Princeton Lightwave Comes Out

A trickle of news is starting to come out of the secretive laser startup

March 6, 2001

4 Min Read
Princeton Lightwave Comes Out

Like a turtle slowly edging out of its shell, Princeton Lightwave Inc. has finally emerged from stealth mode and has begun to tell bits and pieces of its story. But it’s still keeping much of the juicy stuff to itself.

Yesterday the active optical component startup sent out a press release claiming it has a slew of new products, customers, and even revenue (see Princeton Lightwave Emerges ). But that’s where it ends. The company gives no details of who is buying what or how much revenue it has been able to generate, nor so much as a word about which products it’s introducing.

“We really just wanted to get our name out there so people will have heard of us when we start announcing products,” says Pamela York, vice president of corporate development for Princeton Lightwave.

But after a little prodding, York briefly shared the company’s strategy for the next year. In 2001, it plans to focus on four product areas using an indium phosphide-based integration platform: high-power pumps for the 1480 nanometer and 14xx nanometer pump laser market for both erbium doped amplifiers and Raman amplification; Broadband Gain Chip sub-assemblies for tunable lasers; and high-power distributed feedback (DFB) network source lasers.

The first product the company plans to announce is the Broadband Gain Chip. This product has been selling commercially since last spring and is the only product contributing to the “several” million-dollar revenue stream that York claims the company generated in 2000. While the company won’t divulge its customers, it will say that companies like Agility Communications Inc., Iolon Inc., and New Focus Inc. (Nasdaq: NUFO), which are developing tunable lasers, would be likely candidates.

The high-power pumps used in 1480nm pump lasers and in Raman amplification will be the next products to come out of the gates. According to York, the company has already shipped sample chips to be tested and expects to be producing them in volume in the fourth quarter of 2001. The source lasers will be the last products introduced. They won’t be in sample trials until around April and won’t be shipping in volume until early 2002.

More details about the actual products will be announced in the next couple of weeks leading up to the OFC conference in Anaheim, Calif., adds York.

So what else is known about Princeton Lightwave? The company, which is located in central New Jersey, was officially launched in April of last year and currently has a staff of 25 engineers, who have developed more than 40 patents. In May 2000, its five founders, who were all formerly with Sarnoff Corp., raised $28.5 million in funding from Venrock Associates, Morgenthaler Ventures, U.S. Venture Partners, and their alma mater, Sarnoff.

Last June, the company scored a big win when it hired ex-Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) executive John Pittman as its CEO (see Nortel's Head Of Optical Components Quits). But six months later he left the company to head up Agere Systems Inc., Lucent Technologies Inc.’s (NYSE: LU) new optical spinoff. Greg Blonder, a partner at Morgenthaler, has stepped in as the interim chairman and CEO until the company finds a permanent replacement.

“He came from Nortel where he helped run this $2 billion organization,” says York. “I think that Princeton Lightwave just wasn’t what he thought it would be. He was a terrific leader and he did a lot of great things here, but he wasn’t happy in this kind of environment.”

But York says that even though Pittman had only been at Princeton Lightwave a short time, his work lives on at the company. Specifically, York credits Pittman with helping the company develop its operations and manufacturing systems, which will be in full swing by the end of the year, and for giving the company insight into the marketplace.

As far as competition goes, the company will be battling many of the same faces found in most areas of the optical component market, either directly by offering the same products or indirectly by offering competing technology. The most likely rivals are Agere, Corning Inc. (NYSE: GLW), JDS Uniphase Inc. (Nasdaq: JDSU), and Nortel. But the company can also expect competition from startups like nLight Photonics, Novalux Inc., and Alfalight Inc. (see Investors Pump $44M Into nLight ).

-- Marguerite Reardon, senior editor, Light Reading

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