Passive intermodulation and base station system performance
Summitek Instruments Sales & Applications
Engineer, James A. Pierson Jr. and Andy Singer, RFSs Director Marketing
& Technical Services for the Americas, explore the challenge of measuring
todays competitive wireless telecommunications industry, network
providers constantly strive to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction
and system capacity. Poor cell site performance can equate toreduced capacity
and poor call quality, which means a loss of income.
One potential cause of poor network performance can be high Passive Intermodulation
(IM) power levels at the base station. Providers can help improve network
performance by carefully selecting components, such as base station antennas,
with low IM responses.
What is passive IM?
Passive IM is similar to Active IM, except that it occurs exclusively
in passive devices. Every passive RF device generates passive IM products
when two or more frequencies are simultaneously present. When these signals
encounter a non-linear device, junction or material, they combine to produce
harmonics of the source frequenciesthe passive IM products.
Typically, it is the odd-ordered IM products that prove most problematicfor
example, the third order IM product (IM3). Should these IM products fall
within the base station receive band, they appear to the receiver as interference.
Once the passive IM power level rises above the noise floor of the receiver,
the system carrier to interference ratio (C/I) becomes adversely impacted.
As passive IM products typically increase significantly with average transmit
power level, the impact of passive IM on a base station may only become
apparent as the base station approaches its fully loaded state. Just when
the most capacity is needed, the passive IM level can rise up and interfere
with normal base station operation. The result can be a receiver desensitisation
that is independent of the receivers noise floor.
Although most wireless transmit and receive frequency bands are carefully
selected to avoid landing the largest IM products within the receive band,
higher order IM productsthe fifth, seventh and ninth orderdo
land within some communication bands. More frequently, IM products from
a nearby or co-located competitors site can become troublesome sources
What causes passive IM?
There are several component-based sources of passive IM and unfortunately
their effect can be additive to the systems intrinsic passive IM.
Non-linear devices or materials present an ideal passive IM generation
source. These can include: ferrous metals in RF paths; poorly connected
or aligned parts; poor mechanical junctions; dissimilar metals in direct
contact; poor quality or contaminated component plating and bad solder
Component-level passive IM generation can be minimised during the component
design and production stage by ensuring proper plating, good materials
and avoiding ferrous content materials. Other factors such as the quality
of connector alignment and torquing, cable connector assembly, and mechanical
connections can be controlled during base station installation and maintenance.
Despite the best attempts to minimise these effects, the deployment of
poor quality components in the outside environment can lead to deterioration
of the systems passive IM performance.