Kamelian Scores a Coup
How did Kamelian do it, when the market in which it plays -- optical components -- is so depressed? It found a new strategic investor, according to Paul May, Kamelian's CEO, who says getting further funding was conditional on this.
The new investor is Hoya Corp., a sizeable Japanese company better known for the optics used in compact disc drives, eye care, and medical equipment. In recent times, however, Hoya has been branching out. It's entered the market for photo masks and become a big player -- and it now appears to be eyeing other expansion opportunities.
Hoya has been investing in companies with expertise in integrating active and passive components on a single optical chip. Back in January, it led a $3 million round for a Los Angeles startup called Optinetrics that targets telecom and aerospace markets with an "innovative glass platform technology," according to a press release issued at the time.
Now Hoya has put some money into Kamelian, which specializes in "hybrid integration" -- in its case, making Semiconductor Optical Amplifiers (SOAs) in indium phosphide and bonding those to passive components made in other materials such as silica. May says Hoya's interest is in indium phosphide rather than components for telecom applications, the market that Kamelian has focused on to date. Kamelian itself is already investigating non-telecom applications for its developments, May adds. Hoya joined Kamelian's existing investors -- 3i Group plc, Goldman Sachs & Co., and Lightspeed Venture Partners -- in the $6.7 million funding round to be announced tomorrow. (Disclosure: Lightspeed is an investor in Light Reading). Overall, funding now totals $30 million, says May.
Kamelian has already announced a number of products based on its technology (see Kamelian to Upstage Genoa? and Kamelian Launches First Products). However, the product behind the company name, an all-optical wavelength converter, was only unveiled a couple of weeks ago, at the OFC Conference in Atlanta.
Kamelian's wavelength converter is based on two SOAs on either leg of an interferometer -- a hexagon of waveguides with two input arms on one side and one output arm on the other. A tunable laser pumps light into the extra input arm, changing the frequency of the light coming out of the arrangement to whatever wavelength the tunable laser has been set to generate.
If the tunable laser is set so that it generates the same wavelength as the incoming light, the device acts as a simple 2R regenerator (the signal is reamplified and reshaped but not retimed).
The SOAs are made of indium phosphide, and the waveguides on either side of it are in silica. These are bonded together to create a single chip using technology that automates the alignment -- a key issue in reducing production costs and a key bit of Kamelian technology. For a fuller explanation and performance specs please download Kamelian's preliminary data sheet (in pdf format).
Kamelian isn't alone in developing all-optical wavelength converters, although others haven't gotten as far as announcing commercial availability of products. "We're ready to ship now," says May.
Alcatel Optronics (Nasdaq: ALAO; Paris: CGO.PA) is known to be working on a device similar to Kamelian's. And research in this field by Corning Inc. (NYSE: GLW), JDS Uniphase Corp. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU), and others was featured in no fewer than six post-deadline papers at Europe's ECOC conference last year (see ECOC: Back to the Lab? ) It's important to note that some of these developments (like Kamelian's, Alcatel's, and JDSU's) are integrated wavelength converters -- with everything on a single chip -- while others (like Corning's) are assemblies of various components, not on the same chip.
"Integrated is nice, but these days, when quantities are low, you need to share components with other applications," says Sagie Tsadka, CEO of KaiLight Photonics Ltd., a startup that's taken the non-integrated approach to developing all-optical wavelength converters. "Even in a good market, wavelength converters won't be sold in volumes of more than tens of thousands," he notes.
KaiLight buys off-the-shelf SOA chips, ones that are made in volume for multiple markets, and uses them in an assembly that also includes special filters that it develops. The upshot is lower costs, according to Tsadka, who says that's the name of the game right now. KaiLight's wavelength converters are now undergoing trials with a prospective customer, he adds.
Kamelian's May acknowledges that wavelength converters will be "a niche business in the next year or two," but he believes they could become "more mainstream" after that. Part of the reason for launching the product now is to demonstrate the potential of Kamelian's technology, he adds, noting that all sorts of other components could be made by combining SOAs with passive devices. Adding SOAs to Arrayed Waveguide Gratings (AWGs), for instance, would make them loss-less.
Kamelian could combine an array of SOAs with a more complex arrangement of planar lightwave circuits to create an all-optical wavelength converter that could be used on multiple channels in DWDM systems, May says. This might bring it into competition with Lightbit Corp., which announced a multi-channel all-optical 2R regenerator at OFC (see Lightbit Intros Optical Regenerator).
— Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading