RF Photonic links (also called Microwave Photonic Links) are systems that transport radiofrequency signals over optical fiber. The essential components of an RF photonic link are the laser as a continuous-wave (CW) carrier, a modulator as a transmitter and the photodetector as a receiver. A low-noise amplifier is often used before the modulator.
Optical fiber boasts much lower loss over longer distances compared to coaxial cable, and this flexibility of optical fiber is one advantage over conventional microwave links. Another advantage of RF photonic links are their immunity to electromagnetic interference, which plays a more significant role in electronic warfare (EW) applications. RF Photonic links are employed in telecommunications, electronic warfare, and quantum information processing applications, although the performance requirement in each of these situations vary. In telecommunications, a high bandwidth is required, while in EW applications having high spurious-free dynamic range (SFDR) and a low noise figure (NF) is critical. In quantum information processing applications, a low insertion loss is critical.
In EW scenarios, unlike in telecommunications, the expected signal frequency and signal power is unknown. This is because typically, an RF photonic link is found as a radar receiver. In a system with high SFDR and low NF, distortion is minimized, the radar has stronger reliability and range, and smaller signals can be registered. Here is a demonstration of two scenarios with different SFDR and NF:
Low SFDR, High NF:
High SFDR, Low NF: