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Swiss Launch Light Emitter Startup

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
11/30/2001

A lot of components startups have their roots in university research, and Swiss startup BeamExpress Inc. (future Website) is no exception.

BeamExpress, which announced a $4.5 million first round of funding today, was founded in late July 2001 by professor Eli Kapon at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). It's tapping seven years of research into novel light-emitting devices.

Funding for the company comes from European VC Index Ventures, whose previous telecom investments include CommQuest, DigiQuant, STM Microsystems, and, more recently, LaserComm Inc. (see BeamExpress Gets $4.5M). The official line is that BeamExpress is developing active components for metro and access networks. It will be working on VCSEL (vertical cavity surface-emitting laser) technology, but the product isn't necessarily a laser, according to Hervé Lebret, principle at Index Ventures, and a member of BeamExpress's board of directors.

"It isn't a secret," he says, but no more details are forthcoming.

Light Reading's best guess is that BeamExpress is developing what's called a resonant cavity light emitting diode (RCLED). The quality of light from an RCLED is not as good as that from a laser, but it's miles better than a standard LED.

However, the RCLED is a lot simpler and, therefore, cheaper to make than a laser, which could be just the ticket for access networks or optical interconnects. Fiber-to-the-home fans advocate using RCLEDs in combination with plastic optical fiber as a low-cost solution.

Like a VCSEL, an RCLED contains a very thin optical cavity, formed by sandwiching a layer of active material between two multilayer mirrors. However, since the device doesn't actually lase, the mirrors don't need to be as highly reflective as they are in VCSELs. That means the mirrors are composed of fewer layers -- the main reason the thing is easier to make.

Researchers under the directorship of Prof. Kapon have been working on RCLEDs as part of a collaborative European Union-funded project called SMILES (Semiconductor Microcavity Light Emitters). The project, which got underway in 1994, aimed to develop high-brightness, high-speed LEDs using vertical cavity and photonic bandgap ideas (see The Hole Thing).

Broadly speaking, the idea behind the project is to make smaller and smaller optical cavities -- the places where light is trapped. Tiny optical cavities should result in more efficient devices.

A drawback to RCLEDs is that they can't be directly modulated as quickly as lasers. However, even speeds of several hundred Mbit/s may be sufficient for fiber-to-the-home applications.

BeamExpress currently has 10 employees. According to Lebret, the initial funding should be enough to last 18 months, by which time it expects to have sample products available and to number around 30 people.

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

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