Blue Leaf: From Gas to Glass

Startup previously involved in gas-detection systems may be developing VCSEL technology for optical networks

August 8, 2001

3 Min Read
Blue Leaf: From Gas to Glass

Blue Leaf Networks thinks there's an opportunity to turn some of its expertise in gas and air into optical networking -- and we're not just talking about a marketing plan.

The company, which officially changed its name from Informed Diagnostics this summer, used to focus on cavity ring-down spectroscopy, which uses lasers to detect traces of certain gases in the air. It was targeting markets related to medical diagnosis, consumer health, security, and scientific research.

The company now looks to be migrating its laser technology to telecom applications. Informed Diagnostics was working on VCSEL (vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser) technology in the mid-infrared frequency range, which is about 2000 to 3000 nanometers (2.0 to 3.0 microns). While this laser operates at much longer wavelengths than those used in telecom applications, which range from 850nm to between 1310nm and 1550nm, it is conceivable that the renamed company could shorten its wavelength capabilities to target telecom applications.

"There is some overlap between what they were doing in gas detection and telecom applications,” says Frank Tittel, professor of electrical engineering at Rice University in Houston, who participated in a conference set up by Informed Diagnostics in June in St. Petersburg, Russia. "I guess their investors saw more potential in telecom than in healthcare."

The company isn't divulging much -- the Silicon Valley startup is so stealthy its phone number isn’t even listed in the phone book. It doesn't even have a Website. Blue Leaf is backed by Greylock and Weston Presidio Capital.

Light Reading has heard through its sources that the company could now be working on 1310nm to 1550nm VCSELs. This is a hot area, because lasers functioning in this wavelength range promise to increase transmission distances and reduce the costs of telecom equipment.

Currently, there are only three announced companies using a VCSEL approach to play in the 1550nm tunable laser market: Applied Optoelectronics Inc. (AOI), which just last week announced a $10 million second round of funding, Bandwidth9 Inc., and Coretek, which was bought by Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) (see Startup Makes Waves in VCSEL Market). There are also only a handful of companies that claim to be working on 1310nm lasers, including Cielo Communications Inc. (see Cielo Pushes the Limits on Lasers).

System companies buying these lasers are interested in the longer-wavelength VCSELs because they can significantly extend the distance that light can be transmitted. For example, a typical 850nm laser transmits light about 300 meters, whereas longer-wavelength lasers in the 1310nm to 1550nm range can transmit light anywhere from 40 kilometers to 140 kilometers. Longer-reach optics means fewer moving parts in a system, which ultimately reduces system and operational costs.

But longer-reach VCSELs aren’t easy to develop. The biggest issue for companies developing this technology is finding a way to manufacture large quantities without sacrificing product performance.

So far, the company hasn’t commented on its specific plans or on the amount of funding it has raised, and it's stingy on information about its management team. But Charles Chi, general partner at Greylock and a Blue Leaf board member, confirmed a few names on the executive list. Paul Detering, the former president and CEO of Wildfire Communications and former Nortel executive, is Blue Leaf’s CEO. The company has also brought two former Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) executives on board: Kelly Ahuja, former optical product line manager and director of marketing, and Larry McAdams, a former optical networking product manager focused on DWDM interoperability with IP routers.

- Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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