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When the RF input signal contains two or more discrete carrier frequencies, a mixing process occurs which results in intermodulation products displaced from the carriers at multiples of the difference frequencies. The power levels of these intermodulation products are dependent upon the relative power levels of the carriers and the linearity of the TWT. The two-tone third order intermodulation products (at 2F1 F2 and 2F2 - F1) are the most important because they are closest to the signal frequencies and largest in amplitude. At saturation, the separation of IM products from the fundamental is typically 10 dB. The amplitude of these products decrease 2 dB for every dB the power is backed down from saturation.

PIM32 x Back-off + 10 dB

The third order intercept point OIP3 is a figure of merit and is equal to the output power of each of the two tones when the third order IM separation is 0 dBc. Obviously, the TWT saturates before this point is reached but it can be calculated by projecting the single carrier and IM3 linear gain slopes to their intersection. The separation in dB of the intermod from carrier (at power Po) is more accurately given by:

PIM32 (OIP3-Pº)

An effect related to IM distortion is spectral regrowth. The name comes from the observation that band limited signals, after passing through a non-linear amplifier, often have components outside of the original band that the signal occupied at the input. This phenomenon is often encountered with a digitally modulated carrier. For example, with Quadrature Phase-Shift Keying (QPSK) modulation, the amplitude of the signal is theoretically constant. However, in the frequency domain, the signal occupies a relatively wide bandwidth. When a QPSK signal is filtered to limit its bandwidth, the sidebands furthest from the carrier are removed. The result is that in the time domain, the signal is no longer constant in amplitude, and AM / AM and AM / PM processes within the amplifier generate new sidebands. Typically, these "regrowth skirts" are separated 8 dB further from carrier than the two-tone IM3 products that would result with the same average carrier power, i.e., -18 dBc IM3 (4 dB back-off) roughly corresponds to -26 dBc spectral regrowth. Use of a predistortion linearizer with the TWT can allow comparable operation to within 2 dB of saturation. TWTs traditionally have been used for FM applications where they're operated to saturation and are typically so specified. SSAs, on the other hand, traditionally have been specified at their one dB compression point. As a result, the two cannot be compared at a given output back-off level. When specifying a power requirement it is best to specify the absolute output power required for a given level of IM3 distortion, spectral regrowth, or the OIP3. At this point, a SSA will operate closer to saturation but will not have the approximate 3 dB reserve "burn-through" capability of a TWT.

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