Agilent Amps Up Testing Kit
The vendor says its E2156A Optical Amplifier Test System gives designers and makers of optical components one platform that can test a range of different kinds of amplifiers, including Raman amps, semiconductor optical amplifiers (SOAs), EDFA (erbium doped fiber amplifiers), and EDWA (erbium doped waveguide amplifiers). (See Vendors Unveil Amplifier Advances for more on amplifier trends.)
All these amplifiers are becoming increasingly popular in metro gear, Agilent says, and testers are needed that can boost the process of making them.
Agilent's offering three basic configurations of the tester, to which customers add options to accommodate different amplifiers and types of measurements. Key to the whole process is a user interface that lets users plot out tests, using parts from past projects, and share the resulting plans across multiple testers at different points in the production cycle. (For instance, R&D and manufacturing could have the same test plans, with modifications.)
This approach sounds great. Companies can reduce the number of hardware testers they deploy and build on existing successful test software, instead of rewriting it again and again. After all, who doesn't want to streamline processes of any kind these days?
But there may be another side to the story: Max Schuetz, analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston Corp., sees Agilent pursuing a strategy of consolidating its own product lines to cut costs.
"For the last several quarters, Agilent's inventory days have been greater than 150," he says. "They've had too many platforms." In his view, the company's finding ways to cut down on the number of products that must be managed and supported.
Most companies that make multiple amplifier types, he notes, have done so through acquisitions and mergers. Often, that means different groups in different geographical areas are engaged in making distinct applications. It's not likely they could easily share test equipment, he says, except perhaps at the system level -- where design tradeoffs are evaluated in a lab, for example.
Still, it's not a stretch to see Agilent's efforts to consolidate test functions applying to its customers as well as itself -- even if the main achievement is to streamline the writing of multiple tests for a single type of amplifier.
Indeed, replacing multiple testers with modular devices that can be adapted to fit a range of situations is a goal stated by most players in telecom test and measurement (see Test and Measurement Report, Part 2: R&D and Test and Measurement Report, Part 1: Manufacturing).
At least one combination of two amplifier types -- Raman with EDFAs -- is becoming more common. Right now, it seems Agilent has one of the only testers capable of accommodating vendors interested in making test kit to fit these kinds of integrated applications.
EXFO Electro-Optical Engineering Inc. (Nasdaq: EXFO; Toronto: EXF), an Agilent competitor, makes amplifier test gear as part of its IQS 500 Intelligent Test System. But the company eschews a multi-amplifier concept in favor of ensuring integration of its wares with other kinds of manufacturing and test equipment.
"People talk about integrating components, we see a lot of papers, but the main goal is to make processes more efficient," says Olivier Plomteux, senior product manager at EXFO. "We don't offer one system that does everything."
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading