Optical Fibers Go Active

KVH Industries Inc. (Nasdaq: KVHI) hopes to make a splash at OFC next week when it introduces a 40-Gbit/s optical modulator based on an all-fiber technology.

Reportedly, it's taken KVH three years to reach the heady heights of exhibiting at OFC. In 1997 the company purchased the intellectual property ownership of a proprietary optical fiber from Andrew Corp.. This includes the technology for making "D-shaped" optical fiber -- a fiber with a flat side -- which makes it possible to etch into the core of the fiber, according to Jim Dodez, KVH's vice president of marketing.

The next piece of the jigsaw to fall into place was the discovery in April 2000 of electro-optic polymers that could be modulated at speeds up to 100 Gbit/s. Larry Dalton, a professor at the University of Washington, whose research team made the breakthrough, is now on KVH's advisory board.

KVH removes a section from the core of the D-fiber and replaces it with a piece of electro-optic polymer, which it buys from Dalton's lab, says Dodez. Then, it makes a groove in the opposite side of the fiber from the flat of the D, and inserts an electrode. With no applied voltage on the electrode, the polymer remains clear. When a low voltage is applied, the polymer goes dark. This way, a data signal applied to the electrode is easily converted into an optical signal.

Plenty of other companies are using Dalton's materials (see Polymer's Progress) so KVH will have strong competition in terms of the performance of its device. But other companies are spraying the polymer onto silicon chips, to make planar devices.

A simple head count of who is doing what might suggest that the planar approach is better than the all-fiber design. But Dodez thinks otherwise. "Since the optical signal never leaves the fiber core, the insertion loss of the modulator is reduced, permitting either increased span lengths or lower-power light sources," he says. He also believes that "ActiveFiber" as it is called, could have much higher manufacturing yields than conventional electro-optic chip processes -- though that's impossible to prove at this stage.

Later this year, says Dodez, KVH is planning to unveil other all-fiber products, including variable attenuators, tunable fiber Bragg gratings for add-drop multiplexers, and possibly NxN optical switches.

KVH claims it is one of the few companies that both makes its own fiber and manufactures components and systems. Its current product lineup comprises navigation systems, broadband satellite gear, and fiber optic gyroscopes. In 2000, KVH had revenuess of almost $30 million and net profit of $76,531.

— Pauline Rigby, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

SectorInvestor 12/4/2012 | 8:41:23 PM
re: Optical Fibers Go Active More information on their new ActiveFiber technology, which will implement several optical components directly in optical fiber, eliminating the E-O chip altogether, can be found at:

SectorInvestor 12/4/2012 | 8:43:09 PM
re: Optical Fibers Go Active Now I have to correct myself. The annual market for KVH's current sensor (per the CEO) is $450 MILLION, not $450,000 as I typed.

The fact that everyone else is using the polymers with E-O chips is more an indication of what technology THEY ALREADY USE for slower components, rather than that the all-in-fiber approach is not as good. The fact is that most of the cost and complexity involved with modulator production is associated with the E-O chip. The elimination of the chip could give KVH (per the CEO) as much as a 10 fold pricing advantage over competition.

Few companies have the capability to make their own fiber, and the "D" fiber KVH uses has special optical properties. KVH also holds patents to many aspects of the in-fiber technology, preventing others from easily following their lead.

Also, If anyone would like to find out more about KVH's Photonic Fiber Initiative, the Mobile Broadband Initiative and the Current Sensor, simply click on the Icon link to their presentation at the Needham conference in January at the top left corner of this link.


Pauline Rigby 12/4/2012 | 8:43:17 PM
re: Optical Fibers Go Active Well spotted.

The figure I gave was for operating income, not revenues. Somehow the wrong term got used.

It's fixed now. I've changed it to the figure for revenues.

[email protected]
SectorInvestor 12/4/2012 | 8:43:26 PM
re: Optical Fibers Go Active Except for the last line, which is in error. KVH actually had just short of $30,000,000 in revenue in 2000 from several sources. They turned operating income positive in Q2, then bottom line positive in Q3 and Q4.

Their main revenue drivers at the moment are mobile communications, which has recorded 16 straight quarters of consecutive growth, military tactical navigation sales, which has rebounded with several significant contracts in 2000, and FOG (Fiber Optic Gyro) sales which are experiencing a dramatic growth from a small base.

Future revenue drivers include a fiber optic high voltage current sensor, which is already developed and tested and waiting for a major international partner to accept orders later this year, in what KVH says is a $450,000 yearly market for them.

They also have two major new initiatives, the optical components mentioned in this article, and a mobile broadband initiative, aimed at minivans and any other vehicles where back seat satellite video (500 channels) and full-blown Internet (same as you get at home) will be offered.

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