Twenty Years of RF over Fiber
After 20 years of RF over fiber and announcing the shipment of our 10,000th RF over fiber link, we took the opportunity to mark both milestones by interviewing the company’s founder and CEO Neil Seager.
When did you start manufacturing RF over fiber equipment?
Twenty years ago! We acquired Essex-based company Electro Optic Developments (EOD) in 1995 and relocated the manufacturing here in Swindon, UK. We could see the potential for the technology and EOD weren’t focused on the opportunities.
The first products were designed for test and measurement such as EMC compliance and high voltage testing – a market in which we are still known as Pulse, Power and Measurement (PPM). In 2000 we launched ViaLite Classic to support communications applications such as satellite ground stations and GPS antenna remoting.
In 2010, we launched the ViaLiteHD platform which includes a wider product range and additional capabilities such as AGC, remote monitor and control, plus blind mate connectivity.
What kind of applications use RF over fiber?
ViaLiteHD supports frequencies up to 4.2GHz with a variety of bandwidths. We supply a lot of L-band and IF links for satcom applications, UHF/VHF links for outside TV broadcast. GPS links are used to relay timing signals for applications like IT and cellular networks. The public safety system in the London underground has been using ViaLite for over a decade. We have got links installed in all six continents of the world – in the heat of the desert down to -40 degrees at the South Pole! Live sporting events are routinely broadcast using ViaLite links either to relay the live TV signals from wireless cameras back to the broadcast truck or as part of the satellite uplink.
Why did you start trading as ViaLite Communications?
We have three other business lines at PPM. ViaLite Communications is the only one that is branded separately. In 2012 we were looking to engage with more of the USA market. Our main distributor at the time was a limiting factor and so we established our own corporate presence there. We knew that in the USA there was much greater recognition of the ViaLite brand than of PPM so we decided to trade using the name ViaLite – not just in the USA, but globally.
What is the secret of your success?
There is no secret. We strive to offer the best solution in the field. That means the best product performance and configurability. Our design process has the customer at the center of the discussion. Every installation is different so we work closely with customers to configure a system which will do the job and fit within their budget. That includes system capabilities like DWDM, SNMP control and redundancy as well as functionality such as Ethernet, reference signals and serial data. We supply RF over fiber systems to all the biggest satellite operators in the world but we also supply a basic link to the guy who needs a timing reference for his IT network from a rooftop GPS antenna.
We are pushing the limits of the technology with ultra-long distance links. The capability to cover distances like 300km opens up a whole new set of possibilities. Satellite operators can connect ground stations together to borrow feeds during periods of maintenance or bad weather which is particularly important for satcom operators using Ka-band.
Where will ViaLite be in another 20 years ?
Ha! 20 years is a long time – I would say more customers, a wider range of applications and even better technology. We have a few research programs in progress to help keep us at the cutting edge. ViaLite may already be installed on all six continents but there are plenty more customers to work with in current, as well as new, applications.
There are still satellite ground station operators using copper coax who haven’t realized the possibilities of RF over fiber and the impact that can have on their service delivery. Right now, the most obvious emerging application is delivering very tight cellular network synchronization to support the interleaving of multiple data streams at the receiver. I am sure there will be new applications where RF over fiber can make a real difference. I expect we will be kept very busy for a long time to come!