ComNet's George Lichtblau talks fiber optics

SecurityInfoWatch.com recently caught up with George Lichtblau, a long-time developer and business man in the area of fiber optic signaling systems. Lichtblau founded IFS (International Fiber Systems) in 1986, and then sold that prospering business to General Electric in the spring of 2003. Now, five years later, Lichtblau is back in the world of fiber optics with his new firm ComNet (Communications Networks). He's developed new products that use new designs and transmission theories for fiber optic cabling, and he's also looking at Ethernet-based transmission systems. In a quick interview, Lichtblau talks about technology changes like how IP video is driving fiber optic installations and what's happening with his new company.

SecurityInfoWatch: Is fiber optics technology still rapidly changing? If so, what's new?

George Lichtblau/ComNet: In the point-to-point application, there are no new methods of transmitting signals over fiber; there still is amplitude modulation, frequency modulation and digitally encoding. But recently, there have been changes to component availability that have brought big advances to the way you can send a signal over fiber. For example, many of the products that I designed at IFS and are still sold today. They are from designs done in the 80s. They are still good solid designs, but things changed in 20 years.

Back then we had to use two fibers on a lot of products because using Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) to transmit and receive on one fiber was cost prohibitive. Now, it's become more affordable. With the new ComNet line, the majority of our products are one-fiber designs and we sell them at the same cost as most competitors' two-fiber designs. This saves the installer time and money. It also frees up the end user to have a free fiber available for another application.

Many of our readers, as you might expect, are very familiar with IFS and its product line. What's going to be different with ComNet?

That's an interesting question to have an answer for. With GE's recent announcement of the integration of IFS into GE Security, going forward, the IFS your readers are familiar with is disappearing and will be very, very different. So, most certainly ComNet will be much different than what IFS has become.

When I started in the fiber business back in 1986, what we did as a company was make what was considered a very technical product and make it easy for integrators and dealers to adopt. We took the mystery out of the product. It was a great formula then and still works today. As many of the big companies pull back from truly supporting their products the traditional way, ComNet is going the other way. ComNet will be comprised of a group of what I consider very talented people and ComNet customers will have a sustaining resource for all their communication and transmission product requirements. And we have wrapped the whole company around a very high level of customer service, technical support and overall competence.

I understand you'll be manufacturing and assembling product in the United States. Most security technology companies seem to be going the other way and are having product manufactured, assembled and packaged in Asia. Why are you bucking that trend and how can you make that work for the company?

We're doing that to uphold our promise to get ComNet products to our customers when they need them. One of the many ComNet advantages is having the product to you -- the customer -- when you want it. In order to do that, having the manufacturing, final assembly, test and packaging in your own control has a lot to do with being able to keep that promise. That's why we bought such a big building here in Danbury. When I owned IFS, we proved through careful planning and execution you could manufacture in the U.S. and still have a healthy successful company.

What you hear [about overseas manufacturing] is true about a global economy. This holds true especially in electronics. ComNet products are made of components. No company can make all its components and the reality of manufacturing today is that not all components can be domestically sourced. So many of those electronic components come in from overseas. I can understand why many security companies have complete product brought in from Asia from a cost perspective, but that adds a lot of variables that are beyond reasonable control that in the end can lead to a disappointed customer. I know from my past successes how to keep everything in balance, supply customers worldwide with quality products, support them, and have a successful company that just happens to produce their products in the U.S.A. It can be accomplished by finding good solid partners for your components and solid business relationships where all parties can succeed.

In announcing the company earlier this year, there was a hint of IP-based connectivity products that are to come. Can you shed some light on where ComNet is going in that space?

As the security industry turns to IP-based systems, using fiber for Ethernet is becoming commonplace for its greater bandwidth efficiencies. With many video security networks using managed Ethernet switches to manage network traffic and as an aggregation point with a Gigabit connection to the main network, fiber is the only medium that can handle the traffic over any appreciable distance.

At Gigabit rates, copper distance is confined to feet; with fiber it's miles. In those applications, the need for media conversion, insertion on to the network and network management on the edge is more important than ever. At ComNet, we've recognized where it's all going and in addition to our new point-to-point devices, we're introducing a full suite of hardened, warranted-for-life Ethernet network media converters, unmanaged and managed switches to accommodate this shift.

Our keystone Ethernet managed switch (CNGE3FE7MS) will feature 3 Gbps ports with seven 10/100 Mbps ports. This switch will give the user the opportunity to customize the switch by using Interchangeable Small Form Factor Pluggable Modules (SFPs). SFPs allow the user to tailor the switch to the application specifying the medium used (copper or fiber), number of fibers required and distance for both the Gbps and Mbps ports.

More info: You can find more info on Lichtblau's firm, ComNet, at www.comnet.net/.

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