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Optical components

Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated?

The ghost of Lightwave Microsystems may be about to come back from beyond the grave.

When, in late September, the startup officially closed its doors, and put its fabrication facility up for sale on Dovebid, things looked pretty final (see Obituary: Lightwave Microsystems). But apparently not.

According to a reliable source close to the company, Lightwave Microsystems is about to be reborn. "The facility was not sold and has not been broken up," wrote a source in an email to Light Reading. "The team did not disband. Other than a new name and some new investors, Lightwave will continue to sell products and to lead this sector of the market (such as it is)."

Startup NeoPhotonics Corp. -- which, like Lightwave Microsystems, is developing Arrayed Waveguide Gratings (AWGs) and related components -- was rumored to have been negotiating to buy the assets of the defunct company (see Has Lightwave Micro Found a Buyer?). One source suggested the price was as low as $2 million, although exactly what NeoPhotonics was getting for its money wasn't mentioned -- the deal could have been for the fabrication facility only. NeoPhotonics declined to shed any light -- it continues not to return calls.

Last week, NeoPhotonics spun out its non-telecom-related business, which may signal a change in strategy resulting from being the reincarnation vehicle for Lightwave Microsystems (see NeoPhotonics Spins Out Medical Biz).

Drew Lanza, a founder of Lightwave Microsystems, couldn't comment on any possible deals. But he set the tone in a post to Light Reading's message boards: "We always get asked if Lightwave could have gone on a diet. Wrong analogy. Better to ask if the saber toothed tiger that was Lightwave could have transformed itself into a mouse. Not possible. Maybe through reincarnation…" (For the rest of Lanza's illuminating post, see Happy Thanksgiving!)

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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slayer666 12/4/2012 | 9:08:41 PM
re: Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated? No doubt Lightwaves demise was due to the disappearance of the market, and was unavoidable, even if they had of sold out (I heard the offer was for $2B? or was that OMM). You only need to look at JDS sales to confirm the disappearance of the market (Half their existing revenue is glitter paint). Or look at Nortel selling off all their plants and equipment! They didn't build it for fun ya know.

As far as some of the technologies mentioned in this post, I would have to say SOI (Silicon on Insulator) would look like the most promising solution for the future of Integrated Photonic Devices.

One of the biggest hurdles in integration of "all on one die" technologies are the thermal issues. Customers want low power, and when temperature controlled (MUX DeMux, sensors) and VOA (heater based) are integrated on a single device, the temperature bridging issues between the devices can make the result power hungry.

Gain material can be placed in trenches in waveguides (give me a few million and I can show you), allowing for amplification to be added to the module...but with EDFA's dropping in price from $40K to less than $5K (Funny, that's the same price as a 40 channel DeMux), 10dB loss is probably acceptable.

Anyway...Interesting post, good luck in the future. Will you buy me a beer too? I will tell you how to do the amplifier.
Drew Lanza 12/4/2012 | 9:08:51 PM
re: Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated? Benson:

I'm partial to Harp and Spaten myself. Lots of other good local ones as well. Your choice. Look me up when you're in town.

Perhaps I am overstating the case for Lightwave. The pride of foundership, I suppose. But I think your last post puts us pretty much in agreement.

We were the leader in VMUX's and I'm pretty sure that if we weren't the first company to ship them, then we were certainly the second (and by only a few months), and that ours performed better and that we've shipped more VMUX's to date than any other company. We won those design wins. No argument here, right?

Remember that I am privy to what we developed internally, but didn't show to the outside world. Lightwave justifiably has an excellent relationship with its customers because it delivered what it promised and it didn't overhype the technology. I defy anyone to challenge that assertion. Call Cisco, or Nortel, or Lucent or any other customer and ask them. John and Ferris and Paul and Martin and Ben and myself and many others spent decades of our lives building a company that ran to the highest ethical standards we could achieve. There was a lot of neat stuff inside Lightwave that you never saw or heard of. Unlike many others in this field, we were not a hype machine.

For instance, did you know that we built our first ROADM in 1999. It was 16 channels and incorporated 2 AWG's (demux and mux), the switch matrix and VOA's (and maybe taps, too, I don't remember). All in a single, integrated circuit on substrate. It performed reasonably well, too. While we never shipped that part commercially, a group of us formed a company, Fiber Engines, to commercialize that circuit design. The company never got started; the downturn hit in November of 2000 with Nortel's bombshell announcement. But, as part of doing diligence for that company, we pretty much convinced ourselves that Lightwave was ahead of the pack in its ability to integrate that variety and quantity of functioning devices into a single PLC.

I'm with you on athermal AWG's. I reread my post. I didn't say that we were first with an athermal design. Just that we had a slick way of building them. No argument here. My hat's off to Hitachi. They're good guys.

I've just gone back and re-read my numerous posts concerning Lightwave. I'm embarassed to admit that they do sound self-promotional and I apologize for that. It's not my intent. Still, upon re-reading them I think I've been pretty accurate with the facts.

Again, my intent is to keep the record straight about the many great people who helped over 14 years to build what I consider to be a great company (despite its many faults). So, ok, you've got me on pride. But I defy you to pin me on anger, gluttony, envy, sloth, lust or greed. One out of seven ain't bad.

Drew Lanza
Founder
benson 12/4/2012 | 9:08:52 PM
re: Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated? Mr. Lanza;

Thanks for your reply, but I still do not agree with you. I do not intend to demean LM. BUT, I still state that you are overstating the case for LM, and I think you know that.

In working with Cisco, I am certain that you know that there are other companies working on integrated PLC's - not just LM and NEL. In fact, NEL was not even a supplier to Cisco on the VMUX until LM suspended operations a few months ago.

As for athermal AWG's, I think you also well know that Hitachi Cable was really the pioneer in commecializing that product, with a number of papers at OFC to prove it.

I tip my hat to you for your entrepeneurship in founding LM. It was/is a great company, which made many contributions to the field. I can understand your justiifiable feelings of pride. But I still believe that you are over-promoting it on this board.

Which beers do you offer?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Benson



Drew Lanza 12/4/2012 | 9:08:53 PM
re: Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated? Benson:

I have never failed to praise the pioneering role of NEL and others in the development of PLC technology. In a post dated 10/11/02, I wrote:

"We did invent some [PLC technology] over the 14 years we were in business, but the bulk of the (commercial) credit has to go to NEL and Lucent."

(see http://www.lightreading.com/bo... )

You are absolutely correct that NEL, Hitachi, and PIRI (which was NEL's technology) were the leaders in developing and shipping PLC AWG's for years before Lightwave started shipping. Please read my posts carefully. I have been scrupulous in pointing out that what Lightwave pioneered were INTEGRATED planar circuits. We founded the company 14 years ago to build integrated planar circuits and today, we build the highest performance integrated planar circuits.

For gosh sakes, Benson, when we started the friggin' company 14 years ago people were already thinking about and experimenting with planar circuits and had been for some time. There is nothing new under the sun, you know? But the design wins we got with Cisco, Lucent and Nortel clearly show that Lightwave Microsystems succeeded in what it set out to do 14 years ago - to build the best integrated PLC's that we could. Sure we had a lot of bumps along the way. When we began, we were convinced that polymers were the key to making low loss waveguides. And there are lots of other blind alleys that we went down.

As for Lightreading allowing me to post to continue my "promotion" of Lightwave, hey, give me a break. As I have stated in many of these posts I am here to defend the founders, employees, and investors of the company who deserve a lot better than what they get in these posts. If people can attack companies in these posts, then why can't I defend one? Besides, the fate of the company is already sealed. I get no benefit (other than psychic) from defending the company.

For instance, your statement about NEL, Hitachi, and PIRI being the pioneers only tells part of the story as I pointed out above. It confuses the role of PLC technology to build single-function integrated devices (i.e. AWG's) with multi-function integrated circuits (e.g. AWG+switch+VOA = ROADM). NEL, Hitachi, and Lucent deserve an enormous amount of credit in this field and I would never take away from their accomplishments. Read my previous posts.

Finally, Cisco, Lucent, Nortel and other companies DO rely on the circuits manufactured by Lightwave Microsystems which is why we couldn't and didn't let the company die. Lightwave Microsystems is still in production supporting these customers. There were discussions to have these companies 'bail' us out. But such was not meant to be. Nortel sold its optical business to Bookham. Agere went to Triquint. Cisco is not in the components business, but they were steadfast supporters and seriously tried to help the company with a number of potential acquirers.

Sorry if I've been a little bit testy on this post. If you know me, then you know that I am not just some schmuck floating around through this market. I have been in optical telecom for over 15 years. And I am justifiably proud of what we accomplished at Lightwave Microsystems, which got its start in my mother's garage in 1988. I will continue to defend the good people and good works of Lightwave Microsystems as long as I can.

Happy Holidays to you and your family. If you're ever in the Bay Area, Benson, look me up. I'll buy you a beer and we can continue the debate in a more convivial atmosphere.

Drew Lanza
Founder
APMH 12/4/2012 | 9:08:58 PM
re: Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated? Drew,

Thanks for the observations on the technologies that are likely to support the industry for the future. I'm glad to see that you didn't raise the spectre of the O-O-O network!

At a time when the behemoths are starting to stir again (Global Crossing et al coming out of bankruptcy), I'm still waiting to be convinced about last mile solutions.

What is the product out there that I, as a mere consumer, would buy and afford to use that will let me get the bandwidth at home that has been promised in all the analysts reports of yore?

And, out of interest, where do you see MetroPhotonics going with their InP capability?
benson 12/4/2012 | 9:09:01 PM
re: Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated? Mr. Lanza;

I cannot believe how Lightreading is allowing you to use these posts to continue to promote your company.

I object to your mis-statements on the "pioneering role" of LM in the PLC field. Could you please acknowledge the contribution of NEL, Hitachi Cable and PIRI, who were mass-producing PLC products WELL before LM? In fact, these companies were making 1000's of devices when LM was still experimenting with Polymer PLC's.

As for Cisco, Lucent and Nortel: if LM was so critical to them, why didn't they arrange a rescue?

Benson
Bongiorno 12/4/2012 | 9:09:03 PM
re: Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated? PLC material technologies vary
The most popular being Silica on Silicon (Lightwave Microsysyems, NEL, Alcatel ....)
but there is also Silicon itself (Bookham.. )
and InP (ThreeFive Photonics...) and then there is the (often postponed) promise of Polymers. Different Technologies will be able to integrate different things e.g Silica planer amplifiers, Silicon fast carrier injection VOA's, InP Detectors, all these have been demonstrated. All these have drawbacks Silica (no active Silcon (insertion loss) InP manufacturability etc and it probably will be not the 'best' technology but that which best suits the market applications available
Drew Lanza 12/4/2012 | 9:09:07 PM
re: Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated? iamonone:

This is something that I have spent a lot of time thinking about, so I hope you don't mind if I weigh in.

I think there will be four mature technologies that we will use to build integrated photonic circuits going forward for the next decade. There may be other, discrete technologies that are used, but I think the volumes are out there to justify the benefits of going with integrated technologies in the future and to offset the large fixed costs associated with production using those technologies.

1. CMOS at 0.13 micron and smaller geometry will continue to be the core photonic technology for the next decade. I can make a pretty convincing argument that the highest volume high bandwidth part produced over the next decade will operate at 10Gbps. The argument is based around the fact that for high volume applications (i.e. metro and access) it's almost always cheaper to use WDM past 10Gbps than it is to use TDM to 40Gbps. Today's CMOS handles 10Gbps signals like a champ. Plus, lots of technologies like forward error correction and electronic dispersion compensation allow CMOS to dramatically improve optical link budgets without the need to change the basic operating parameters of the underlying optics.

2. I think we will use Indium Phosphide for the active optoelectronic components. InP is a great platform technology at 10Gbps. You can build great receivers. You can build transmitters and modulators (and even amplifiers). And you can add some small number of waveguides and transistors to integrate everything before the yield goes to hell. And the costs are pretty reasonable.

3. Any time you have a lot of optical channels to be dealt with, I think you'll have to go with PLC technology. Our experience at Lightwave showed that for anything from about 16 to about 80 channels, PLC's were straightforward to build. Before the PLC will be widely deployed as a photonic IC, however, we will have to complete the device library. At Lightwave we were able to build AWG's (which were used as muxes and demuxes), we were able to build splitters and taps, and we were able to build switches and VOA's (although better switch technology would have been helpful). The missing piece was a planar amplifier. Other people have built planar amplifiers using processes that are compatible with Lightwave's. The combination of all those elements would have given you a great platform for doing WDM.

4. While you can get CMOS to talk to InP, it's tough to mate InP to PLC. The fourth necessary technology is a packaging technology that would allow you to easily couple the sources and detectors produced in InP to the muxes produced in PLC. There are a number of very talented people working on this problem and I believe a reliable, inexpensive solution to this problem will be available in the next few years.

Obviously, there are always some 'glue' parts (i.e. discretes) needed to put all of this together, but I really believe these four technologies enable you to build anything you can think of with just a few, inexpensive chips.

On the other hand, I could be totally wrong. I'm a EE who group up during the IC revolution in the 70's, so I'm kind of biased in that direction (if you'll pardon a miserable pun).

Drew Lanza
Founder
iamnoone 12/4/2012 | 9:09:07 PM
re: Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated? Thanks for your insight. I guess I wasn't counting on little integrated amplifiers being part of the solution to integrated optical circuits. But you're right that such technologies are being developed rapidly.

Nevertheless, amplifiers cannot make up for the loss in signal-to-noise ratio... a 1dB insertion loss is a 1dB loss in SNR. So -- is your conclusion that no passive technology can really do much better than a PLC AWG for >16 channel WDM components? That would be bad news for enterprise and metro applications where even EDFAs are not yet welcome.

I agree that a form of optical "solder" is a key missing ingredient. But the physics of optics hasn't revealed that any such thing is possible, especially for single mode operation.

Merry Christmas.

Drew Lanza 12/4/2012 | 9:09:08 PM
re: Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated? Dear lastmile:

As someone who has been active in this industry for over 15 years, let me personally invite you to please take part in it.

If anybody gives you a hard time at the door, you just tell 'em that Drew sent you.

Drew Lanza
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