RF Over Fiber Links

The basic principle of an RF over Fiber link is to convey a radio frequency electrical signal optically through modulation and demodulation techniques. This has many advantages including reduced attenuation over long distances, increased bandwidth capability, and immunity to electromagnetic interference. In fact, Rf over fiber links are essentially limitless in terms of distance of propagation, whereas coaxial cable transmission lines tend to be limited to 300 ft due to higher attenuation over distance.

The simple RFoF link comprises of an optical source, optical modulator, fiber optic cable and a receiver.


The RF signal modulates the optical signal at its frequency (f_opt) with sidebands at the sum and difference of the RF frequency and optical signal frequency. These beat against the carrier in the photodetector to reproduce and electrical RF signal. The above picture shows amplitude modulation and direct detection method. Also, impedance matching circuitry is generally included to match the ports of the modulator to the demodulator as well as amplifiers.

Before designing an RFoF link, it must be essential to bypass a transmission line in the first place. Will the system benefit from having a lower size and weight or immunity to electromagnetic interference? Is a wide bandwidth required? If not, this sort of link may not be necessary. It also must be determined the maximum SWaP of all the hardware at the two ends of the link. Another important consideration is the temperature that the link will be exposed to (or even pressure, humidity or vibration levels) that the link will be exposed to. The bandwidth of the RF and distance of propagation must be considered, finally.

The Following Figures of Merit can be used to quantify the RFoF link:


In dB, this is defined as the Signal out (in dBm) – Signal in (dBm) or 10log(g) where g is the small signal gain (gain for which the amplitude is small enough that there is no amplitude compression)

Noise Figure

For RADAR and detection systems where the input signal strength is unknown, Noise Figure is more important than SNR. NF is the rate at which SNR degrades from input to output and is given as N_out – kTB – Gain (all in dB scale).

Dynamic Range

It is known that the Noise Floor defines the lower end of dynamic range. The higher end is limited by spurious frequencies or amplitude compression. The difference between the highest acceptable and lowest acceptable input power is the dynamic range.

For example, if defined in terms of full compression, the dynamic range would be (in dB scale) : S_in.max – MDS. where MDS is the minimum detectable signal strength power.

Scattering Parameters

Scattering parameters are frequency dependent parameters that define the loss or gain at various ports. For two port systems, this forms a 2×2 matrix. In most Fiber Optic links, the backwards isolation S_12 is equal to zero due to the functionality of the detectors and modulators (they cannot perform each other’s functions). Generally the return losses at port 2 and 1 are what are specified to meet the system requirements.



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