Optical components

Scattered Signals for Tunable Lasers

Bandwidth9 Inc.'s tunable laser design win with Movaz Networks Inc. this week looks particularly significant in light of the fact that many other companies are shying away from deploying the technology (see Movaz, Bandwidth9 In Tune).

Tunable lasers, which can be dynamically adjusted to switch wavelengths rather than being hard-wired into one wavelength, are expected to bring about a new generation of more flexible optical networking gear that can lower the costs of managing optical networks. But excitement about this technolgy has been tempered by the current slowdown.

First, the bad news. A shameful example of a tunable laser non-adopter is Swedish startup Lumentis AB. It originally told Light Reading that tunable lasers and filters were a key part of its metro DWDM platform, making it possible to provision wavelengths to customers remotely as well as reducing component counts (see Metro DWDM: Another Leap Forward?). It now claims that the use of tunable lasers was never seriously considered (see Lumentis Faces Metro Challenge). "We were putting up a big smoke screen," says Anders Lundberg, Lumentis's CEO. (Well, Jumpin Yiminny!)

Other companies that said they planned to incorporate tunable lasers in their systems include Luxcore Networks Inc., Mahi Networks Inc., and Network Photonics Inc. These companies seemed to mean what they said, as all got as far as lining up suppliers.

Mahi was an announced customer of Agility Communications Inc., although it also appeared to have aligned itself with Bandwidth9, judging from the presence of Mark Thomas, Mahi's director of optical networking, at a roundtable discussion organized by Bandwidth9 at the NFOEC show earlier this year. Similarly, Luxcore had signed up with both Agility and Bandwidth9. Network Photonics was an announced customer of Agility.

But all three startups have hit hard times and been forced to scale back their plans. Mahi reportedly has canned its entire optical division (see Startups Suffer Setbacks), while both Luxcore and Network Photonics have scrapped their boxes altogether and are focusing on optical switching subsystems (see Luxcore Pulls a Switcheroo and Network Photonics Scales Back).

And of course, there was ilotron (RIP) -- an announced customer of Altitun, now part of ADC Telecommunications Inc. (Nasdaq: ADCT) -- which built some ambitious optical packet switch prototypes and then ran out of cash before it could find any buyers (see Altamar Buys Ilotron Remains).

All this highlights the dangers of trying to sell components to startups. It also indicates that the current market downturn could have pushed out the time when tunable lasers will be deployed in volume by some months.

"You can't avoid what happened at Mahi and what happened at Network Photonics," says Tim Richardson, Bandwidth9's VP of business development. "It's fair to say I was concerned when I heard about it."

But its not all bad news. Most companies that have scaled back were intending to build tunable lasers into very complex next-generation platforms that could offer advanced services such as wavelengths on demand and dynamic bandwidth provisioning, says Richardson. "I don't see anyone shying away from using tunable lasers as spares in their deployment."

Richardson also says that there are plenty of startups preparing to pick up the tunable laser torch -- it's just a question of picking the right one. "We not only look at our direct customer, we also have to look at our customer's customer." As for the current case, he believes there is "a high probability that Movaz will be successful next year."

To get the whole picture about tunable lasers, however, the etablished system houses need to be taken into account. Many of these, such as Fujitsu Ltd. (KLS: FUJI.KL), are quietly developing their own technologies, rather than buying from elsewhere. One exception is Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), which has joined forces with Bandwidth9 (see Bandwidth9 Scores a Coup). Altitun also claims to have design wins with the major systems vendors, but won't name names.

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading
USA 12/4/2012 | 7:46:49 PM
re: Scattered Signals for Tunable Lasers It is going to be very interesting to see if Movaz can make it to GA without running out of money. Many of the carriers don't seem to have the appetite for 'bleeding edge' technology and without OSMINE certification, the legacy Bell companies won't use them in their networks. (and guess who has the money...)

It will take millions of dollars to get OSMINE certified, and new technology like Movaz is trying to sell will require lengthy test cycles. Both of these will probably cause Movaz to run out of money before they can obtain a reasonable cash flow.
Stevesjca 12/4/2012 | 7:44:56 PM
re: Scattered Signals for Tunable Lasers A true, full-ITU band, dynamically-tunable laser with a settling time of <5 ms sounds like the holy grail of communications lasers. A number of companies claim they have them available; but are they ready for mass production? Has the cost come down to make them practical? Everything I have read suggests that they are still very costly, and difficult to MP.
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