As the Light Reading community well knows, nothing in the communications networking industry happens without the efforts of the components developers. As we like to say in the UK, chips are still very much on the menu.
As ever, we received a varied and compelling set of entries from companies seeking to win the prize awarded to the components company that "stands out from its competitors, innovates constantly, helps set the industry trends, makes investors proud, and makes employees happy."
Our five shortlisted companies in this category this year are:
The Leading Lights winners, and the identities of this year's Light Reading Hall of Fame inductees, will be announced at the Leading Lights Awards dinner, which will be held at the Pinnacle Club in Denver, on Monday, May 6, on the eve of the Big 5G Event. Find out about how to book a table and attend the awards dinner by clicking on this link.
Here are some details about the shortlisted entries in the category of Outstanding Components Vendor:
Acacia has continued to build on its heritage of delivering pluggable coherent optical interconnect modules that offer reductions in power, size and cost per 100G and which has enhanced the company's reputation in recent years.
That trend continued in late 2018 when it began shipping its AC1200 coherent module, built around its Pico DSP. That module, designed for "multi-haul applications including DCI/cloud, metro, long-haul and submarine," the company noted in its submission, "delivers up to 1.2 Tbit/s in a footprint 40% smaller than 5x7 modules supporting 400 Gbit/s today."
Big name system vendors, including ADVA, Cisco Systems, ECI Telecom based on AC1200 and the module was successfully used in the first 400G transmission across the 6,600-km transatlantic Marea Cable.
It continues to develop new products to meet the next-generation networking needs of system vendors and operators and plans to sample 400ZR modules, which will leverage its core DSP, silicon photonics and packaging capabilities, this year.
Finisar is one of the most recognized names in the optical components sector and is still one of the leading suppliers of 100/400G optical modules in the industry today. That's one of the reasons why it's still generating revenues at an annual run rate of more than $1.2 billion and why it's currenty in the process of being acquired by II-VI in a $3.2 billion deal.
But there are many strings to Finisar's bow. In July 2018 the company expanded its manufacturing capacity with the opening of a new facility in Sherman, Texas, that supports production of the company's VCSELs (Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers) and related 3D Sensing technologies. That site, which was developed with a $390 million dollar award from Apple's Advanced Manufacturing Fund -- Finisar's technology is a component of the iPhone X's TrueDepth camera system -- now employs hundreds of new employees, is operational and, according to Finisar, is "on track to become the most advanced VCSEL fabrication site in the world."
ProLabs is tackling the optical components market in a different way to many others, as it develops third party optical components that are compatible with more than 90 optical switching and transport platforms, providing an alternative source of components to the major OEMs. And as the company notes in its submission (and industry experts we spoke to agree), "third party optics are no longer a cheap option, they are a realistic choice."
The company, which says it is "committed to staying at the forefront of innovation in optical connectivity by providing the industry’s highest quality coupled with world class service," has for some time been offering 100G options to the industry and now, following a launch in London last November, is working on the "numerous options operators have in the lead up to 200G and 400G," including PAM4 modulation and new form factors such as QSFP-DD, OSFP and CFP8 and will start development on those technologies during this year and next.
And it's worth noting that, with energy efficiency is a big deal in transport networking circles, the move in recent years by ProLabs to develop "green" transceivers is significant. The company, in its Leading Lights submission, claims those 'green' products "consume 30% less power than traditional devices while offering the same great performance."
Every company in communications networking is looking for its role in the 5G revolution and Source Photonics has a better claim than many for planting a flag in the 5G hill.
It was in the leading pack of components specialists delivering optical transceiver products for 3G and 4G/LTE networks as data volumes grew and transport network requirements climbed the list of key technology considerations for mobile operators. Now the company "is continuously investing in expanding its portfolio of 5G products serving fronthaul, midhaul and edge applications," it notes. "The company’s broad portfolio of 25G, 50G, and 100G products transmitting between 300m and 40 km leverage several years of high-speed optical transceiver development and high-volume shipments into the wireless, data center and routing [sectors]," it adds.
To that end it launched its 50G QSFP28 LR in 2018 for the 5G mid-haul market and notes that the "PAM4-based, 28Gbaud product has been shipping in volume since the company released it in Q3 last year." In addition, the company has been focusing on 25G+ transceiver developments to meet the needs of operators that are seeking to increase fronthaul requirements from 10G to 25G as applications such as VR and AR start generating high volumes of traffic in access networks.
To support its ambitions and growth, the company, which continues to expand its 100G and now 400G product lines, closed an equity funding round of more than $100 million earlier this year to upgrade existing production facilities, add a new laser fab and ramp up its R&D.
With early 5G network deployments in production, one of the companies reaping the benefits is FPGA specialist Xilinx.
In February, the company enhanced its Zynq UltraScale+ Radio Frequency (RF) System-on-Chip (SoC) portfolio with greater RF performance and scalability to "cover the entire sub-6 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum, which is a critical need for next-generation 5G deployment."
In addition, at this year's MWC in Barcelona the company announced an expanded collaboration with Samsung Electronics that resulted in the world's first 5G New Radio (NR) commercial deployment, which was in South Korea. "As 5G standards continue to evolve, Xilinx is committed to helping customers accelerate innovation and drive the development of adaptable, intelligent infrastructure," the company added in its submission.
That 5G boost has helped Xilinx hit a revenue run rate of more than $3 billion per year, with recent quarterly sales up by more than 30% year-on-year.
— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading