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Startup Unveils Fiber "Switch"

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
9/14/2000

Templex Technology Inc., a startup backed by Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), says it's found a way to make a fiber Bragg grating (FBG) act like an elementary switch.

Its enhanced FBGs, lengths of specially treated fiber, can steer wavelengths of light to specific destinations in optical networks -- eliminating the need for routing tables, route servers, and other intermediate gear.

Templex is keeping plans for its so-called "addressable FBG" close to the vest. But spokespeople say it could eventually be used in a range of applications. For instance, it might fit inside switches in central offices to streamline the provisioning of optical circuits and to give carriers a fast and easy way to apply quality-of-service parameters to lambda-based services.

Templex isn't unique in having an FBG. These components increasingly are being used by a range of vendors to pack wavelengths onto fiber. While more costly than traditional methods that use semiconductors to filter light, FBGs are considered more functional and efficient by a growing number of supporters (see FBGs: Key to DWDM's Future?).

On the face of it, Templex's component sounds like any other FBG: It consists of a length of treated fiber onto which a pattern is etched. As light hits the fiber, the patterned fiber acts like a selective mirror, reflecting back a specific wavelength according to its color, while allowing others to continue on their journey.

Templex says it differs from other FBG makers, however, by etching into the fiber more than the pattern needed to filter light by its fundamental frequency parameters. It also etches in special codes (based on code-division multiple access, or CDMA, technology) that identify specific wavelengths and indicate their destination addresses in the network.

The result -- in theory, at least -- is that the Templex FBGs can route data on their own through optical networks without the need for extra processing, which often includes optical-to-electrical conversions that require oodles of extra equipment.

On the downside, Templex's FBG, dubbed the SmartOptical series, is at least a year away from shipping, and development is going slowly. In fact, the company itself is just getting off the ground. Founded in Eugene, Ore., in 1995 by academician and laser physicist Thomas Mossberg (who's since gone back to teaching), the company originally focused on creating storage solutions.

Then, in 1999, the team hit on the FBG solution and decided to switch gears. Intel stepped in shortly thereafter, reportedly contributing several million dollars in first-round funding. In January 2000, Shashi Raval, a business unit manager at Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HWP) was appointed CEO. The company also moved to San Jose, Calif., to be closer to the action.

The company is working on its second round of financing, which Raval says will be used mostly to get manufacturing operations in place. Long wait times at popular FBG foundries (up to 22 weeks, according to Raval), have forced the company to start looking into building its own facilities.

Templex also will use its new funding to hire more people: Its Website consists largely of a series of help-wanted listings, and Raval says he's intent on ramping up quickly in order to get a product out by late 2001.

-- Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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