29 February 2012 9:48:52 AM
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1 August 1981: MTV was launched at 12.01AM by broadcasting “Video Killed the Radio Star”, the chart-topping song by British synthpop group The Buggles. Yet ironically radio-over-fiber appears poised to resuscitate video-burdened networks at home and work. So has millimeter-wave photonics come of age?
The idea of transmitting radio frequencies via fiber channels dates back over two decades. Commercial interest in this field has emerged during the past five years as a low-cost solution for last-mile and last-meter delivery. Meanwhile DARPA's recently unveiled Fixed Wireless at a Distance program should provide a welcome funding opportunity for MMW proponents.
With commercial solutions now available for single- and multi-mode fibers, my academic curiosity is turning towards plastic optical fiber (POF). Alongside powerline and MIMO wireless techniques, demand for POF is growing as a conduit for multi-room TV and high-speed internet distribution.
Although I have read some promising papers recently on radio-over-POF it seems there remains much scope for innovation. Specifically, established wireless techniques such as digital pre-distortion, MIMO error correction and steerable antennae should be reconfigured for RF-over-POF deployment. (NB: A steerable antenna is a specific objective of the DARPA program.)
The photonics industry is not short of innovative methods for producing microwave signals. Mach-Zehnder modulation, dual-wavelength sources, four-wave-mixing and optically injection-locked lasers are among the most common. Yet many are constrained in terms of price or performance, i.e. modulation depth or tuning range.
Hopefully OFC/NFOEC 2012 will provide insight into forthcoming technical improvements that will enable MMW photonics to penetrate both telecoms and non-telecoms markets. Outside telecoms I foresee demand accelerating in neighboring applications such as security (e.g. concealed weapons detection), non-destructive testing, astronomy and biomedical applications.
Alas for the Buggles, its MTV debut was a classic one-hit-wonder. Let’s hope radio-over-fiber and millimeter-wave photonics has more staying more.
Dr David Nugent is Founder and CEO of Elucidare Limited, a boutique technology development and investment advisory business.