MEMS Make It Big?
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- One year ago, Xros made a big splash at the OFC conference by unveiling an optical switch that broke the 1000x1000-port barrier for the first time. It later transpired that only a small proportion of Xros's switch was actually operational at the time (see Xros's OFC Splash Was All Wet).
Since then, a large number of vendors have crawled out of the woodwork with similar plans for 1000x1000 optical switches based on 3D MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems). But still nobody has been able to come close to demonstrating such a switch in operation, let alone shipping one.
This state of affairs is reflected in the announcements of MEMS-based switch developments at this year's OFC, which were relatively subdued. They included:
- Agere Systems exhibited the 64x64 MEMS-based switch module it announced in February (see Agere's 3D MEMS Switch 'Not First'). While Agere's demo is clearly ahead of what Xros was able to show, the company won't say who may be sampling the module, nor when it might release something bigger.
- Corning Inc. (NYSE: GLW) didn't have the switch on site, but spokespeople told Light Reading that samples of a new 256-port optical crossconnect are scheduled to hit customer labs sometime in the second quarter of this year -- possibly as early as April or May. If Corning lives up to its claims, it could own the largest optical switch module in the world -- that is, if it delivers.
- Integrated Micromachines Inc. (IMMI) says it hopes to build a 1,000-channel crossconnect switch that fits into a single rack sometime next year. To make this possible, IMMI plans to use a new technique for scaling its switches (see IMMI Claims MEMS Breakthrough). "We integrate electrical drive circuits underneath each mirror," says Steve Walker, IMMI's 3D program manager. He says this design allows each mirror in the MEMS setup to be independently directed by software commands sent over a serial bus linked to the underlying circuits. And since each mirror is separately manipulated, complex peripheral electronics are eliminated.
- OFC turned out to be a dud for one MEMS switch maker -- OMM Inc., which pulled out of the show several weeks ago, after initially boasting of plans to best Agere at OFC.