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An Interview With Vinod Chitkara

Vinod Chitkara is Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales at Narda Microwave-East, a supplier of active and passive components, subsystems, modulator drivers, and other components for lightwave and RF safety systems.

MRF: Narda manufactures products for the defense industry. What is your view of the defense market in 2009?
The health of the defense industry is important to Narda, which had its best year ever in 2008 due in large measure to our sales of products for defense applications. The military is in the process of upgrading existing radar, electronic warfare (EW), countermeasure, and terrestrial and satellite-based communications systems as well as deploying new ones. These systems must deliver greater performance and higher functional integration in smaller packages and at less cost than ever before. Achieving advances in these areas has been a key focus at Narda for years. We're confident that our efforts will continue to be rewarded in the years ahead.
Cost reduction is obviously a major driver of these programs. How has this affected Narda's development efforts?
While the cost pressure in the development of defense products is not as intense as it is in the commercial market, the Department of Defense (DoD) expects systems to be highly cost effective while delivering more performance than their predecessors. Narda has made dramatic changes to how its subsystems are designed and manufactured. For example, our latest generation of MIC subsystems, called Ultimate MIC, is smaller, lighter, consumes less power, delivers greater performance, and is more easily customized and manufacturable in larger volumes than earlier generations. In addition, L-3 Communications has owned its own manufacturing in San Jose, Costa Rica for eight years. Narda uses this facility to produce its existing designs, which has significantly reduced manufacturing cost.
What are some of the enhancements that Narda has made to the Ultimate MICs as well as to its products based on surface-mount technology (SMT)?
RF and microwave circuits are fighting for space and power with signal processing and other subsystems within a given enclosure, which is why system integrators demand higher functional integration and lower power consumption across the board. The Ultimate MICs and SMT products are being designed to satisfy these needs. Our Ultimate MIC design and fabrication techniques are constantly undergoing changes as we find new ways to wring out size, weight, and cost. We have optimized our SMT assemblies by addressing nearly every aspect of their design right down to the materials level. This has resulted in what we call the Ultimate SMT family of products, for which the overall goal was to remove large amounts of the machining and touch labor needed to manufacture them. We have also removed much of the metal required to house them as well as the hardware needed to secure their sections.

We are also using FR4 circuit-board material rather than microwave laminates whenever possible, which further reduces cost and brings fabrication into the mainstream of printed-circuit-board (PCB) assembly. We have taken the results of this effort to reinvent some of our existing designs including our L-band transceiver designed for satcom systems using a 70-MHz intermediate frequency (IF). The converter lets designers interface with single-band, tri-band, or quad-band block converters. It upconverts or downconverts signals between the 70-MHz IF and the entire band from 950 MHz to 2 GHz. Its output frequency can be any point within the band.

We have created products including Ku-band block upconverters and downconverters that are small enough for manpack systems, although their design makes them easy to customize for vehicle-mounted applications at Ku-band or other frequencies.

MRF: Narda has been manufacturing products for lightwave systems for several years. Is there anything new?
Chitkara: The development efforts taking place in lightwave communications technology are finally moving toward production. The actual requirement for greater data capacity is catching up with the need perceived earlier in the decade, but it took until now to appear. Fortunately, Narda has been developing modulator drivers to meet these requirements: first at 40 Gb/s and soon at 100 Gb/s. Our new 40-Gb/s lithiumniobate modulator driver, the FO-MDA- 40-25G-1, is designed for the 300-pin multi-source-agreement transponders in differential-phase-shift-keying (DPSK) long-reach 40-Gb/s systems. It uses three-stage MMIC amplifiers that we developed for this application.

For our next generation of drivers, we've taken the same approach as we have for our MIC and SMT assemblies by rethinking the way they are designed and fabricated from the ground up. We're using new laminates as well as FR4 and fabrication techniques that allow us to dramatically reduce size, weight, and cost by eliminating heavy, expensive metal packages. So we're getting the metal out, so to speak, which has big advantages. The first product is a 40-Gb/s driver for non-return-to-zero (NRZ) applications. It has eye-diagram performance close to that of our larger current products, but in a form factor that is only one-quarter the size and weight.
One of the company's strong points has historically been its large number of "catalog" products that are available from stock. Are these products still a major driver of Narda's sales?
They are and continue to be vital to our success. We have almost 1000 standard passive component products that are available for immediate deliverymore than any other RF and microwave manufacturer. And we add new ones on a regular basis. They range from the simple terminations to power dividers, phase shifters, solid-state and electromechanical switches.
The RF radiation safety market doesn't get much publicity except for sporadic attention in the media. Is radiation safety still on the minds of the FCC, wireless carriers, and broadcasters?
Chitkara: RF radiation safety is as important as ever and media coverage of the topic is superficial at best and factually wrong at its worst. The question of whether extremely low levels of nonionizing radiation can cause harm to people remains contentious and politically charged. However, focusing only on this single element of RF safety misses the point, which is that exposure to high levels of electromagnetic radiation can be harmful and measures should be taken to protect people in areas where it is present. They range from rooftops where antennas are improperly located, accessible, and unmarked to broadcast towers and industrial environments in which equipment like heat sealers is used. There are thousands of these locations throughout the US and many are far from achieving compliance with RF safety rules from the FCC, OSHA, or both.

Becoming compliant requires that an organization create and follow an RF safety program, which seems complex. However, we provide a lot of information about RF safety programs on our web site including an 18-page guide that leads you through the process of establishing one. We also offer online training and conduct seminars throughout the country every year.
Are there new developments at Narda in radiation safety products?
We have made major changes to our RF-safety-analysis instruments that make measurements easier and allow more information about the tests for be recorded and documented with precision. Our SRM-3000 frequencyselective radiation meter remains the only narrowband instrument that can solve what has been the major obstacle to gathering data at co-located sites. That is, when there are multiple emitters at a site, it was impossible to make measurements on each one without turning off all of the emitters and then selectively turning them back on and measuring each one. This is impossible in most cases and is why so many organizations have thrown up their hands in frustration. The SRM-3000 measures all emitters simultaneously without interrupting operation, identifies each one, and provides accurate data about their field strength, contribution to the total emissions value at a site, and the percentage of its contribution to the applicable standard.
Narda has initiated an advertising campaignunusual in this industry that addresses the "uncertain" economic situation and restricted budgets and Narda's ability to address them. Why did the company choose to deliver this message, and is it more than a marketing effort?
The position most companies are taking is to ignore the state of the economy in their advertising, even though it is a huge issue for design teams at companies of every size. We choose to face this situation head on because Narda offers benefits for designers faced with trying to get their products out the door faster and at less cost. Our company prides itself on its long-established reputation for being a reliable link in the supply chain through the supply of catalog and custom parts. Also, Narda backed by the resources of L-3 Communications is continuing to invest in new products and programs.

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