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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Drew Lanza 12/4/2012 | 9:09:29 PM
re: Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated? Okay, I surrender.

You've all made good and legitimate criticisms of the company. And certainly, to Lichtverbindung, who claims to be a former employee who was laid off, I apologize. The employees of Lightwave did everything that was asked of them and more and they're a great group. I truly wish that things had turned out differently.

But, I'll say it again. We had a vision of the future that we put together over the 14 years that we were in business. This vision turned out to be correct, but our timing relative to it turned out to be wrong. We did help to invent the planar lightwave circuit and we shipped the highest quality PLC's out there. Again, just ask Cisco, Nortel, or Lucent.

Was that sufficient to build a business? Well, in my lengthy experience in this industry over the past 20 years, it usually is. But these are extraordinary times. Nobody foresaw this huge crash we've had. And, as I've expressed before, when push came to shove, Lightwave chose to continue to deliver its products to its customers who needed them, rather than go into hibernation, screw its customers over, and wait until this storm passed.

I think everybody here has missed the point. It really doesn't matter what we would have done. The employees would still be laid off. When you don't have any revenue, you can't pay salaries. The VC's work was already done. We had built the plant, built the world's best product, and penetrated the world's best customers. At that point, it's a juggling act to match revenue to costs and try to achieve profitability.

In the end, there was (and is) no revenue to be had out there. It's true all across our industry. Should we have seen that coming? How could we? Those of us in the industry for 20 years believed the fiberization of the world was about to commence in earnest (it still will in the coming years, and that's the timing that we got wrong). The analysts didn't see it coming. The consultants didn't see it coming. Heck, the customers didn't see it coming.

Look, I'm a big boy and I know that the buck stops with me. The Captain goes down with his ship. That's why I'm taking the time to post on these message boards - because the employees of Lightwave deserve better than some of the vicious jabs they've gotten here. They built a great company with products second to none.

But I also know the difference between being asleep at the wheel causing me to founder on the rocks and getting caught in a sudden gale that blows up and sinks you.

So, mea culpa to the fine employees of Lightwave, many of whom have become personal friends over the past decade. But, honestly, if I had it all to do over again, I'm not sure I'd do it any differently.

Drew Lanza
realoptics 12/4/2012 | 9:09:29 PM
re: Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated? Lastmile:

You've told that you are oustsider, so you should keep yourself that way, stop sending and naive comments on this board anymore, go spend more time on pondering how to invest wisely.
lastmile 12/4/2012 | 9:09:26 PM
re: Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated? realoptics
Please remember that LR is THE GLOBAL SITE FOR OPTICAL NETWORKING and every one is allowed to express their views. It does not matter if one is an insider or an outsider. It also does not matter if comments posted on this board are naive. Please remember that there are so many investors who are not IT professionals.
As and when I need special investment advise I will be delighted to seek your opinion.
iamnoone 12/4/2012 | 9:09:20 PM
re: Lightwave Microsystems Reincarnated? I'm wondering what the viability of silica-on-silicon planar technology is. Granted that Lightwave makes the best PLCs, but is the technology itself flawed for making integrated optical circuits for WDM?

The concept that Lightwave was trying to push was to start with a good MUX and DMUX, then put the other components (VOA, switch) in between. But the problem with this is insertion loss and channel narrowing.

From their specs, I'm guessing the best broadband AWGs have about 3-4dB insertion loss. Since you need 2 AWGs for input and output, you start out with 6-8dB of insertion loss before doing anything. Thus for a typical device with some functionality, we are looking at 7 to 10dB. This is much too large for many applications, especially in metro or enterprise applications.

In contrast, free space MUX/DMUX schemes by the likes of Lucent and some other MEMS companies have about 4-5dB (including the circulator). That's a good 2-3dB better, and has better passband flatness. (I don't work with this technology, BTW).

Any comments on other schemes or platforms that seem viable for WDM components with low insertion loss and maybe low price?

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
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
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.

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
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?

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?
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