 # How to Detect a Carrier Lock in an SDR By

We have discussed before the effect of a phase offset on the received signal. We have also seen a logical approach to solve this problem as well as one of the earliest algorithms for phase synchronization known as a Costas loop. Here, the purpose is to explain how a Rx detects whether the Phase Locked Loop (PLL) has acquired the lock.

A receiver is simply a blind machine which can implement a PLL but can never get to know how it is actually doing. A lock detector is a logic signal used in the Rx to indicate successful synchronization after which the demodulation process can be started. There are many other uses of a lock detector as follows.

• It helps the Rx in keeping track of a signal loss due to fading and re-acquisition when the signal returns.
• A PLL tends to use different parameters (or even different algorithms in a software defined radio) during acquisition as compared to during tracking.
• A non-data-aided version of an algorithm might be employed during acquisition while a switch to decision-directed mode of the same is made after the lock is achieved.

Therefore, a Rx needs a reliable indication of the lock state for carrier and timing recovery. This is usually implemented through comparing a lock metric with a threshold and forming a hypothesis based on their difference. The averaging over many symbols can be implemented in either a feedforward manner or a feedback fashion while the threshold $\lambda$ is computed based on the minimum tolerable phase offset.

For a BPSK signal, we know that a phase rotation reduces the amplitude in the $I$ arm while injecting this power into the $Q$ arm. A perfectly locked PLL should have all the energy in its $I$ arm, as shown in the figure below. Utilizing this observation, we can construct a carrier lock detector from the matched filter outputs $z(mT_M)$ by taking the difference between $|z_I(mT_M)|$ and $|z_Q(mT_M)|$, averaging it over a long interval and then comparing it against a threshold $\lambda$.
\begin{equation*}
\text{LD}(\theta_\Delta) = \sum \limits _{m=0}^{N_d-1} \Big\{|z_I(mT_M)|-|z_Q(mT_M)| \Big\}
\begin{cases}
\ge \lambda & \quad \text{PLL in lock} \\
\end{cases}
\end{equation*}

This strategy will not work in the case of a QPSK modulation because both $I$ and $Q$ arms contain the signal energy from the modulated symbols. This energy should be equal in the case of a zero $\theta_\Delta$ and hence a zero difference between the two can be taken as an indication of lock. For this purpose, a threshold $\lambda$ close to zero can be chosen.
\begin{equation*}
\text{LD}(\theta_\Delta) = \sum \limits _{m=0}^{N_d-1} \Big\{|z_I(mT_M)|-|z_Q(mT_M)| \Big\}
\begin{cases}
\le \lambda & \quad \text{PLL in lock} \\
Instead of an absolute value, a magnitude squared operation can also be employed. Notice that the above lock detectors operate in a non-data-aided fashion. We can also design their decision-directed counterparts utilizing $\hat a[m]$.