This KBA provides a brief summary about and highlights the possible need for board-level ESD protection for RF devices.
Radio chips are designed for and tested against different chip-level ESD standards, such as Human Body Model (HBM), Machine Model (MM) and Charged Device Model (CDM). These chip-level test results are summarized in the RF IC’s Qualification Reports.
However, in a real-world application a final module/board has to resist and stand against an ESD shock. For this purpose, the final electronic product has to be tested against a different, more stringent standard that simulates and replicates the real world ESD stress conditions. This system-level ESD standard is the IEC 61000-4-2, for instance. System/module designers should take care to comply with the IEC 61000-4-2 system-level ESD standard. This KBA provides some board-level insights about how to make an RF design more immune against ESD.
For more technical details, please refer to Silicon Labs' application note AN895. This application note provides recommendations on ESD protection circuits and shows test results measured with the Si4x6x chip family, however the suggested protection circuits can also be utilized with any other RF chip families.
For an RF design the most ESD-sensitive part is the RF path, including the antenna, matching network and RF ports. Secondly, the supply and GND paths are also sensitive, and lastly any GPIO or other paths connected to the RF chip directly.
So, the antenna definitely needs special care during design and assembly into the end product. ESD protection can be enhanced by:
- antenna placement: end-user shouldn't be able to touch it in any case.
- design an antenna with direct GND connection, e.g. inverted-F antenna.
- protection circuit elements in the RF path: parallel inductors, capacitors, TVS diodes.
Many circuit designs have the supply trace connected to the PA externally, for which cases the supply trace may also need care and ESD protection.
Lastly, any push-button or interface, that can be touched by the user of the end-product during normal usage, may also need to be ESD-protected. These are, typically, GPIO ports of RF devices.
Please see AN895 application note for recommended ESD protection circuits and for more technical details.
This KBA provides some hardware tips about how to maximize the isolation between multiple antennas mounted on the same PCB.
- Maximize the distance(s) between the antennas on the PCB in order to minimize the radiated coupling effects.
- Place the antennas in opposite orientation, i.e. opposite polarization in order to maximize the isolation.
- The radiation patterns of antennas can also be taken into account during placement, i.e. try to place one antenna in the null point (or less radiating) direction of the other one.
- Place the antennas on different layers, i.e. put one antenna on the top and the other on the bottom layer of the carrier PCB.
- Select antenna types which have a bit more concentrated and localized RF currents close to the antenna input ports. E.g. inverted F-antenna (over a simple monopole antenna).
- If each antenna is placed at the PCB edge, then GND slot(s) - one slot between two antennas - on the common GND plane can be ensured between the antennas in order to minimize the mutual current and thus decrease the coupling effects.
The shape and dimensions of these board-edge current-blocker slots can be the followings:
1. Simple straight slot with 3mm width and quater-wavelength length on the given PCB.
2. For a wider band approach, slot line radial stubs or even diamond-shaped slots can also be utilized - as shown in the design of 4455-LED-868 RF Stick, for instance (see the diamond-shaped slot in the printed balun area):
Si4x6x radios offer High-performance and Low-power operation modes. Selecting one over the other affects 3 RX mode parameters: RX current, RX Sensitivity, Adjacent Channel Selectivity. The following table summarizes the actual differences between these 2 modes:
|High-performance mode||Low-power mode|
|RX Current||~3mA higher||~3mA lower|
|RX Sensitivity||~2dB better||~2dB worse|
|~2dB better||~2dB worse|
The desired performance mode can be selected in GLOBAL_CONFIG API property:
- GLOBAL_CONFIG = 0 --> High-performance mode
- GLOBAL_CONFIG = 1 --> Low-power mode
Si4x6x radios can operate in High-performance or Low-power modes, which can be set in GLOBAL_CONFIG property. In order to save some current consumption (typically 2-3mA), low-power mode can be enabled, however it has some tradeoff in RX performance (sensitivity, linearity).
If the crystal parameters meet the requirements listed in AN785 section 1, both high-performance mode and low-power mode should result robust crystal operation on a properly designed PCB layout (crystal placed as close to the XTAL pins as possible).
In high-performance mode there is some margin on the required crystal parameters, but still it is recommended to stay within the ranges listed in AN785 section 1 for safe operation. Crystal start-up issues might occur if the parameters are not met.
In low-power mode meeting the required crystal parameters is more critical, i.e crystal start-up issues might happen even if the RF crystal parameters are near the edge. Low-power mode can be used robustly with a crystal that easily meets the recommended parameters. AN785 Table 1 provides a list of recommended crystals that will ensure safe operation both in high-performance and low-power mode.
If crystal start-up problem occurs in low-power mode, there are 2 possible options to avoid the issue:
Using a 2-layer PCB in the application hardware is usually preferred by customers due to cost saving purposes. Still, based on the RF output power level, unwanted radiation of top or bottom layer traces (mostly VDD or digital) can occur, which causes that the application can violate the harmonic limits of the related standards. In order to minimize the possibility of unwanted trace radiations, Silicon Labs recommends to use multilayer PCBs in the following cases:
>=10dBm output power at 2.4GHz
Note that the actual recommendation depends on which standard (ETSI, FCC, ARIB, etc.) the application has to be compliant with.
One can notice that not all Silicon Labs reference design follows the above listed recommendations. EZRadioPRO reference design boards are made on 2 or 4 PCB layers based on the output power, while all EZR32 and EFR32 reference design boards are using 4 or 6 PCB layers due to the complexity of the design. In the latter case, the layout routing could not be realised on a 2-layer PCB if all digital traces were intended to be used. Of course, on a custom design where the complexity of the design is much less, 2-layer PCBs can be used for EZR32 or EFR32 applications as well considering the above listed recommendations.
Silicon Labs provides RF range calculators for customers to help estimating the actual range of their wireless applications. Simple RF Range Calculator is available to download from the following link below.
RF range depends on the following parameters:
Simple RF Range Calculator
Simple RF Range Calculator is for those customers who don’t want to deal with difficult RF questions, just simply would like to get fast and reasonable results for both outdoor and indoor environments.
Simple RF Range Calculator provides fast and accurate result as the customer selected the frequency band and set TX and RX parameters.
Frequency bands and custom frequency channels can also be selected.
TX Output Power and RX Sensitivity need to set up based on the radio device’s actual link parameters based on the data sheet.
If the exact antenna parameters are unknown notes at the right side can help to determine the closest values.
The achievable RF range depends on many other factors as well. See the following KBA article for further details on RF range factors:
How should I connect the pins which are not intended to be used on Si4x6x / EZR32?
What is the recommended distance between antennas in an antenna diversity application?
Antennas in a product that implements antenna diversity have their antennas mounted at a distance of at least ¼ wavelength apart. This amount of spatial separation improves the probability that at least one antenna is NOT in a deeply faded signal condition. Another typical recommendation is ½ wavelength antenna distance, however, it can result quite large board sizes at low frequencies (e.g. for 434 MHz frequency ½ wavelength is 34,5 cm).
Can I use the same matching network for EZRadioPRO and an EZR32 wireless MCU that is based on the same radio?
The answer depends on the actual PCB layer stack-up as the distance between the top and the first inner (ground) layer determines the PCB parasitic capacitances, which plays part in the matching network.
If the same PCB layer stack-up is used (or at least the distance between the top and the first inner layer is similar), in that case the same matching network component values should result very similar TX and RX performance for an EZRadioPRO radio and an EZR32 wireless MCU. If the PCB layer stack-up deviates significantly, it is not recommended to use the same matching network as the detuning can cause lower output power, higher harmonics, higher current consumption and sensitivity loss.
At which pins should I apply DC feed for the sub-GHz and 2.4GHz PA of EFR32 Series 1 devices?
For the 2.4GHz PA, the DC feed should be applied on PAVDD pin.
On the sub-GHz side, the PA DC feed is required through the TX output pins: SUBGRF_OP, SUBGRF_ON.
For more details, refer to the EFR32 Series 1 Radio Board Reference Designs.