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What Is a Radio Frequency Integrated Circuit?

Modern radio frequency integrated circuits play a large role in the increased standby time of cell phones today over the phones from even a decade ago.
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  • Written By: Geisha A. Legazpi
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 16 December 2014
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A radio frequency integrated circuit is a compact electronic circuit that uses active devices for signal frequencies in the so-called radio frequency (RF) range. Radio frequency circuits include low- and high-power amplifiers, modulators, and demodulators. Amplifiers increase the voltage or power level of RF signals. The input levels to the amplifiers could be very low for receivers, and these low levels can be as low as a fraction of one-millionth of a volt (V). Modulators are used in transmitters to alter an RF carrier so that the message or information is combined into a feature of the carrier, while demodulators extract the information from existing modulated carriers.

An integrated circuit (IC) is also referred to as a chip or microchip with semiconductor. The controlled valve mechanism used in electronics, computers, and digital devices is made possible by three-terminal semiconductors that allow a control terminal to determine the current between the two major terminals. The radio frequency integrated circuit makes use of dozens of semiconductors in a very small package to perform functions in popular gadgets such as cell phones.

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Radio frequency integrated circuits solve many problems in designing and manufacturing receivers, transmitters, and RF test equipment. At very high RF frequencies, the use of separate active devices may be limited by the lengths of wires or conducting traces needed to complete circuit connections. The radio frequency integrated circuit uses very small components in a common package, thus there is very little coupling between stages that usually results from long wires or electrostatic proximity between active nodes of a circuit.

The relatively long wire causes a characteristic known as inductance. Inductance is the reaction caused by the resulting magnetic field in a current-carrying wire. RF that attempts to pass an inductor usually gets attenuated, which means the signal level drops as a signal drop in the inductor increases with higher RF frequency. The proximity between the active nodes of a circuit results in capacitance, which is a reaction caused by the charging and discharging of charge carriers. In a capacitor, the reaction is caused by the tendency of opposite charges to attract.

Modern radio frequency integrated circuit offers the best performance features, which include low power consumption and good signal performance. Early RF devices were faced with problems of high power consumption leading to less standby and talk times for early portable communications equipment. While portable battery technology has improved, the low power consumption of radio frequency integrated circuits has led to tremendously increased battery-operated talk time performance of gadgets. The radio frequency integrated circuit has also led to better signal quality in terms of less distortion and lower noise levels.

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