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Optical components

Phoenix Rises From ProtoDel's Ashes

Ian Giles, founder of defunct components startup ProtoDel International Ltd., isn't going to let a tiny little thing like going out of business dampen his entrepreneurial spirit.

ProtoDel went into receivership -- the U.K. equivalent of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in the U.S. -- back in July (see ProtoDel Poops Out). In the same month, a new company called Phoenix Photonics Ltd. was incorporated, which has exactly the same aims and products as the old ProtoDel.

Giles isn't officially a founder of the new company, but he's clearly the driving force behind it. He's acting as a consultant to Phoenix, while at the same time helping to wind up the business at ProtoDel. Although he quit his CEO position a few weeks prior to its going into receivership, Giles is still one of ProtoDel's directors. (Reportedly, he was ousted by a potential investor, which then pulled the plug on funding.)

ProtoDel's speciality was making in-fiber passive components, such as variable optical attenuators (VOAs), based on "evanescent field technology" (see ProtoDel Pushes Passives). In these components, the side of the fiber is polished away. When another piece of glass is brought up to the polished side of the fiber, light starts to leak out, the amount depending on how close the two components are. The technology can be used to make different kinds of components, such as polarization controllers and in-line power monitors, as well as VOAs. ProtoDel's master plan was to integrate several components in the same piece of fiber.

Phoenix's plans are pretty much identical. In fact, the parallels between the two companies are so strong that if you click on the old ProtoDel Website, it takes you straight to Phoenix Photonics. Phoenix's first products are polarizers, depolarizers, and polarization controllers, which it claims are available now. At present, the company is run by Giles's two sons, but a couple of ex-ProtoDel engineers will be joining in the near future.

Despite the fact that he didn't succeed first time around, Giles firmly believes the technology has potential. He sees ProtoDel's demise as an opportunity to start up a much leaner operation. "I'm very positive," he says. "Looking on the bright side, we're not inwardly focused and obsessed with cost cutting. We're starting afresh and plan to grow the company."

There's one area of uncertainty -- the fate of ProtoDel's assets hasn't yet been decided -- but Giles says this is "not a showstopper." Phoenix would like to get its hands on ProtoDel's intellectual property and manufacturing gear, which are both up for sale, but doesn't consider it to be essential.

ProtoDel's intellectual property only covers more recent product innovations, such as power monitors and advanced integrated components that the company hadn't yet released. It doesn't cover the basic processing of in-fiber components. Furthermore, Giles claims to have invented some new components that ProtoDel didn't have.

As for equipment, Phoenix has already built its own rigs for making polarizers, which Giles claims are relatively cheap and simple to make. He also points out that there's plenty of telecom manufacturing gear going at knockdown prices in equipment auctions.

"We've done this before and we can do it again," he says.

Second time lucky?

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