Optical/IP Networks

Lynx Claims Optical Switch Advance

Plenty of vendors are developing small-scale optical switches on a chip, but Lynx Photonic Networks reckons it’s scored a first by making a solid state 8-by-8 port optical switching subsystem.

The startup says that its PhotonX-8 switch boasts a switching speed of around one millisecond -- 10 to 20 times faster than switches based on MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems). It claims a similar switching speed advantage over bubble-jet technology from Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) (see Optical Switching Fabric).

That's just for starters, according to Lynx. It also claims that its switch is intrinsically more reliable because there are no moving parts, which means there’s nothing to jam, wear out, or get damaged by vibrations.

Furthermore, says Lynx, the PhotonX-8 is considerably less expensive than MEMS or bubble alternatives. It costs $8,000 when bought in quantities of 100 plus. The equivalent price of a MEMS subsystem is $12,000, according to OMM Inc., a MEMS switch developer.

Lynx adds that the design of its switch enables power to be adjusted on every port, eliminating the need for separate optical attenuators -- another big source of savings.

Now for the bad news: "I’ll argue that an 8x8 MEMS switch would take up a lot less real estate and use a lot less power,” says Conrad Burke, senior vice president of marketing at OMM.

Lynx's technology also won’t scale to anything like the 1000x1000 port configurations that are theoretically possible with MEMS. Lynx plans to make a 32x32 port model next year and figures that 64x64 is possible. Lynx’s target market -- vendors of metro equipment -- is in the 4x4- to 40x40-port range according to Michael Leigh, Lynx’s president.

The loss of light power across Lynx’s 8x8 switch -- 5dB fiber to fiber -- is "in the range to be competitive,” according to OMM's Burke. However some other switching fabrics, notably ones based on holograms and acousto-optics, have much lower losses.

As noted, Lynx’s switch is solid state. The current version is made out of a single wafer of silica-on-silicon and incorporates a network of 128 tiny 1x2 thermo-optical switches linked by waveguides (the optical equivalent of circuits). The wafer sits on top of the control system that operates the switches, some of which are used to recirculate some of the light to adjust the power at every output port.

The architecture also means that Lynx’s switch will support weighted multicasting and broadcasting, unlike many other optical switching fabrics.

In the longer term, Lynx plans to make the same type of subsystems in lithium niobate instead of silica-on-silicon. This will bring switching speeds down to below 20 nanoseconds, according to Leigh. These developments target optical packet switching equipment, he adds.

Leigh acknowledges that Japan’s NTT Electronics Corp. (NEL) has developed a switch similar to Lynx's as an R&D project. NEL hasn’t developed a control system, a key part of Lynx’s switch, and hasn’t commercialized its switch, according to Leigh. NEL hadn’t responded to requests for comments at press time.

Leigh says half a dozen vendors have already completed tests of PhotonX-8 prototypes. “I would say that we’ll get business from all of these companies,” he adds. Commercial shipments will begin in the first quarter of 2001.

Lynx was founded in Israel but recently opened offices in the U.S. and plans rapid expansion. On Monday, it will announce the appointment of Dick Sadai as senior vice president of global business development. Sadai was previously with Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) (see Lynx Hires Senior VP).

Investors in Lynx include Goldman Sachs & Co. (NYSE: GS), Walden International Investment Group, Telesoft Corp, Harbour Vest Partners LLC, and Infineon Technologies AG (NYSE: ISX)

-- Peter Heywood, international editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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