As 2001 draws to a close, Light Reading will be presenting some “Top 10” lists of things to remember this year by – covering everything from leaps forward in telecom technology to notable financial flops, as well as classic quotes and particularly snide and/or boneheaded remarks from our message boards and newsletters.
Our first list covers developments in the components market, in what we consider their approximate order of significance. Much of it's pretty gloomy (it's been a rough year), but important technology developments are still happening out there.
No. 10: Photonic crystals.
While the optical components industry has been in crisis this year, research into tomorrow's technologies has been roaring ahead. It's tough to pick out one particular development for a special mention, but what gets the geeks in Light Reading particularly excited is the work on incredibly tiny devices in crystal structures. This moves optics into a strange netherworld where the usual rules governing reflection and diffraction and ray tracing no longer apply. The hope is that it will sidestep the current difficulties of having to use different materials to make different types of device.
A startup working in this field, NanoOpto Corp., recently got the backing of some heavyweight VCs (see NanoOpto Thinks Small). Another startup, Denmark's Micro Managed Photons A/S , is doing similar things with thin gold films. Researchers also reported some significant advances in this field during 2001.
See: The Hole Thing, Twisty Crystal, and ECOC: Pick of the Papers.
No 9: Switching fabric blows hot and cold.
- Chip vendors started shipping off-the-shelf silicon for making STS1 grooming switches – giving system vendors like Nortel and Sycamore Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SCMR) what they needed to start playing catchup with Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN) and its CoreDirector switch (which is based on home-grown ASICs).
Velio Communications Inc. was first to market, but others, including, PMC-Sierra Inc. (Nasdaq: PMCS), and Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS), have entered the fray.
See: Velio Breaks Grooming Barrier, Vitesse Chops Chips, and PMC-Sierra Announces Sonet Chip Set .
- Conversely, the market for all-optical switching fabric has gone from hot to cold in the past year. A moment of truth occurred when OMM Inc. announced that it was putting its 3D MEMS switch developments on the backburner (see OMM-inous News). Startups in this field face an uphill slog to convince carriers to deploy all-optical switches any time soon. This applies not just to switching subsystems based on MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) but to other promising technologies as well.
See: Network Photonics Lifts the Lid, Polatis Reveals Switch Secrets, and Is Aifotec in a Jam?).
No. 8: Transponders get smart.
A bunch of companies brought out transponders this year that incorporate lots of electronics. As a result, the same module can be used for different types of traffic, such as OC192 Sonet, gigabit Ethernet, or 10-Gbit/s Ethernet. Its health can also be constantly monitored. Companies with products in this field include Agere, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Hitachi Ltd. (NYSE: HIT; Paris: PHA), JDSU, Network Elements Inc., Optillion AB, and Optium Corp.
See: Kalkhoven Opts for Optium and Startup Simplifies Line Cards.
No. 7: Amplifier advances.
Two developments are worthy of particular note:
- Genoa Corp. and, more recently, Kamelian Ltd. have come out with semiconductor optical amplifiers (SOAs) that boost the power of multiple rather than single wavelengths, a big advantage in DWDM systems.
See: Genoa and Kamelian to Upstage Genoa?.
- A bunch of companies are developing low-cost, low-power amplifier arrays for metro equipment, based on a miniaturized version of Erbium Doped-Fiber Amplifiers (EDFAs). Instead of pumping fiber with light, they pump waveguides, the microscopic channels that guide light around photonic chips. Teem Photonics was first out of the gate with what it calls "erbium doped waveguide amplifiers" or EDWAs, but now a bunch of other startups are following in its footsteps. They include Cisilias A/S, Northstar Photonics Inc., Redfern Integrated Optics, and Symmorphix Inc.
See: Teem's Tiny Metro Amp Makes Waves, Which Amp is the Champ?, and Symmorphix Joins the Amp Camp.
No. 6: Integrated optics.
In the past year a few companies have moved closer to optical networking's Holy Grail of making complete photonic systems on a chip. They include:
- Bookham Technology PLC (Nasdaq: BKHM; London: BHM) delivered an optical spectrum analysis module for Nortel that combines switching, demultiplexing, and detection. The module slashes the cost of measuring optical performance from hundreds to tens of dollars a port, according to the company. Bookham's acquisition of Marconi's component division further strengthens its integration story.
See: Bookham Claims Integration Milestone and Bookham Gets a Bargain.
- Agility Communications Inc. has added an amplifier and modulator to its distributed Bragg reflector (DBR) tunable laser – and it's done this in a way that hasn't reduced its 40 nanometer tuning range.
See: Agility, Agility Packs Three Into One, and Qusion Touts Wideband Modulator.
- Lightwave Microsystems Corp. demonstrated a "VOA MuX" comprising a low-loss arrayed waveguide grating (AWG) and 40 variable optical attenuators (VOAs), all on a single piece of silica-on-silicon. Normally, such a widget would have to be assembled from 79 or more separate optical elements.
See: Lightwave Micro Launches VOA Mux and Lightwave Microsystems.
- Gemfire Corp. broke new ground in integrating active and passive devices in the same optical chip. So far, it's made an eight-port amplifier array and an eight-port VOA array.
See: Gemfire Comes Out Blazing.
- WaveSplitter Technologies Inc., another AWG developer, demonstrated a couple of significant integration projects at Europe's ECOC exhibition in October. One is a joint development with Gemfire to make a VOA mux. The other is a joint development with Infineon Technologies AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: IFX) to make a multichannel monitor.
See: WaveSplitter Gets Dynamic Over DWDM.
- Two other notable startups in this field bit the dust. See: Nanovation Goes Bust and Zenastra Photonics: RIP.
No. 5: Agere's IPO.
Lucent’s microelectronics division had hoped to stage one of the biggest public flotations ever. In the end, it raised less than half the hoped-for amount, $3.6 billion, squeaking through the IPO gate just as it was closing.
See: Agere Aims for $8.5 Billion IPO and Agere's Fistful of Dollars.
No. 4: Massive lay-offs.
These included 25 percent of the workforce at Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR), 30 percent at Corning Inc. (NYSE: GLW), 43 percent at New Focus Inc. (Nasdaq: NUFO), 52 percent at Nortel, 56 percent at Avanex Corp. (Nasdaq: AVNX), and 60 percent at JDSU.
See: Grim Reaping: A Downturn Tally.
No. 3: Massive write-offs.
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) rocked the optical networking industry last April when it wrote off $2.5 billion in inventory, most of it classified as worthless "raw materials," which probably means components (see Ripples Spread From Cisco Write-Off ). Less than six months previously, Cisco had been suffering from the opposite problem – a shortage of components (see Cisco's Optical Customers Face Delays and Volpi Downplays Cisco Concerns).
Similarly, Nortel was pumping billions of dollars into ramping up its component manufacturing capacity 18 months ago (see Nortel Creates Optical Components Unit and Nortel to Double Production Capacity). This year, everything has swung into reverse, culminating in a fire sale of 20,000 lots of unwanted components early this month (see Nortel Fire Sale).
No. 2: Company valuations nose dive.
A memorable moment happened just this week, when Marconi PLC (Nasdaq/London: MONI) sold its components division to Bookham Technology PLC (Nasdaq: BKHM; London: BHM) for stock worth a mere $29 million (see Bookham Gets a Bargain). To put this into perspective, the deal works out at $58,000 per Marconi employee. When Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) bought Xros, an optical switch startup, in March 2000, it handed over stock worth $36 million per person (see Nortel Buys a Monster Crossconnect).
No. 1: JDS Uniphase loses $50.6 billion.
Announced on July 26 and put into perspective in a note from an investment banker as follows:
- Our estimate of the market value of the entire offshore drilling segment is about $35 billion (after accounting for a decline of 30 to 50 percent from most of the companies during the last several months). JDSU just lost $50.6 billion. That is 1.5 times the entire offshore drilling industry and a little over 1/3 the entire market value of the oilfield drilling industry.
JDS Uniphase Inc. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU) got into problems by going on a huge acquisition binge, culminating in its merger with SDL.
See: Sizing Up JDSU's Massive Loss, JDSU's Acquisition Hangover, and JDSU Writes Off Billions More.
PS: Kevin Kalkhoven, JDSU's former CEO, got out when the going was good and is now funding a bunch of new startups (see, for instance, Kalkhoven Opts for Optium).
— Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading