Questions and Answers From the Top

A conversation with George Lichtblau

Have you every wondered if the entrepreneurial spirit is still alive and well in the security industry? Well, it is, and to prove it, we talked with George Lichtblau, chairman of newly organized and recently launched ComNet. The company is a fiber optic interface provider that understands the best solution for transporting video and data.

Q.In the 1980s, you started what went on to become the highest profile and most successful fiber optic transmission product company in the security and IT markets, International Fiber Systems. What did you do differently that allowed IFS to become so successful?

A.IFS started as a fiber optic interface provider to the factory automation market in the mid-1980s. It was a natural extension to the data transmission and eventually the video transmission requirement that was inherent to the security market. Fiber optic transmission is still the best solution for transporting video and data. What we did as a company was make what was considered a technical product and make it easy for integrators and dealers to adopt. We took the mystery out of the product. We were one of the first to introduce a design center to show everyone how easy fiber is to use, and our sales team did a great job demonstrating how costeffective a solution it really is. We wrapped the company around a high level of customer service and overall competence. It was a great formula then, and it still works today.

Q.IFS seemed to come out of nowhere, and it grew to be successful. It was the company the market seemed to turn to for transmission innovation, and it had a great reputation. Then at the height of success in 2003, you sold it all to GE Security.Why?

A.That’s all true, and looking back, GE pursued the company and made a tremendous offer. I was still weighing what impact these big conglomerates were going to have on mediumsized companies and came to the conclusion that it was in the best interest of IFS and my employees to be a part of what had the potential to be an industry force. We had a great formula for a successful company, and GE, already having acquired what was Fiber Options with their acquisition of Interlogix, would certainly have a plan for the company that would allow that recipe to succeed.

Q.How did that plan work out for the company?

A.The formula for success was different. There were numerous times over the years that I even offered to buy IFS back.

It’s hard to believe the big companies jump into an industry and expect the market to bend to the way they choose to do business instead of adapting their ways to the expectations of the people who actually buy their products.

Q.You started another company, ComNet. After being on the sidelines for a few years, what made you decide to get back into the market?

A.After watching the leveling off of the advancement of fiber optic and all transmission technologies for the security market, it became easy for me to identify why this was happening. It also was surprising to me that no other company really stood up and chased after the opportunity. There wasn’t the new product development the market expected. After my offer to buy back IFS was declined, it wasn’t that hard to see the opportunity. This is capitalism at its best. You identify a need in the market and provide a solution, a place for everyone to turn. So we started ComNet in September 2007. The market for signal transmission and communications products has gone through a major evolution over the past four years. Signal transmission is turning from traditional point-to-point to IP or Ethernet. While Ethernet is a protocol, not a medium like fiber optic, most of these Ethernet and IP-based devices are best used with a high-bandwidth medium such as optical fiber.

We are positioning ComNet as a total communication and network transmission product solution provider. In addition to traditional fiber optic video and data products, we’ll have hardened Ethernet and wireless product lines.

Q.Now that we are in the middle of this convergence of IT and physical security, how does a new company such as ComNet compete with the big Ethernet and networking companies from the IT sector?

A.Believing we can take on and compete with these huge companies from that sector is extremely optimistic. Instead, I believe our success will be providing network equipment that operates on the edge—that is, out in unconditioned environments where a hardened product is needed. That is where temperature, shock and vibration are factors and reliability is critical. Our network products will operate in those applications and then collect and insert onto larger networks. It also is one of the most complete in the industry.

Q.Is ComNet primarily an Ethernet networking company?

A.While Ethernet products are going to be a large part of our product offering, the ComNet engineering staff is going full speed on developing that line. There still is a big demand for traditional point-to-point fiber optic products. Looking back, a large segment of the IFS product line comes from designs we developed over the past 20 years. Our new line started with a clean sheet of paper.

There are thousands of modern components now available that allow ComNet to deliver a modern product offering. The ComNet product line is now 95 percent digital, single fiber- and laser-based versus the older analog AM and FM product lines. By going to the one fiber design, you are eliminating having to use two fibers, and that is a big installation cost reducer. Using lasers translates to better distances and greater system design flexibility. It’s been a great challenge and a lot of fun designing this product line, and now it’s easily the top-performing and best value available. This line is so strong that ComNet will offer a lifetime warranty.

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