By Amair Khan, Business Development Manager, ViaLite Communications
Tell us about the company – when it was founded, by whom and with what objective?
ViaLite Communications is a division of Pulse Power and Measurement Ltd (PPM) which was founded in 1994 by Neil Seager, who still remains an active and key member today.
Operating out of its headquarters near Swindon UK, the company started out as a distribution business but developed further with manufactured technologies such as RF over Fibre (RFoF). RFoF has become a key product offering in all of the company’s manufacturing divisions.
Fill us in with how the company has developed and grown to the present day
ViaLite has grown significantly over recent years; working alongside key customers around the world, adding local offices in the USA and Thailand. It’s also set up a network of highly experienced channel partners across the major trading countries; they typically come from the satcom and communications markets.
The RF over fibre market is a competitive and buoyant place as it is widely used across satcom and wireless technologies including GPS / GNSS, broadcast television, cellular and wireless telemetry. Through constant product innovation and using skilled technical account managers and channel partners, ViaLite has continued to grow its customer base and market penetration. By 2016, ViaLite had installed its 10,000 fibre link.
PPM and ViaLite has continued to increase its headcount and investment into the employee capability, and PPM recently renewed its Gold Investors in People status. With a team of over 60 employees working from the PPM HQ and remotely, the engineering and development teams are defining the next generation of fibre links to meet future broadcast, satellite, defence, and time and synchronisation needs.
In 2021, the company was acquired by BAE Systems and has become a wholly owned subsidiary, giving PPM an owner which shares vision and synergies in high technology development and customer base. The acquisition further supports the growth PPM have seen in US sales in both the commercial and aerospace telemetry sectors.
Today ViaLite supplies RFoF to the top eight World Teleport Operators and many of the top broadcasters around the globe. Several sites now have in excess of 500 links installed already, connecting up hundreds of satcom antennas between the outdoor and indoor locations.
What are your typical sectors and how do you compare to the competition?
Broadcast, satcom, aerospace and time and synchronisation are the key areas which we regularly supply into. Our satellite and broadcast markets are probably the biggest areas where we supply products for satellite downlink and uplink where data and video is distributed across GEO satellite networks.
Broadcast is another strong market for ViaLite where customers take our RF over fibre modules and integrate them into their own equipment for wireless camera links. These camera links are often used for filming sporting events with video content being backhauled to the studio or the OB trucks for processing.
Our fibre links are used extensively in the broadcast area covering major sporting events such as the Olympics, motor sport, tennis, soccer, NFL, ice hockey and even sailing. The key suppliers we work with on broadcast prefer our products due to their dynamic range and also their small form factor which makes it easier for them to build the products into their chassis equipment or IP rated outdoor equipment.
The ViaLite links operate with low power consumption which gives them the added benefit of longevity when used with battery powered systems. – With the world going greener we have already given customers the option to use our products with approximately half the power consumption compared to others on the market.
The broadcast market is a very cost sensitive market where clients want to keep their capital expenditure as low as possible and use equipment over and over again to get the best return on investment of their kit. To help with this cost reduction we have developed certain products which offer flexibility and quick changeover. Our latest product is the Blue OEM 1U Chassis where modules can be fitted into this chassis as and when required, and also replaced quickly and easily with different frequency versions if needed. The unit itself runs on a 12V power supply supporting up to eight fitted fibre modules. Broadcasters like this solution as it only takes up 1U of space in a rack or in a OB truck where space is limited.
On top of this ViaLite has also developed a wideband frequency 6GHz RFoF module which is IP55 rated for outdoor use with an outdoor IP rated power supply. This product covers a wide frequency range and offers customers the ability to change settings using USB-C connectivity on the module. The module also comes with the ability to supply an antenna and can even monitor active antenna faults. Again, for deployable solutions, this is a quick and easy way to get up and running in a very short time; ideally suited for outdoor news crews where a fibre link may be needed quickly for breaking news stories.
A key achievement includes helicopter broadcast systems where during motor racing events the helicopter video link is backhauled using a network of trackside antennas which are fibered through to the video production desk. The organisation behind the highest class of international auto racing for single-seater formula racing cars, not only use our fibre links for broadcast but also incorporate them for trackside comms and wireless microphones.
Numerous broadcasters around the world use our fibre links to broadcast audio for shows where wireless microphones are used in studio or outdoor operations.
Time and synchronisation for the broadcast industry is becoming increasingly important, as part of our broadcast customer needs we also provide GPS/GNSS fibre links which provide signals to go into broadcast equipment such as sync pulse generators or NTP enabled time servers. This allows accurate time to be distributed within the establishment to support operations.
What is ViaLite’s philosophy and aim?
I’d say error free, reliable RF over fibre links and the best all round experience possible.
The broadcast industry continued its technology trajectory moving towards the higher definition broadcast and streaming television standards. Now, with 4K definition requiring throughput rates of 15 to 25 Mb/s, and 8K requiring 80 to 100 Mb/s – depending on frame rate, higher performance camera and backhaul equipment is needed. With these greater bit rate applications being asked for, ViaLite links are suitable to support 4K and 8K video transmissions which broadcasters are looking to deploy.
Who are your typical customers?
Customers include those integrating products into their broadcast setups, broadcasters themselves, OB truck operators, satellite uplink/downlink operators and global media operators.
Our customers include the BBC, ITV, SKY, NEP, Euromedia Group, CTV, Broadcast RF, Broadcast Wireless Systems, DTC, Broadcast Rental, Vislink, Videosys and Prestigne.
ViaLite also supplies most of the major teleport gateway customers globally, providing carrier grade links to support their television and broadband services.
Fantastic. Why do your customers choose you – what is your secret sauce?
ViaLite has been developing fibre links for over 26 years and we know what we are doing to achieve superior reliability, performance, small form factor and low power consumption. Our links offer the best dynamic range to allow low and high power signals to be transported over fibre easily. Our standard fibre modules have been developed to cover up to 10km, but we have the know-how and products to achieve much larger distances in the 100’s of km if required.
By providing RFoF links which can be used with batteries for deployable solutions our links retain their performance where no mains power may exist, allowing our customers to drop off equipment and run immediately. Events like marathons, rallying and cycling are typical events where this happens.
The winter and summer games are typical events where our fibre links can be used in varying climate conditions. The links retain their performance at temperatures around -25 °C and also at +50 °C! One of the main reasons why broadcasters use the links is that they can send the kit around the world, where climate conditions are different, and still rely on fully operational links and performance to match what they need.
What issues do you see in the market?
COVID has obviously affected many areas of daily personal life and business; outside broadcast and events were negatively impacted. The market has improved significantly over recent months, but we are still some way off global freedom to travel, and large scale sporting events have mostly national audiences.
COVID has also accelerated the adoption of internet and cellular based broadcast communications using OTT video applications. The quality may not be as good when comparing to the bespoke video broadcast we had traditionally pre-COVID, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the longer term with trade-offs between video quality versus bespoke or bit-rate limited connections.
As IABM members, what services do you most value and why?
Support through discounts when exhibiting at key shows - leaves some budget to spend elsewhere. Promotion in marketplace (news coverage on website and in social media, IABM Shop Window etc.).