MMIC – A Revolution in Microwave Engineering

One of the most revolutionary inventions in microwave engineering was the MMIC (Monolithic microwave integrated circuits) for high frequency applications. The major advantage of the MMIC was integrating previously bulky components into non-discrete tiny components of a chip. The subsequent image shows the integrated components of the MMIC – spiral inductors (red), FETs (blue) for example.

It is apparent that smaller transistors are present towards the input of the MMIC. This is because less power is required to amplify the weak input signals. As the signals become stronger, higher power (and hence a larger FET) is required. The input terminal (given by the arrow) is the gate and the output the drain. Like almost all RF devices, MMIC’s output and input are usually matched to 50 ohms, making them easy to cascade.

Originally, MMICs found their place within DoD for usage in phased array systems in fighter jets. Today, they are present in cellular phones, which operate in the GHz range much like military RADARs. MMICs have switched from MESFET configurations to HEMTs, which utilize compound semiconductors to create heterostructures. MMICs can be fabricated using Silicon (low cost) or III-V semiconductors which offer higher speed. Additionally, MOSFET transistors are becoming increasingly common due to improved performance over the years. The gate of the MOSFET has been shortened from several microns to several nanometers, allowing better performance at higher frequencies.

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