AraLight Cuts It Short

Set to unveil its first product at OFC, AraLight is only too glad to come up short on optical modules

March 6, 2002

4 Min Read
AraLight Cuts It Short

AraLight Inc., a startup aiming to speed up the inner workings of optical networking gear, says it's set to unveil its first product at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exhibit (OFC). And it looks to be on the edge of a trend.

AraLight, founded in September 2000 as a spinoff of the Bell Labs division of Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), emerged on the scene just prior to last year's OFC, when it announced plans to use a patented technique to marry Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers (VCSELs) on gallium arsenide chips with silicon integrated circuits (see Lucent Spins Out Laser Startup). Now AraLight says it's got the goods.

Specifically, AraLight's offering a device it says will help makers of networking gear such as routers or grooming switches to avoid bottlenecks inside their boxes.

"Denser switch chips have created an I/O bottleneck at the backplane," says AraLight CEO Ashok Krishnamoorthy. He says that as boxes start to combine multiple functions, as switch chips get faster, and as bandwidth increases in the network, equipment like routers and switches need to speed up their internal input/output capabilities. Otherwise, all the external improvements are a moot point.

AraLight's new product is designed to offer very short reach (VSR) links for this backplane market. It is a 36-channel module designed for singlemode 850nm fiber ribbon, each channel of which runs at up to 3.125 Gbit/s for an aggregate capacity of 112.5 Gbit/s. The module is designed to create a high-speed link between line and switch cards in networking gear such as optical grooming switches.

aralight.jpgToday, says Krishnamoorthy, most OEMs are accustomed to modules that offer just 12 channels at about 2.5 Gbit/s apiece.

AraLight's not going to be alone at OFC, however. Its chief competitor is shaping up to be Xanoptix Inc., which is also targeting the VSR interface market. Xanoptix has already announced a 72-channel connector that it claims has an aggregate rate of 245 Gbit/s (see Xanoptix Lands Cash, Launches Product). Other vendors, including Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) and TeraConnect Inc., also are said to be forging into this space.

"I think we'll start to see more activity in [the short-reach interface] market later this year, with considerable volumes next year," says Alexander Hagemann, CEO of Schott Optovance Inc., which makes VCSELs aimed at the likes of all the new interconnect players.

How does AraLight aim to distinguish itself in this increasingly competitive market? Several ways, says Krishnamoorthy (who was glad we asked). Primarily, he claims AraLight has lower power dissipation and special per-channel performance monitoring features in its modules. "We don't just bring customers a big fat pipe, we bring them an intelligent fat pipe."

AraLight also claims its method of integrating lasers, detectors, and modulators directly onto the surface of silicon circuits makes for more efficient manufacturing. That method, which deploys a technique called "microbump flip-chip bonding," calls for lasers to be matched to tiny bumps on circuit boards. That tack is part of a sizeable intellectual property package that AraLight took with it from Bell Labs, a package that includes more than 75 patents.

Of course, the relative merits of all the new interconnect modules remain to be tested in the real world. Among the unknowns is just how pricing will play out amongst the competitors, an issue on which Krishnamoorthy declines to comment.

And AraLight's just at the start of that process, with two unnamed beta customers and other design wins in the pipeline. The product itself won't be generally available until year's end.

Krishnamoorthy says AraLight is in line for new funding but has sufficient funds from its initial round to hold it through the shipment of its product. The company continues to have a tiny staff, just 25 employees (three less than it had last year), and Krishnamoorthy, originally billed as CTO, took the helm of CEO last April, when Michael Camp left. Camp remains on AraLight's board.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.comFor more information on OFC 2002, please visit:

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