Ignis Warms Up to WDM-PONs

Having quietly survived the telecom crash, passive components firm Ignis Photonyx AS is trying to boost its profile by focusing on WDM-PON.

The company will be part of the WDM-PON network being put together by LG-Ericsson Co. Ltd. at the European Conference on Optical Communication (ECOC) next week. (See Ignis Photonyx Demos at ECOC.)

Ignis claims to be the secret weapon behind those grand PON projects we keep hearing about in Asia. Granted, Ignis doesn't play the most glamorous role there. It makes power splitters, components that divide a signal into 8, 16, or 32 streams. Through Samsung Corp. , Ignis has supplied 95 percent of the splitters for South Korea's EPON networks, says Husain Imam, director of product management for Ignis.

That's surprising, considering competitors abound for this sort of thing. Splitters can be gotten from vendors including ANDevices Inc. , Gemfire Corp. , JDSU (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU), NTT Electronics Corp. (NEL) , and NeoPhotonics Corp. (NYSE: NPTN)

Imam credits a 2005 deal that gave Ignis a majority stake in Fi-ra Photonics, a Korean splitter manufacturer. Korean customers "rely on very local relationships," and Ignis now has an edge the others can't match, he says. (See Ignis Acquires Fi-ra .)

Competitors aren't so convinced. "We have a pretty strong presence in Korea," NeoPhotonics CEO Tim Jenks says. And while he says NeoPhotonics is "interested in looking at good M&A candidates," he adds that "it's kind of tertiary whether they're Korean."

Now, Ignis has begun touting WDM-PON as well, starting with a spliter shown at OFC/NFOEC in March. The technology, which uses DWDM to provide a full wavelength to each user, is slowly starting to move into the market, with startups like Novera Optics Inc. showing some progress in Japan and Korea. (See Ignis Demos WDM-PON Product, Novera's Got a New PON Spin, and Novera Teams With Lucent.)

Unrelated to Ignis Optics -- the 10-Gbit/s transceiver startup acquired by Bookham Inc. (Nasdaq: BKHM; London: BHM) -- Ignis Photonyx is the sum of several small deals during the past several years. Founded in 1993, Ignis Photonyx was a division of Danish conglomerate NKT Holding before being sold off to publicly held Ignis ASA in Norway. (See Bookham Buys Some More and Ignis Buys NKT Integration.)

So, Ignis (which from this point means Ignis Photonyx only) is headquartered in Norway with its manufacturing fab in Denmark. The company also has a pilot line in Montreal -- a JDSU castoff -- and the Fi-ra site in Korea.

All told, Ignis has 175 employees, so it's no spring chicken. Its revenues still look scrawny -- between $2 million and $3 million last year, Imam says. Fi-ra is a giant by comparison, with annual revenues running in the $10 million to $15 million range, Imam says.

But last year was the year of setting up new manufacturing agreements: Customers now commit to buying a certain amount quarterly, giving Ignis a steady revenue stream.

"Last year, we knew that the revenue numbers were going to be very low. But the revenues are coming," Imam says, with this year's figure expected to double last year's.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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