JDSU: MEMS Aren't Just Memories
JDS Uniphase Inc. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU) turned heads today by announcing a "breakthrough" optical component that combines DWDM and multiport switching capabilities (see JDSU Unveils Optical Wavelength Switch).
The company says it hopes to build products based on this prototype that will cut the costs of making and deploying optical networking. The switch will reduce the space and cost of a DWDM-based switching fabric, JDSU says, while upping the amount of capacity available. Unfortunately, JDSU can't say when it will be able to do this. It isn't even ready with samples. "We cannot provide a schedule in terms of the progress and availability of the product," says a spokesperson.
Intriguingly, JDSU is basing its innovation not on spiffy, new science but on tried-and-true (and some say passé) MEMS technology, wherein thousands of tiny tilting mirrors direct light to its destination.
In recent months, industry sources have argued that MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical system) is old-fashioned due to its reliance on mechanical elements (see OMM and Altamar Buys a Bargain). Vendors who already offer MEMS-based optical switch modules, including OMM Inc., haven't shown signs of rapid market acceleration.
OMM says that, while its wares are being tested by many customers, it knows of just three trials underway of gear based on its devices. And Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), which makes the switch module for its own LambdaRouter optical switch, has released information on just two customers (see Lucent's LambdaRouter Turns Japanese) -- one of them, troubled Global Crossing Ltd. (NYSE: GX).
JDSU says it's got a new take on MEMS that allows it not only to switch light but to pick the wavelengths going from one port to another. This capability isn't yet featured in competing products such as those from OMM.
But OMM says it could beat JDSU to the punch. "They have yet to demo a MEMS-based optical switching module that meets Telcordia specs," says Conrad Burke, senior VP of marketing and sales at OMM. In contrast, OMM is already shipping a 32-by-32-wavelength switch approved by Telcordia Technologies Inc., which may make it easier to gain approval for new modifications.
Burke also questions whether JDSU will have any-to-any switching capabilities in a timely fashion. JDSU's news release says its prototype packs ten ports, switching 65 wavelengths in the L-band (1570 nm to 1620 nm) into a gadget that fits on a standard circuit card (JDSU won't give specific dimensions).
In contrast, OMM's 200-by-280-by-35mm switch can forward light to any of the 32 wavelengths (1290 nm to 1610 nm) in its fabric. Of course, the wavelength selection capability is yet to come, Burke acknowledges.
JDSU says future plans include higher port counts. Also, the new switch will work in the more conventional C band wavelengths (1520 nm to 1570 nm).
Observers are left with many questions. Can JDSU make its MEMS-based switch into a real product? Will OMM and Lucent make good on their existing wares?
Some say that, whatever happens, it's naive to dismiss JDSU's claims based on its use of MEMS. "MEMS is an essential technology that's proven and network-ready," says Saeid Aramideh, VP of product management at Iolon Inc., which makes tunable lasers. He says the market slowdown, not lack of viability, have hit makers of MEMS switch modules hard, noting that JDSU's news is "a step in the right direction... toward dynamic and flexible network architectures."
If anyone can make a viable product of a prototype like this, it's probably JDSU, which already has well established methods for making all kinds of optical components. JDSU also has testing tools, including its own swept laser system, which it says enabled it to make this prototype and would presumably allow it to develop real products effectively later on.
JDSU, Lucent, and OMM will all be exhibiting at the upcoming Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exhibit (OFC)
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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