Tunables Dig 10-Gig

As the 10-Gbit/s optical generation continues to unfold, it could provide the staging ground for the long-awaited arrival of tunable lasers.

No one's saying a tunable takeover is imminent (they've said that before, and it's never quite happened). But judging from announcements made this year, tunable lasers will could get their first big break as supporting players in the 2004 10-Gbit/s world tour: Note that XLight has been acquired by Civcom Inc., while RedClover has been glommed into Oplink Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: OPLK) (see Civcom to Merge with Xlight , Civcom, XLight Complete Merger, and Oplink Plucks RedClover).

Beyond the 300-pin MSA -- the form factor related to the announcements above -- the industry is also producing Xenpak, XPAK, and X2 specifications for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet; and the smaller XFP, which could potentially be a multiprotocol 10-Gbit/s option (see 10-GigE Transponders: Update). Tunables would add an interesting wrinkle to the variety of 10-Gbit/s offerings, although their impact isn't being felt yet.

"The real value is next year. What we have now are pilots, design wins, and early implementations," says Jacob Vertman, senior vice president of marketing at Civcom. He's thinking the 10-Gbit/s tunable transponder market could be worth $30 million to $40 million in 2004.

Tunable lasers simplify a carrier's inventory. Rather than stock different lasers for each wavelength, the carrier can keep a supply of tunables, using them as one-wavelength-fits-all replacements. They could also be handy for reconfigurable optical networks, where ports within an optical add/drop multiplexer (OADM) would change their wavelength assignments on the fly.

Tunablility "is now required in all large bids" involving DWDM, Vertman says. "Almost all vendors have decided to go to tunable technology."

Well, almost all. Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) and Finisar Corp. (Nasdaq: FNSR), both heavy hitters in Gigabit Ethernet transponders, haven't announced plans for 10-Gbit/s tunables yet and haven't heard customers cry for them. In fact, Agilent hasn't even started funding such a program, says Adam Carter, the company's marketing manager for metro components.

"I won't say it won't happen in the future, but right now I would say no," Carter says.

What's kept tunable lasers out of mainstream markets is their higher price. Vendors agree that 10-Gbit/s tunable modules would have to approach the $4,000-to-$5,000 range of their fixed-wavelength brethren to be practical. Some, such as Civcom, say they've gotten there. "The price difference today is somewhere around 10 to 20 percent. Two years ago it was 50 to 100 percent," Vertman says.

Others think even 10 percent might be too much of a premium. "In '04, customers will not be willing to pay any premium for tunable DWDM," says Vivek Rajgarhia, Opnext Inc. vice president of product marketing.

In fact, the cost question will force Opnext to build tunable lasers instead of buying them. "For the cost points we need to be at for the module, we will need our own laser in a couple of years," Rajgarhia says.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

harpoon 12/5/2012 | 2:44:21 AM
re: Tunables Dig 10-Gig I hadn't heard of Civcom. Where are they located?

We've got a 1310 Optium transponder, and it works just fine, but we haven't been able to get a tunable yet.
irrational light 12/5/2012 | 2:37:10 AM
re: Tunables Dig 10-Gig I heard about another tunable laser company whose devices are supposed to be very high power and very clean output. Is there any transponder with their devices which one could try? Can anyone make any comment on their device?
irrational light 12/5/2012 | 2:37:10 AM
re: Tunables Dig 10-Gig It is Princeton Optronics
irrational light 12/5/2012 | 2:37:09 AM
re: Tunables Dig 10-Gig It is Princeton Optronics
lightnash 12/5/2012 | 2:35:57 AM
re: Tunables Dig 10-Gig You can find Civcom at www.civcom.com.
They are a Israeli company with US presence.

- lightnash
harpoon 12/4/2012 | 11:09:29 PM
re: Tunables Dig 10-Gig I don't know what Agilent's problem is. Tunables is so clearly the way to go it defies common sense for them to be so far behind the curve. The main problem is that they're so GD expensive. We're seeing pricing nearly 100% more than comparable single lambda transponders.

Having tried a bunch, I like the Agility transponders the best so far, at least in terms of wide tunability and good looking eyes. But their pricing is obscene and they are a difficult company to work with. Some of the narrowly tunable transponders also work reasonably well and are much less pricey, to boot. But in the end, they are a poor substitute for the widely tunable ones.

The MSA is, like other MSAs, not quite the "drop in replacement" specification that's advertised. There's a pile of optional stuff, and nobody seems to do the full implementation at this point. Even getting I2C accessible units is problematic, which, to me, is stupefying. Anybody find any units that have implemented loopbacks?

I'm also looking for other widely tunable transponders besides Agility. Anybody else out there, or is Agility still ahead of the technological curve?
andrewsdg 12/4/2012 | 11:09:19 PM
re: Tunables Dig 10-Gig Can anyone tell me on a reliable basis what the linewidths of these lasers (and for that matter 2.5Gbit/s lasers) are.

Manufacturers like JDS Uniphase quote linewidths of 1MHz, but this is not achieved in working systems.

Linewidths should be around the 10pm (0.01nm(m mark but nowhere can I find this quoted. Am I looking in the wrong place?

Any guidance will be appreciated.

Don Andrews
googol_byte 12/4/2012 | 11:09:07 PM
re: Tunables Dig 10-Gig I think the 3 players to look at in this space are Agility (Agility TL), Optium (Iolon TL), and Civcom (Santur TL). I agree with you about the difficulty (and arrogance) of working with Agility. I haven't tested the Optium product but have heard mixed things about the Iolon laser. Santur's laser works great, so I think Civcom may be worth looking at. Rumor has it they are in the labs of some pretty big players in Europe.
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