OFC's Hot Products

Last year’s Optical Fiber Communications (OFC) conference went down in history as the place where Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) announced its bubble-based optical switching fabric, sending its stock price through the roof (see Agilent Unveils Optical Switching Breakthrough).

It’s also remembered for what looked like the first monster MEMS switch from Xros (see Xros Launches First 1000-Port All Optical Cross Connect), the startup that subsequently got bought by Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) for stock then worth $3.25 billion (see Nortel Buys a Monster Crossconnect).

Both of those developments ended up not being quite what they seemed. Agilent has only named a single customer for its bubble technology, Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), and Alcatel appears to be hedging its bets, judging by its investment in OMM Inc., a manufacturer of alternative MEMS-based switching subsystems. And Xros’s monster switch turned out to be a midget in disguise (see Xros's OFC Splash Was All Wet).

So, what about this year? Which new products appeared to push forward the frontiers of optical networking -- and which of those are likely to live up to their promises?

Here are the ones that Light Reading editors got excited about, in random order:

Genoa Corp. unveiled its flagship product, which it calls a Linear Optical Amplifier. This widget is essentially a mutant semiconductor amplifier (SOA). It provides moderate gain (10 to 15 decibels) in a small, inexpensive package, so it could become popular in metro network applications, where cost and size are at a premium. Unlike other SOAs, Genoa's amplifier is suitable for multichannel transmission. The gain stays stable, even when channels are added, dropped, or switched -- that's another improvement on erbium-doped fiber amplifiers (EDFAs). To make this happen, Genoa has integrated a vertical cavity laser into the SOA to provide gain saturation. For more details see Genoa Amps Up.

Kamelian Ltd. demonstrated a reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexer (OADM) with no moving parts. Inside the device, three SOAs control the path of the signal -- one for add, one for drop, and one on the pass-through. The SOAs act like switches. Their big advantage is that they have a very high isolation -- the difference between the on and off states is 50dB. As an added bonus, the SOAs also provide amplification.
Zenastra Photonics Inc. also deserves a mention for its reconfigurable OADM, which is based on thermo-optic switches (see Zenastra Launches Tier-2 Devices).

KVH Industries Inc. (Nasdaq: KVHI) announced ActiveFiber, a technology that the company says enables it to put components directly into optical fiber. The benefits of the technique, according to KVH, include improved signal quality and elimination of extra parts that would otherwise be needed to link fiber to components. KVH says it plans to release a 40-Gbit/s optical modulator based on ActiveFiber, but it hasn't said when the product will be available. See Optical Fibers Go Active for more details.
KVH isn't alone. Pacific Wave Industries Inc. announced a similar 40-Gbit/s fiber modulator at OFC (see Teledyne, Pacific Wave Partner Up). But Pacific Wave's design appears to be more complex than KVH's. The only true comparison of the two will come when products actually ship.

Luxcore Networks Inc. showed a working prototype optical switch that incorporated optical wavelength conversion -- thought to be a world first. This development promises to slash carrier costs considerably by eliminating expensive transponders. Optical wavelength conversion also means that Luxcore can make more efficient use of switching fabric without risking blocking problems. For details see Luxcore to Demo Optical Switch Advance. Downsides? This was a demo of a small 2x2 switch. Making a larger switch suitable for commercial use still presents an enormous challenge.

Lynx Photonic Networks demonstrated a working 4x4 switch made in lithium niobate. Insertion loss was around 6dB, remarkably low for this type of material. Its switching speed -- less than 5 nanoseconds -- means that the device could be used to link together existing high-speed switches and routers to make monster machines, capable of handling many terabits a second of data. See Lynx Launches NanoSecond Switch for details. The full product specification has been posted on http://www.lightreading.com/boards/message.asp?msg_id=4842

MetroPhotonics Inc. described its bidrectional mux/demux device. It's based on an echelle grating, which works in a similar way to arrayed waveguide gratings (AWGs). In an AWG, light is split into its constituent wavelengths by a fan of waveguides of incrementally varying lengths. In an echelle grating, a stepped mirror formed by a vertically-etched facet performs the same function. The echelle grating idea isn't new -- in fact, it was the precursor to the AWG. But when it first appeared, it was very difficult to etch the stepped mirror. Fabrication techniques have improved hugely, and MetroPhotonics claims that now it's possible to make echelle gratings that will outperform AWGs. Like AWGs, echelle gratings are integrated technology, but they are about a quarter the size of AWGs. MetroPhotonics has filed a patent on an innovation that gives its device some tolerance of wavelength variations in the pass band. As a result it can be used for both multiplexing and demultiplexing.

Novalux Inc. launched the first products in a family of high-power pump lasers. The lasers are based on vertical cavity surface emitting laser (VCSEL) technology, so they can be tested on-chip, which saves money in the manufacturing process. For a description of how the laser works, see Novalux Details Laser Advance.

OptiMight Communications Inc. launched an ultra-long-haul transmission system capable of supporting 1.6 Tbit/s over a single fiber without using Raman amplification. That may prove significant if Raman proves to create significant maintenance problems for carriers (see Raman Risks Emerge ). For details of Optimight's product announcement, see OptiMight Details Long-Haul Box.

Teem Photonics announced its erbium-doped waveguide amplifier (EDWA) gain block. It works in much the same way as an erbium-doped fiber amplifier (EDFA) gain block, but it is much smaller because the 20m spool of erbium-doped fiber is replaced by a waveguide just a few millimeters long. It's small, cheap, and easy to assemble, says Teem. For more details see Teem's Tiny Metro Amp Makes Waves.

Velio Communications Inc. unveiled a chip that promises to enable systems vendors to build much larger-scale optical switches capable of grooming thousands of STS1 (51.8 Mbit/s) channels. Right now, the biggest switch of this type boasts 512x512 ports, each handling 2.5 Gbit/s. Velio reckons it can more than triple this size. Its chips incorporate a 72x72 switch and 72 pairs of input/output devices on the same piece of silicon. One hundred and twenty of them are needed to make a 1,728x1,728 switch. For more details, see Velio Breaks Grooming Barrier.

-- Pauline Rigby, senior editor, and Peter Heywood, international editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com
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SectorInvestor 12/4/2012 | 8:41:26 PM
re: OFC's Hot Products The "extra" parts that are referenced include the E-O chip! This technology is all in the Optical Fiber.

For details on this new technology, see their new website set up for it at http://www.photonicfiber.com
soothaandi 12/4/2012 | 8:41:25 PM
re: OFC's Hot Products Pauline,

You mention a 2x2 switch, but what about Sorrento's Teramatrix switch? That was demoed at the OFC.
StartUpGuy1 12/4/2012 | 8:41:24 PM
re: OFC's Hot Products The reason systems vendors show up a OFC is to meet with the component guys all at once. I work for an optical systems company and our main purpose in going to OFC is to meet with and evaluate the components that we could use in our systems. Instead of wasting time and energy chasing these companys all over the country, we can get 10 to 20 meetings done in 2 days.

It is very productive from that standpoint. From getting customers, it is not productive..
paulglen 12/4/2012 | 8:41:24 PM
re: OFC's Hot Products These are (essentially) all components, yet there were a fair number of system vendors at OFC as well. Were there no interesting system demonstrations? Is it a waste of time, money and energy for system vendors to attend OFC due to a heavy component focus?
Cheesy Guy 12/4/2012 | 8:41:18 PM
re: OFC's Hot Products The KVH product is 100% vaporware.
It's just an empty box.
There was no product demonstration and no
experimental data shown.
I guess even LightReading can be fooled!
Peter Heywood 12/4/2012 | 8:41:14 PM
re: OFC's Hot Products There were 2 systems in our list:

Luxcore, with its prototype switch incorporating optical wavelength conversion

Optimight, with its ultra-long haaul transport system that avoids using Raman.

Some other folk announced systems but they weren't really radically different in my opinion. If you think we missed something, let me know.

A couple of other points:

- Right now, a big wave of new technologies are emerging at the component level...eg tunable components, SOAs, switching fabric etc etc. Startups are beginning to use these components to develop innovative systems, but in general, these innovative systems are still under wraps. They haven't been announced in detail.

- OFC is a components show. I think a lot of systems vendors are probably reckoning on making a big splash with innovative products at Supercomm.
SectorInvestor 12/4/2012 | 8:41:11 PM
re: OFC's Hot Products That sure sounds like sour grapes to me.

You state it IS vaporware - 100%. Proof please.

You state it is an empty box. Did you open it?

Yes there was no demo. But KVHI has a long history of successful product development and they have NEVER announced vaporware before.

Who to believe, you, or a company with a PROVEN track record for many other products? The modulator and Photonic Fiber technology has been in development over 3 years.

Check out their website at http://www.kvh.com

Call the company. Ask to see it work.

But don't post items as 100% fact that you really have no idea about.
stripe 12/4/2012 | 8:41:01 PM
re: OFC's Hot Products I believe the product that Luxcore displayed at OFC had 2 NNI ports not 2x2 switch....according to the demo the product is scalable to 32 NNI ports each with more than 240 wavelengths...the routers were configured with only 2 NNI ports for demonstrative purposes.
ActiveFiber 12/4/2012 | 8:40:57 PM
re: OFC's Hot Products Cheesy Guy, if you had followed this company like myself, you would know that the CEO's words are as good as gold. I am long the stock of course, so take my word like any message board hype, but not the words of management at KVH. After reading the Conference Calls from the past 3 years, I can state as fact, that management is very conservative about their calls for future earnings and future products. The stock price chart will testify to this, as KVH is one of a very few Tech stocks positive in the past year. I started buying small and have added every quarter because the future looks brighter and brighter, for all 5 of their devisions. If management says they have tested the modulator, and it works, my bet is with Martin and not you.
SectorInvestor 12/4/2012 | 8:40:56 PM
re: OFC's Hot Products A lot of time and money is being spent to develop Polymer based electro-optic chips and to try to extend the reach of crystaline materials into 40Gbps.

The Polymer approach now appears to have major advantages in high speed, and low voltage.

Now KVH appears to be able to bypass the electro-optic chip entirely, using an all optical fiber approach. This will add significant advantages in insertion loss and manufacturing cost as well.

Their approach is protected because only they can make this special "D" fiber, which is heavily patent protected. They have other key patents and applications covering this fiber approach as well. They have over 20 years of fiber optic research and development to build on.

This combination of advantages, coupled with a definite push to get to 40 Gbps, will attract a lot of interest. KVHI was below the radar of the Optical Community for a long time, but not for much longer.

No wonder CheesyGuy appears worried.
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