Telephotonics Starts a Price War
Right now, network monitoring generally happens in the electronic domain. That's fine inside switches and routers where the signals have to be turned into electricity anyway in order to be processed by an electrical fabric. But there is still a need to monitor the health of the individual wavelengths in the optical fiber, in order to pinpoint faults at the optical level. That's where optical channel monitors (OCMs) fit in.
If OCMs are to be included inside network gear, then they need to be small. Several companies are developing integrated devices that fit the bill in terms of size, including Bookham Technology PLC (Nasdaq: BKHM; London: BHM) and Axsun Technologies (see Axsun Launches Tiny Optical Analyzer). But these cost about $12,000 apiece. In cost-sensitive applications like the metro market, that's not affordable, says Fadi Daou, Telephotonic's VP of product development.
"Equipment makers are telling us that if we can make them for just three or four thousand dollars each, then they will buy them in quantities of 100,000," he told Light Reading. "It would open up entirely new applications."
Daou and other key executives from Telephotonics showed Light Reading a working prototype of the OCM in a private suite in a hotel adjacent to the Optical Fiber Communications Conference in Anaheim, Calif., recently. The demonstration also included a variable optical attenuator (VOA) array. Both products were announced at the show (see Telephotonics Unveils Metro Package), but only a select few were invited to see the demos.
The heart of the OCM is a solid-state tunable filter. It scans across the wavelengths in the system, recording optical power at thousands of wavelength positions. Electronic circuitry then converts this data into information about channel power and optical signal-to-noise-ratio (OSNR). The OCM has a wavelength resolution of 0.1 nanometer, says Daou.
There are all sorts of ways to build tunable filters, from micro-optics to mechanically tuned fiber Bragg gratings (see Tunable Filters Go Solid State). Daou wouldn't reveal exactly how this one works, except to hint that it's something new. It's based on an optical polymer with a thermo-optic coefficient that's 40 times greater than glass, so it consumes very little electrical power. Yet the design is athermal, so it doesn't require temperature stabilization. Furthermore, it's small and it tunes quickly.
But the most salient feature is the material -- polymer -- which is very cheap and quick to process, says Daou (see Startup Creates Component Cocktail). The manufacturing is based on standard semiconductor processing techniques, so the startup was able to give itself a leg up by buying an abandoned silicon chip manufacturing plant.
If it can deliver on its price promise then Telephotonics may spur other manufacturers of OCMs to cut prices significantly. Jim Lewis, one of the founders of Axsun, figures that prices will tumble as the technology matures. Axsun sells OCMs for $12,000 to $13,000 each in small volumes, he notes. "Small quantity prices are not meaningful," he adds. "Volume manufacturing should make things orders of magnitude cheaper."
Other startups, like Cidra Corp. (proposed Nasdaq: CIDC) are working in the same space. It's too early to say whether they think they will be price competitive.
— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com