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JDS Uniphase Moves Into MEMS

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
4/4/2000

JDS Uniphase Corp. http://www.jdsunph today announced an agreement to buy Cronos Integrated Microsystems Inc.http://www.memsrus.com, a startup making optical switching fabric, for $750-million in stock.

The deal gives JDS a strong capability in fabricating MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems), arrays of tiny tilting mirrors for the cores of all-optical switches. Cronos is one of the few independent outfits to design and manufacture bespoke MEMS devices for clients - vendors making switch subsystems or whole switches. Other outfits manufacturing MEMs devices are typically major vendors making them for their own subsystems, according to JDS Uniphase.

Cronos says it has about 20 existing customers, but declines to name them. One is suspected to be Xros Inc. http://www.xros.com, a startup which recently launched the first optical cross-connect to beat the 1,000 port barrier. Nortel Networks http://www.nortelnetworks.com is now in the process of acquiring Xros for $3.25 billion in stock (see Nortel Buys a Monster Crossconnect and Nortel Spells Out Its Cross-Connect Strategy).

The price that JDS is paying for Cronos works out at $11 million per member of staff - about the going rate for optical networking startups at present, and a bargain compared to to the $36 million per person Nortel is paying for Xros.

JDS's move is "significant" according Nikos Theodosopoulos, managing director of equity research at Warburg Dillon Read, an investment bank. "Optical switching is the missing link in all optical networks," he notes.

It's worth pointing out that MEMS is only one of several technologies being considered for use in all-optical switches. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses (see The Optical Future). JDS says that it expects to offer most of them to its customers in the long run. It already makes mechanical and thermo-optical switches and says that it also plans to offer liquid crystal switching as well as MEMS components.

Right now, Corning Inc. http://www.corning.com is reckoned to have a lead in liquid crystal technology. Startups in this field include Chorum Technologies Inc http://www.chorum.com and Spectraswitch, Inc. http://www.spectraswitch.com

by Peter Heywood, international editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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