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Startup Prepares Secret Switch

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
4/6/2000

Another startup has joined the race to develop a large scale all-optical switch based on MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems). The company - Onix Microsystems Inc. - is commercializing work done at the University of Berkeley in California. Right now, Onix is in stealth mode and has no web site. All that CEO Steve Panyko will say is that two devices are under development. One is based on "planar matrix technology" suitable for making 64 by 64 port switches. The other uses "steered beam technology" suitable for 1,000 by 1,000 port switches.

Panyko says that Onix will stick to making subsystems for vendors building complete switches. These subsystems comprise MEMS devices themselves - arrays of tiny tilting mirrors - packaged with the control systems necessary to move the mirrors and deflect light in precisely the right direction.

There are no plans to follow in the footsteps of Xros Inc http://www.xros.com and Optical Micro-Machines Inc. (OMM) http://www.omminc.com - two startups that started making subsystems and then decided to develop their own large scale switches as well. Xros has already announced a 1,152 by 1,152 port switch and OMM recently told Light Reading that it would be announcing an even bigger switch in the coming weeks (see Startup To Upstage Xros on All-Optical Switches)

Panyko says Xros and OMM are making a mistake by not sticking to the subsystem market. "They've maneuvered themselves into a marketing canyon," he says. Vendors won't buy subsystems from them if they view them as competitors in the market for complete switches.

OMM says it all depends what's meant by a subsystem. OEMs developing large scale switches don't want to be faced with a big engineering task, assembling multiple smaller subsystems. They want suppliers to provide a ready made switch that can be adapted to their particular requirements, and that's exactly what OMM is doing, according to Marc Fernandez, its director of advanced product marketing.

Xros was in a similar position, which is probably why it got bought by Nortel Networks http://www.nortelnetworks for $3.25 billion (see Nortel Buys a Monster Crossconnect).

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