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Signal processing and communications theory

Coming from a signal processing and communications theory background, but with some experience in power design, I can't resist the urge to chime in with a few remarks.

There are many engineering methods to deal with sources of interference, including noise from switching converters, and spread spectrum techniques are simply one more tool that may be applied to achieve a desired level of performance.

Spread spectrum techniques will indeed allow a quasi-peak EMC test to be passed when it might otherwise be failed. Is this an appropriate application for this technique?

The quasi-peak detector was developed with the intention to provide a benchmark for determining the psycho-acoustic "annoyance" of an interference on analog communications systems (more specifically, predominantly narrow band AM type communication systems). Spread spectrum techniques resulting in a reduced QP detector reading will almost undoubtedly reduce the annoyance the interference would have otherwise presented to the listener. Thus the intent was to reduce the degree of objectionable interference and the application of spread spectrum meets that goal. This doesn't seem at all like "cheating" to me; the proper intent of the regulatory limit is still being met.

On the other hand, as earlier posters have pointed out, the application of spectrum spreading does nothing to reduce the total power of the interference but simply spreads it over a wider bandwidth. Spreading the noise over a wider bandwidth provides two potential benefits. The most obvious benefit occurs if the victim of the interference is inherently narrowband. Spreading the spectrum of the interference beyond the victim bandwidth provides an inherent improvement in signal to noise ratio. A second, perhaps less obvious, benefit is that the interference becomes more noise like in its statistics. Noise like interference is less objectionable to the human ear than impulsive noise but it should also be recognized that it is less objectionable to many digital transmission systems too.

However, from an information theoretic perspective the nature of the interference doesn't matter, but rather only the signal to noise ratio matters. Many modern communication systems employ wide bandwidths. Furthermore they employ powerful adaptive modulation and coding schemes that will effectively de-correlate interference sources (makes the effect noise like); these receivers don't care whether the interference is narrow band or wide band in terms of bit error rate (BER) and they will be effected largely the same by a given amount of interference power (in theory identically the same, but implementation limitations still provide some gap to the theoretical limits).

It is worth noting however that while spectrum spreading techniques do not reduce the interference power they don't make it any worse either. Thus these techniques may (I would argue legitimately as per above) help with passing a test which specified the CISPR Quasi-Peak detector and should not make the performance on a test specifying the newer CISPR RMS+Average test any worse.

It should always be an engineering goal to keep interference to a reasonable minimum and I would agree that it is aesthetically most satisfying (and often cheapest and most simple) to achieve this objective by somehow reducing the interference at source (this is a wide definition covering aspects of SMPS design from topology selection to PCB layout and beyond). However, the objective to control noise at the source shouldn't eliminate alternative methods from consideration in any given application.

There will always be the question of how good is good enough and it is the job of various regulatory bodies to define these requirements and to do so robustly enough such that the compliance tests can't be "gamed".

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