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OFC's Plenary Indulgence

Light Reading
OFC/NFOEC News Analysis
Light Reading
3/25/2003
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ATLANTA -- OFC 2003 -- The latest new telecom market for optics products is, well... some other market, according to the presenters at the OFC Conference plenary sessions Tuesday morning. Both Eric Mentzer, VP and chief technology officer of Intel Corp.'s (Nasdaq: INTC) Communications Group and Kevin Kalkhoven, the former CEO of JDS Uniphase Corp. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU), said in their talks that new communications markets, especially anything that enables Wireless LAN (WLAN), are the most likely areas of growth for components companies.

The ax-wielding Mentzer punctuated Intel's love for WLAN by chopping through an Ethernet cable hooked to a laptop onstage. The laptop, which was running some streaming video that advertised Intel's Centrino mobile chip technology, switched to a wireless connection and kept right on streaming. The stagehands, standing just a few feet away, looked as though they were about to start streaming for the exits.

In addition to blowing kisses at WLAN, Mentzer (again) espoused Intel's vision that telecom equipment will someday resemble the PC market, where hardware makers no longer distinguish themselves by developing their own components technology (see Intel: Comm Chips Commoditizing). Mentzer was speaking at OFC in place of his boss, who was injured days earlier (see OFC Keynoter Lands on DL). After the ax incident, no one bothered to ask Mentzer exactly how his boss was hurt.

Exit Stage Telecom

Kalkhoven, in an updated rehashing of his comments from Opticon 2002, said that telecom capex and consumer spending on telecom services are relatively fixed amounts of money and will continue to be so until new markets are forged and new revenues found (see Kalkhoven: 'It's the End User, Stupid!').

North American service providers historically spend about 15 percent of their revenues on capital expenditures. Meanwhile, business and consumer spending on telecom services have stayed flat (at about 2 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product) for about a decade. "Unless we find new markets, these spending patterns can really only support so many players," Kalkhoven said.

What to do? Storm other markets, Kalkhoven said. Peripherals are needed in the storage business. Displays are being used more than ever, thanks to newfangled wireless phones. Sensors of all kinds are being used in Homeland Defense and sundry security applications. Medical science, too, has hundreds of uses for optics.

"I don't know whether I'm bringing good news or bad," he said. "Either join new markets or wait for four or five years until those new markets start creating more demand on the optical backbone."

Attendance Down, Papers Up

Even with an industry in depression, technical innovation is alive and well, despite the fact that OFC attendance is way down, conference organizers say. Engineers and scientists submitted 1,211 technical papers this year, up from 1,115 a year ago. Likewise, 114 post-deadline papers were submitted, up from 111 last year, according to OFC general co-chair Joseph Berthold. Conference registration is expected to be less than 20,000, and there are nearly 900 exhibitors, officials said, though final attendance numbers won't be available until next week. Two years ago, OFC had 35,000 attendees and 975 exhibitors.

Thank My Wife! Please!

During the technical awards program, those honored kept things light and sweet. As he accepted the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE)'s Daniel E. Noble Award, VCSEL pioneer Kenichi Iga jokingly referred to the early advances in optical fiber as a "glass roots" effort. "We Japanese don't distinguish between R's and L's," he said. Five years ago, Iga received the John Tyndall Award for his work and he forgot to thank his wife during his acceptance speech. "I would now like her to share my pleasure and my [Noble Prize] check," he said. — Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading

For up-to-date information about the OFC Conference, please visit Light Reading’s Unauthorized OFC Preview Site.

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