Optical/IP Networks

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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