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Optical/IP

The 'AWG Killer' Returns

Remember the "AWG Killer," a term coined by a now-defunct startup called Lightchip for a device that was supposed to be better than Arrayed Waveguide Gratings (AWGs) at weaving together wavelengths in high channel-count DWDM systems? (See Lightchip Launches 'AWG Killer'.)

Well, the bulk diffraction technology used by Lightchip has resurfaced, and so has the AWG Killer term, this time in a French startup called Yenista Optics SA.

"In R&D we have... [wait for it] ...an AWG killer," says Yenista's key founder and CEO, Michiel van der Keur. "This product will put Yenista on the map." The mux device will have less loss than an AWG and be smaller than today’s AWG; and, like AWGs, it will be available in channel counts of 8, 16, 24, 32, 40, and 48.

Put Yenista on the map? There was a time when Lightchip looked as though it was going places (see Why Cisco Loves Lightchip). But its bulk diffraction gratings weren't the killers they were cracked up to be -- AWGs are still the technology of choice for high channel-count DWDM systems.

In October 2002, Lightchip was split in two, and the parts sold to different buyers (see A Tale of Two Lightchips). The mux/demux business was bought by Confluent Photonics Corp: It's now using the bulk diffraction gratings in integrated DWDM systems for cable networks. "We have close to 1,000 systems (not just muxes) deployed all across the USA," writes Ian Turner, Confluent's president and COO, in an email to Light Reading. "We are in full production of muxes with less then 3dB loss, flat-top filters, athermality to -40C and 85C, abaric, shock resistant, and which can pass analog-modulated TV signals with minimal signal impairment."

As noted, Yenista's device is also based on bulk diffraction gratings, using technology it purchased from Highwave Optical Technologies (Paris: HGWO) last summer for an undisclosed amount. Highwave originally bought the technology from Jobin Yvon SA, but offloaded it to ease its financial woes (see Highwave Hits Low Tide). One of Yenista's founders and a production engineer, Christophe Devemy, has followed the technology from Jobin Yvon to Highwave to Yenista.

Where Yenista differs from Lightchip is that its device is really small, says van der Keur. "We knew that we had to make it smaller than an AWG so that we could compete."

It will be small enough to fit inside an MSA package, he adds, referring to the multisource agreement for AWG modules originally set up between Alcatel Optronics, Hitachi Cable Ltd., and NTT Electronics Corp. (NEL) (see Alcatel Optronics, Hitachi, NEL Form MSA). Other bulk grating-based devices have been too large to meet this requirement, he contends.

Yenista reckons its main competitor -- apart from the AWG players that it hopes to eliminate -- is BaySpec Inc. Bayspec's mux modules come in a mechanical package measuring 100 x 70 x 16 mm. The MSA specifications are 117 x 50 x 12.8 mm. (See Page 3 of Light Reading's "Who Makes What: Optical Components" for a full listing of mux/demux device manufacturers.)

Van der Keur, who is also a former founder of Algety Telecom, a startup that was bought by Corvis Corp. (Nasdaq: CORV) and later closed, is the majority shareholder (see Corvis Sub to Lay Off and Algety Telecom SA). He and the other three founders provided the capital for the first year, but they will now be looking for venture capital funding. A finance director, Michel Adam, who was also with Corvis France and Algety, has been brought on board to speed along this task, bringing the total number in the company to five.

Yenista has just moved into premises previously occupied by Alcatel Optronics in Lannion, France. It plans to ship first samples this summer.

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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edgesansonet 12/5/2012 | 1:57:49 AM
re: The 'AWG Killer' Returns The French need Freedom.
\ESS
RGreg 12/5/2012 | 1:57:45 AM
re: The 'AWG Killer' Returns "nothing is really "killer" in this space, just a question of tradeoffs and best fit to the app."


Too true. One of the big reasons the Confluent guys are doing well is that the passive bulk gratings are great for the cable guys: you don't have to plug it in (no TECs) and it has low loss, which minimizes amplifiers. The cable space is notoriously cheap, and these things really fit into their vision.

But the bulk gratings will probably never kill off AWGs because they're just useful in certain applications. If you want something small that you can integrate onto a circuit board and temperature control is not an issue (a VMUX for example), then an AWG fits the bill.

BTW, I can speak on this subject with some authority: I used to work for Lightchip, rode it down to the bottom, and now I work in a company that works with things like VMUXs.


As for the reduced size, I'm sure that if you ignore thermal stabilization issues then you can reduce the size of the bulk optics quite a bit. But again, that gets back to Curious George's comment about tradeoffs.


RGreg
lavoix 12/5/2012 | 1:57:34 AM
re: The 'AWG Killer' Returns The US, too, push BUSH out to retrieve your freedom!
lavoix 12/5/2012 | 1:57:34 AM
re: The 'AWG Killer' Returns :) agree :)
dwdm2 12/5/2012 | 1:56:18 AM
re: The 'AWG Killer' Returns Peter Heywood said: "You're being too literal, dwdm2." ... "We're not a learned journal."

Peter, thanks for agreeing ... My juvenile style analysis was not to belittle the LR, it was a healthy critique.

Curious George said: "I'm with dwdm2 on this one - catchy but little substance. Besides they will be encumbered by all the basic physics that bulk gratings are subject to...nothing is really "killer" in this space, just a question of tradeoffs and best fit to the app."

Thanks Curious. I agree with you that there is nothing killer... But allow me to clarify a bit.

Its true there is nothing killer in this space until now... and therefore, everything looks like a tradeoff for the application. That means some breakthrough is required to solve this problem... Something has to emerge that would stand out in this crowd. Any idea what that something would be? Obviously not the "bulk diffraction grating."
boytoy 12/5/2012 | 1:53:53 AM
re: The 'AWG Killer' Returns dwdm2 writes:
"Its true there is nothing killer in this space until now... and therefore, everything looks like a tradeoff for the application. That means some breakthrough is required to solve this problem... Something has to emerge that would stand out in this crowd. Any idea what that something would be? Obviously not the 'bulk diffraction grating.'"

------------------
There is something on the horizon of which I am aware, and I have to believe others are as well.
So I think it's just a matter of who gets there first... there may be some "stealth mode" projects going on right now.

Unfortunately, components research is not easy to get funded these days.

And, of course, this is not a forum in which it would be wise to elaborate. Perhaps there is another way to discuss.
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