into the loop in one way or another.
The basic action of the loop remains. The phase detector produces an error voltage proportional to the phase difference between its two input signals. This means that the voltage controlled oscillator will run at a different frequency to that of the phase detector or comparison frequency.
There are two main ways in which frequency synthesizers can be made from phase locked loops:
- Digital PLL synthesizer: This is the concept that is at the root of most single loop synthesizers. It involves placing a digital divider in the loop between the voltage controlled oscillator. This means that the voltage controlled oscillator frequency will be divided by the division ratio of the divider, e.g. n, and the VCO will run at n times the phase comparison frequency. By changing the division ratio of the divider, the output frequency of the oscillator can be changed. This makes the frequency synthesizer programmable.
Read more about the digital PLL synthesizer
- Analogue PLL synthesizer: This form of frequency synthesizer introduces a mixer into the PLL between the voltage controlled oscillator and the phase detector. By introducing an external signal into the other terminal of the mixer, a fixed offset equal to that of the external frequency is introduced into the loop.
Read more about the analogue PLL synthesizer
Many synthesizers use a combination of both these techniques to be able to produce high quality frequency synthesizers very cost effectively and with high levels of performance.
By Ian Poole
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