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Optical/IP

Calient Secures MEMS Supplies

Calient Networks today announced an agreement to acquire Kionix Inc., a foundry that makes the arrays of tiny tilting mirrors that form the guts of its all-optical switch (see Calient Buys MEMS Maker).

The value of the deal hasn't been disclosed and is hard to pin down because the bulk of the transaction is in Calient stock, according to Charles Corbalis, Calient's CEO. However, Kionix is similar to BCO Technologies PLC, a foundry making similar types of MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) that was bought for $150 million a few months ago by Analog Devices Inc. (see Analog Devices Moves into MEMS).

Kionix makes MEMS using the same "bulk machining" method as BCO (see "Beam Me Up"). However, Kionix makes them out of solid silicon rather than the silicon-on-insulator used by BCO. As a result, while the vendors share an ability to make particularly stable, flat mirrors, Kionix claims to be able to make better actuators, the devices that move the mirrors. The solid silicon approach also results in lower manufacturing costs, according to Greg Galvin, Kionix's CEO and founder. At press time, Analog Devices was not available to comment on these claims.

Kionix's innovations in MEMS actuators have helped Calient develop a particularly dense optical switch, according to John Bowers, Calient's CTO. The switching fabric for a 256 by 256 port switch is no bigger than a sugar cube, according to Calient (see Calient Claims Breakthroughs On Optical Switches and Calient Responds To Skeptics).

Kionix holds nearly 80 patents for making MEMS and is one of the older MEMS foundries, having been founded in 1993. That means that it's already had experience manufacturing large volumes of MEMS devices such as inertia sensors for other industries -- a big practical bonus for Calient, according to Galvin.

Under its new owner, Kionix will be called Calient Optical Components and will continue supplying MEMS to customers other than Calient. "We're not currently supplying anybody that's a competitor of Calient," says Galvin.

Corbalis says the acquisition will secure Calient's MEMS supplies. A few months ago, Corbalis didn't think that was necessary (see Big Vendors Acquire MEMS Makers). Since then however, so many startups have started developing MEMS-based switches that he's changed his mind. "Back then," says Corbalis, "we didn't think we'd be standing in line with a bunch of other people trying to buy fab capacity."

-- Peter Heywood, international editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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