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Startup To Upstage Xros on All-Optical Switches

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
3/27/2000

Optical Micro-Machines Inc. (OMM) http://www.omminc.com is planning to launch a monster all-optical switch in the next couple of weeks.

The switch will have "thousands" of ports, according to Conrad Burke, OMM's senior vice president of marketing and sales. It will be based on MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) and will be "significantly larger" than the previous record-breaker - the 1,152 port optical cross connect unveiled by Xros Inc. http://www.xros.com at the Optical Fiber Communications conference a few weeks ago (see Xros Launches First 1000-Port All Optical Cross Connect).

Within a week of Xros's announcement, Nortel Networks had agreed to buy the Californian startup for a staggering $3.25 billion - equivalent to $36 million per member of staff (see Nortel Buys a Monster Crossconnect). And that, of course, begs the question whether OMM could go the same way.

There are some striking similarities between OMM and Xros. Xros started out developing MEMS subsystems, just like OMM. Then Xros decided to develop a complete switch - which turns out to be exactly what OMM's been doing. Burke says OMM has been developing a complete switch "on a parallel track" to its subsystem business. The switch will be offered to "selected strategic customers only" Burke adds.

OMM's new switch is based on two specific developments. First, a new line in MEMS, arrays of tiny tilting mirrors. Its first generation MEMS used mirrors that simply flapped up and down to deflect beams of light. Its next generation will tilt the mirrors in any direction, enabling them to deflect light to a large number of output ports.

Second, OMM has also developed a "unique architecture" for using these second generation MEMS to create a very large scale switch. "It's giving us the capability to go much bigger than Xros," says Burke.

While OMM prepares to launch its new developments, its first generation MEMS are starting to be used in live networks. Their simplicity limited the size of switches that could be built with them, but enabled the company to get to market faster than the competition, according to Burke.

Just yesterday (March 26), OMM announced that GST Telecommunications Inc. http://www.gst.net has been running live traffic over a first generation OMM subsystem for more than a month in an un-manned central office - a world first, according to the company.

The fact that OMM's gear was configured from a remote console also demonstrated "major operational cost saving capabilities," according to GST's Robert Hendrickson, director of the advanced technologies labs.

It's worth noting that two other vendors claim that they have MEMS-based switches in trials with carriers. Lucent Technologies http://www.lucent.com says its LambdaRouter is in use by MCI Worldcom Inc. http://www.wcom.com. The Starswitch from Astarté Fiber Networks, Inc.http://www.starswitch.com, is also said to be in carrier trials.<./p> -- by Peter Heywood, International Editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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