Interview with Frédéric de Lippe from SHF Communication Technologies AG

  • Frédéric de Lippe - Head of Sales at SHF Communication Technologies

everything RF recently interviewed Frédéric de Lippe who is the Head of Sales at SHF Communication Technologies. SHF Communication Technologies AG develops, manufactures and sells components and measurement equipment for high speed optical communication.

Q. Can you give us a brief history of SHF Communication Technologies? How was the company formed and what was the aim?

Frédéric: SHF was founded in 1983 Berlin, Germany. At these days one of the two founders was working at a German research institute. For his work he needed a very fast broadband amplifier which was commercially not available. Therefore, he simply designed this amplifier on his own. Not much later he started to sell these amplifiers with the help of the second company founder who had a business to distribute satellite receivers. By this, the commercial and the high-frequency know-how came together and a successful business was started. 

When the internet started to evolve the demand for such broadband amplifiers as drivers for optical modulators or lasers rose dramatically. In the beginning SHF used commercially available MMIC and discrete transistors for its products. However, to have more influence on performance, availability and pricing SHF started to develop key MMIC on its own.

A few more years later when researchers worked at transmission speeds of up to 20 Gbps the SHF amplifiers needed to be tested with data signals. At this point history repeated itself and SHF staff developed the electronics because it was commercially not available. By this the first SHF Bit Pattern Generator came to light in 1996. 

Today, SHF is still in Berlin, still developing and producing the fastest amplifiers and pattern generators. The speed and the product portfolio have just become much faster and much broader.

Q. Can you tell us more about your product portfolio? Which product segment(s) is the largest for you?

Frédéric: Our product portfolio comprises of :

  • Bit Error Rate Testers (BERT),
  • Arbitrary Waveform Generation (AWG),
  • Synthesized Signal Generators (Synthesizers),
  • Broadband RF & Microwave Amplifiers,
  • Multiplexers (MUX) and Demultiplexers (DEMUX), Digital-to-Analog Converters (DAC)
  • Passive sub-millimeter wave components (e.g. bias tees, DC-Blocks) and
  • Coaxial RF cables and adapters from our Japanese partners KMCO and Totoku.

The biggest segments are all parts focusing on the very high speed. This means >= 110 GHz in terms of bandwidth and >= 200 Gbps in terms of data rates.

Q. What market segments do you cater to? Which is the largest segment for you?

Frédéric: SHF is focusing mainly on R&D customers. Most of our products are used in a laboratory environment. The biggest customer base are researchers who are doing optical communication. As the data rates in R&D are so fast, extremely broadband high frequency electronics are required. Besides this, there are many other research fields where wide bandwidth and therefore SHF products play an important role. 

Q. What made you decide to focus on the Test & Measurement sector?

Frédéric: SHF core competence and strength is ultra-fast electronics i.e., instruments and modules with large bandwidth. Laboratories which focus on the development of future technologies may require such high-speed Test & Measurement systems. In that sense our focus on Test & Measurement is a result of the unique capabilities we have. SHF is a medium-sized company and fits most to medium sized, highly specialized niche markets.

Q. What are Bit Error Rate Testers? What sort of measurements can be performed using these testers? Can you tell us about the bit-error-rate testers that you develop?

Frédéric: A Bit Error Rate Tester is basically comprised by two instruments: a Bit Pattern Generator (BPG), also known as Pulse Pattern Generator (PPG) and an Error Analyzer EA, also known as Error Detector (ED).

The BPG generates digital data streams. As these BPGs can be really fast they can simulate the full (internet) traffic in the magnitude of internet back bones or cities. These data streams are transmitted through a channel which comprises the devices the user wants to test. This can be single components or full links.

On the other end of this channel is the EA which samples the transmitted test data, synchronizes it to an internally generated correct reference and compares bit by bit. The result is the Bit Error Ratio (BER) which shows how many bits have been received incorrectly in relation to the entire data stream. A low BER is the ultimate proof that a digital transmission is successful.

Q. Can you tell us more about your BPG-based arbitrary waveform generators? What are their advantages over conventional AWGs?

Frédéric: A BPG classically transmits binary patterns only. If a BPG with multiple independently programmable synchronized channels is connected to a digital to analog converter (DAC) any waveform can be transmitted from the DAC. So, the BPG to DAC combination becomes an AWG. While it operates as an AWG, we managed to maintain the benefits of a BPG. Most prominently this means that the patterns or signals can be calculated logically without using any memory. This way, the patterns can be very long (up to at least 231-1) and there is no up-load time (which can be quite extensive for long user defined patterns).

Currently such systems are mostly used to generate PAM signals. Even with unequal eye openings or pre-emphases added, the patterns can be calculated logically (without the need of any memory). Still, the memory is there and can alternatively be used as with any other “conventional AWG”.

In addition such a modular approach offers the beauty to be very flexible. This is attractive for research institutes which do not focus on a single product development but can fit their test system to different needs by utilizing different modules as front end on a multi-channel Bit Pattern Generator.  

Q. Along with the measurement instruments and signal generators, SHF manufactures RF broadband amplifiers with gain/power/crossing control - Can you tell us more about these amplifiers and how they can be controlled?

Frédéric: For almost 40 years, SHF has been active in the design and production of broadband RF-microwave amplifiers. The outstanding performance makes our amplifiers suitable for a wide variety of applications in R&D. This includes not only optical communications, but also satellite communications, high-speed pulse experiments, data transmission, quantum communication, radar and antenna measurements.

In the increasingly important field of quantum technologies, SHF amplifiers are widely used to amplify pulses with extremely short rise and fall times. To transmit entangled photons, some commercially available electro-optical components of ‘classical optical communication’ are being utilized. For example, in quantum key distribution (QKD) experiments SHF amplifiers proved to be well suited as optical modulator drivers as in any other high-speed data communication scenarios.

Q. Can you tell us more about your manufacturing facility? How do you test your products? Is all the manufacturing and testing done in-house?

Frédéric: Everything where we know that we can utilize our unique competences is done by “our own hands” in our Berlin headquarters. Among others, this includes the final production, the testing and all engineering tasks. For example, for the ultra-fast output stages we are aiming for 100% of all key ICs to be SHF designs.

Some of the manufacturing steps are outsourced to contract manufacturing. This includes the PCB production and the pick and place of the lower speed components. As SHF is fabless we are also cooperating with different foundries for the production of our self-designed MMICs. 

Q. Does SHF offer standard catalogue products or do you develop custom products as well? What is the percentage breakup of the two in terms of revenue? If you develop custom solutions, can you tell us more about the process and timeline.

Frédéric:  SHF does offer the products shown on our web page. Due to the huge variety of different options and configurations, the products are made to order and tailored to the customer needs.  Quite regularly new products or options are developed based on specific customer requests. In fact, some of the best product ideas have been started this way.

Q. Who are your customers? Where are they located? Can you give us a percentage of geographical breakup by continent?

Frédéric: As mentioned, SHF is focusing on R&D customers and on the very broad bandwidth. Due to this, our customers are basically everywhere where research and development at very high frequencies (e.g., for very high data rates) is done. 

The majority of our customers is based in the European Union, in North America and in East Asia.

Q. Can you tell us more about your sales channels? Do your customers interact with you directly or do you have distributors/sales reps?

Frédéric: Customers in Europe are served directly from the headquarters in Berlin, Germany. For other countries we are working together with distributors and representatives who support our customers locally.

SHF is a rather small company and therefore some of the key engineers actually do also work in the technical support. This way our customers can benefit from a direct discussion with most knowledgeable staff members for a particular product. This is a huge advantage for our customers. 

Q. What does 2023 look like for SHF communication technologies? Are there any new products on the horizon?

Frédéric: During the last years we have recognized a shift to even higher frequencies. This means, with regard to bandwidth and RF connectors we see this as a transition from 67 GHz (1.85 mm connectors) to 110 GHz (1.0 mm connectors). Our latest developments, a 100 GHz amplifier or 110 GHz attenuators already show this. SHF will expand our activity in this area and new 110 GHz components and modules will be released in the future.

About SHF Communications

Since 1983 the SHF Communication Technologies AG develops, manufactures and sells components and measurement equipment for high speed optical communication. The development and production of bit pattern generators and error analyzers dates back to the year 1996. Since then, SHF has always been the first company introducing the next high speed category (e.g. 20 Gbps in 1996, 40 Gbps in 1998 and 60 Gbps in 2014).

Frédéric de Lippe is the Head of Sales at SHF Communication TechnologiesFrédéric graduated with a Diploma degree in Electrical Engineering, Communication Technologies and Business Administration from the Kiel University. In 2007 he joined SHF as a sales engineer and got promoted in 2012 as the Head of Sales.

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