Princeton Lightwave Powers Up
Pumping up the power outputs for lasers is important for a variety of reasons, say experts. For one, higher powers are needed to drive optical signals over longer distances. This means that service providers can reduce the number of amplifiers used in the network, which could lower their costs.
Princeton Lightwave says recent research has demonstrated optical output powers of 1W at five different wavelengths in five different versions of its laser chips. It's addressing the laser market in several different segments. For example, laser products in the 1350- to 1510-nanometer wavelength range are suitable for Raman amplification while those in the 1460nm to 1490nm range are aimed at erbium doped fiber amplifiers (EDFAs).
“As we move to higher speeds, higher channel counts, and longer distances between optical and electrical conversions, you need more powerful lasers to drive optical amplification," says Rick Schafer, an analyst with CIBC World Markets.
The key to high power is to manage the heat generated by the laser, say Princeton Lightwave officials. The company uses very long optical cavities, which help in two ways: They provide more material to generate light and more area to dissipate heat.
Although system developers can use several lower-power lasers to achieve the same power output, it’s not an ideal solution. Using more lasers takes up more space, lowers reliability, and generates more heat, says Tom Hausken, a market analyst with Strategies Unlimited.
“The big contribution is to reduce the device count so that if you need 1 watt output you can use one or two modules rather than three or four,” says Hausken. "Reducing device count may improve reliability and may even save money. That alone is a great value to service providers. Making things smaller can really make a difference.”
This may be a significant research and development announcement, but so far it's no more than that. Princeton Lightwave has yet to turn this into a commercially viable product that can be mass-produced and shipped to customers. The company is still working on producing its initial product line of 1480 and 14xx lasers, which are due out next quarter (see Princeton Lightwave Comes Out). The new higher-power lasers aren’t expected to go into sampling until at least the fourth quarter of 2001.
Also, it's likely that competitors are not too far behind. The most formidable competition will probably come from Furukawa Electric Co. Ltd., a Japanese company that has dominated the market with about 75 percent market share in the 1480nm pump laser market. It also has a strong offering in the 14xx business, although this part of the market seems a bit more wide open, according to CIBC's Schafer.
“Furukawa has such a lead and really dominates this space,” he says. “But if what Princeton Lightwave says is true, that is significant. But they will have to prove reliability and manufacturability.”
JDS Uniphase Inc. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU), through its merger with SDL Inc. (Nasdaq: SDLI) (see JDSU, SDL Make it Legal and JDSU and SDL: The Saga Continues), has also demonstrated high-power lasers in the 800mW range. Other potential competitors include nLight Photonics and Corning Inc. (NYSE: GLW) (see Investors Pump $44M Into nLight ).
“It’s going to be very interesting,” says Hausken. “It’s really Furukawa’s business to lose. But at this point it’s still a horse race.”
-- Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com