Agility Turns Out Tunables

On Monday (March 11), Agility Communications Inc. is planning to launch its second generation of tunable laser products, which incorporate extra functions such as gain and modulation on the same piece of indium phosphide as the laser.

Agility showed prototypes of these devices last year, but now it is ready to ship them commercially for the first time, says Arlon Martin, the company's VP of marketing. The products are sampling now and will be ready to ship in volume from July 2002, he predicts. They will also be on display at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exhibit (OFC).

The first new laser, dubbed the 3105 CW, includes an integrated Semiconductor Optical Amplifier (SOA), which enables it to achieve 10 milliwatts (mW) of output power (see Agility Unveils Long-Haul Laser). This gives the laser enough power to address long-haul applications. "Our first product last year was 4 mW," says Martin. "It was a good starting point, but the industry-standard power levels for the long haul tend to be 10 and 20 mW." The new laser is the only single-chip architecture with on-chip tuning to meet this power requirement, he contends.

The second new product, called the 4245 EML, takes integration a step further by integrating both an SOA and a modulator on the same chip (see Agility Packs Three Into One). The resulting unit has a lower output power of around 2 mW. It sounds low, but this is actually equivalent to the output from a 10 mW Distributed Feedback Laser (DFB) used in conjunction with a lithium niobate modulator, according to Martin. The 4245 EML can be modulated at speeds of 2.5 Gbit/s or slightly higher to allow Forward Error Correction (FEC).

Agility is pitching its new lasers as direct replacements for DFBs, and in Martin's view, they have significant advantages over other tunable lasers that target the same applications. For starters, both devices integrate an SOA with adjustable output power. This allows the output of the laser to be optimized to suit the link budget of the system, without the need for an external variable optical attenuator (VOA).

In addition, the EML part replaces a separate laser and modulator. Since modulators can retail between $1000 and $3000, this affords significant savings in cost as well as space -- assuming that Agility doesn't raise prices to compensate, which seems unlikely, as that could seriously delay the acceptance of its technology.

Besides, Agility claims that it's already getting production yields on its tunable lasers that are comparable to those of fixed wavelength devices, and that should allow it to keep costs down.

It should be pointed out that Agility doesn't have the only integrated tunable laser and modulator on the market. But the parts from its competitors -- Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR) and Multiplex Inc. -- appear to have narrower tuning ranges (see Agility Packs Three Into One).

Agility has one final trick up its sleeve. To make customers feel more at ease with the new products, Agility has opted to pack them in a 24-pin package that's compatible with an existing multisource agreement (MSA) covering 2.5-Gbit/s transmitters, to which Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERICY), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), Mitsubishi Electric Corp., and Sumitomo Corp. agreed in 1998.

Tom Hausken, an analyst at Strategies Unlimited, believes this move is essential if the more-entrenched and conservative systems vendors are to adopt tunable laser technology. "Customers are seeking a product that will comply with a compact, standard footprint before they will widely adopt this emerging technology," he says.

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com For more information on OFC 2002, please visit: www.nottheofc.com

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