When Less Is More ... Few Bit ADCs in RF Systems Academic Article uri icon


  • 2019 IEEE. Digitizing RF signals using few bit ADCs can provide system advantages in terms of reduced power dissipation, wider sampling bandwidth, and decreased demand for digital throughput. The diversity of established applications based on few bit ADCs, together with the recent surge of interest in the topic for 5G wireless communications and millimeter-wave radar, has created a need for practical design guidance governing their use in general RF systems. This paper, therefore, summarizes the state-of-the-art in few bit ADCs, comparing the dynamic range considerations involved with those of conventional RF receiver design. A simple analytic model for the monobit ADC is extended to multiple bits. Parametric analysis, independent of sampling considerations and system-specific signal processing, is used to illustrate the variation in the ADC output signal-to-noise-and-distortion ratio (SNDR) versus both the number of quantization bits and the input signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). At low and negative input SNR, increasing ADC resolution beyond 3-4 bits yields little advantage in output SNDR. Experiment confirms analytic predictions for the specific conditions under which the loss of signal fidelity due to quantization can be made negligible. In addition, parametric analysis of two-tone intermodulation distortion shows clear disadvantages to quantizing with <4 bits in the presence of strong blockers. The results reported in this paper, which are general and independent of system application, can be used to customize the number of ADC bits in an RF system based on system-specific performance requirements for receiver dynamic range.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Rodenbeck, C. T., Martinez, M. M., Beun, J. B., Silva-Martinez, J., Karsilayan, A. I., & Liechty, R.

citation count

  • 10

complete list of authors

  • Rodenbeck, Christopher T||Martinez, Matthew M||Beun, Joshua B||Silva-Martinez, Jose||Karsilayan, Aydin Ilker||Liechty, Robert

publication date

  • January 2019