UK startup has moved to a bigger fab plant, saying it's seeing more demand for small optical switches

August 3, 2004

3 Min Read
Polatis Plugs On With Optical Switches

Optical switch subsystem startup Polatis Ltd. yesterday announced that it had moved to a new facility -- not smaller, to cut costs, but larger, to keep pace with demand (see Polatis Moves to New Facility).

The four-year-old U.K. company claims business is getting brisker for its low-loss optical switches. This is partly because it diversified into markets other than telecom during the recession and partly because “telecom is beginning to kick in again” says Jas Sandhu, Polatis’s business development manager.

“The next step beyond ROADMs is beginning to happen,” he contends.

Sandhu acknowledges that carriers are looking at ROADMs (reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexers) to solve immediate problems (see Who Makes What: ROADMs). But he maintains they're also looking further ahead, at what might follow on behind ROADMs. Polatis is promoting the idea of distributing small optical switches throughout a meshed optical backbone, so that the path taken by light across the whole network can be reconfigured.

Polatis’s switches make this feasible because of their low insertion loss of around one decibel, compared to around five decibels for typical subsystems based on tiny tilting mirrors, according to Sandhu. This makes it possible to route light around a network, taking an extra few hops, because the power budget isn’t eroded so quickly.

The low insertion loss comes from Polatis’s way of routing light. Instead of tilting mirrors, it tilts collimators (lenses) so that light can pass directly between input and output fibers (see Polatis Reveals Switch Secrets).

Polatis says this results in a very compact switch -- a 16x16-port subsystem is 1 rack unit high -- while its performance “matches or exceeds” that of much bigger mechanical switches used for test-and-measurement applications. This is one of the markets that Polatis now targets, along with government, defense, and aerospace. Sandhu says Polatis has found it easier to sell optical switches in these, rather than telecom, markets.

Although Polatis sees the future brightening in the telecom market, others aren't so sure. "Thinking about all-optical networks today, even based on small (hopefully very inexpensive) switches, is a bit premature," writes Igor Stouklov, principal of SiTele LLC, a company providing marketing and sales services to component and module manufacturers, in an email to Light Reading. "That type of small-switch, mesh network does not only require significant capex cost reduction promise to be considered but an enormous software development effort by system people.

"The immediate ROADM needs will feed the market for at least the next three years," Stouklov contends.

"The beauty of Polatis’s approach is reconfigurability. The same box can be a 16x16 switch, dual 8x8 switches, or an array of eight 2x2 switches, just by changing software settings. Suddenly, exactly the same box can be a heart of a wavelength-selective switch or a drop-leg of a ROADM or the ROADM switching fabric or a protection switch array. The questions to Polatis are: how much the box will cost compared to existing solutions, what is the form factor, will it directly replace the proven existing solutions for today?"

Polatis is promising to answer some of these questions in the run-up to the European Conference on Optical Communication (ECOC), to be held in Stockholm on September 5-9.

— Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading

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