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Optical/IP

LMG Gets a Boost From Boeing

Light Management Group Inc. (OTC-BB: LMGR) announced today that The Boeing Company has agreed to evaluate LMG's acousto-optical switch for use in its commercial, space, and military products (see Boeing to Assess LMG Switch).

This brings the total number of companies testing LMG's switch to four. The others are France Telecom SA, Empyrean Communications Inc. (OTC-BB: EPYN), and FiberWired Burlington

All this suggests that the company isn't as flakey as it first appeared (see Acousto-Optical Switches: A Sound Idea).

In fact, it suggests that acousto-optics could be a serious alternative to MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems), the technology with the tiny tilting mirrors being used in most all-optical switch developments at the moment. A big reason for LMG's perceived progress is networking -- not in the optical sense, but in the person-to-person sense. FiberWired Burlington, for example, is a provider of fiber-optic connections to businesses in Ontario, where LMG has its head office. FiberWired came calling one day, to offer fiber-to-the-business to LMG, and the two companies spotted that they might help each other, according to Don Iwacha, LMG's president.

Iwacha also says that LMG's potentially most important deal -- with France Telecom -- was made through personal contacts.

LMG's acousto-optical switch works by using sound waves in a crystal to deflect a beam of light. Simply put, the peaks and troughs of a sound wave create a grating, one that can be turned on and off or tuned by altering the sound wave's frequency. The amount of deflection is varied by changing the frequency of the sound.

Acousto-optic technology has two key advantages over MEMS. First, there are no moving parts -- and thus nothing to jam, break, or wear out. And second, its switching speed -- a few microseconds -- is about 1000 times faster than MEMS (see Optical Switching Fabric).

In a recent press announcement, LMG claimed its switch has performed more than one trillion switching cycles over two years without any need for maintenance. "This tremendous durability eclipses the traditional micro-electrical-mechanical systems (MEMS) fiber optic technology, which requires maintenance at roughly every millionth cycle," it says.

At the end of 2000, LMG demonstrated a switch with a single input and up to 1,024 output positions (see LMGR Debuts Acousto-Optic Switch). In the switch, all the possible output positions lie in a straight line, so they can be accessed by a single deflector. Since then, the company has extended the idea to four inputs and 32 possible outputs for each input, essentially by placing four single-input switches side by side.

Most recently, LMGR has developed a switch where the beams can be deflected in both the x and y directions. This is done by using two crystals that carry sound waves at right angles to each other. One of the fringe benefits of doing things this way is that the resulting device has no polarization sensitivity. The device has eight inputs and 64 possible outputs.

Of course, the big question is: Will any of the trials turn into contracts? Right now, its too early to say, says Iwacha.

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading, http://www.lightreading.com

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