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Tsunami Hits the Market

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
8/28/2000

DENVER — Startup Tsunami Optics has picked this week’s NFOEC (National Fiber Optic Engineers Conference) to come out of hiding and announce its purpose in life. It’s issued a press release today saying that it’s developing optical integrated circuits and that its first products will be a family of coarse wavelength-division multiplexing (CWDM) products (see Tsunami Plans CWDM Chips).

Big deal? Mmmmm. Hard to say.

Here’s the score. Tsunami is joining a growing band of vendors developing chips that incorporate multiple optical devices on the same piece of substrate. Other players include Bookham Technology PLC (LSE: BHM; Nasdaq: BKHM), Lightwave Microsystems Corp., Lumenon Innovative Lightwave Technology Inc., Kymata Ltd., Nanovation Technologies Inc., and Zenastra Photonics Inc.

The big idea is that eventually they’ll be able to make complete subsystems on a chip – which will slash costs and development times in much the same way as integrated circuits revolutionized the electronics industry 30 years ago.

Right now, however, it’s early days. Most vendors are focusing on incorporating multiple passive devices (ones that require no electrical power) on a single chip. Mixing passive and active (powered) devices in the same material is challenging, as is mixing optical and electronic devices – the ultimate goal.

Tsunami is pretty much following in other vendors’ footsteps in this regard. Just about everybody’s developing arrayed wave guides (AWGs), widgets that split light into different wavelengths for use in DWDM (dense wavelength-division multiplexing) gear. And just about everybody is aiming to add other devices to these AWGs – notably ones that can split off wavelengths to create optical add-drop multiplexers on a chip.

All of this is at an early stage of development. In fact, the jury’s still out on whether AWGs will be able to handle the huge numbers of wavelengths that might be used in tomorrow’s telecom networks.

This, however, isn't an issue for Tsunami. It's developing CWDM widgets where the emphasis is on fewer wavelengths. The idea is that the wavelengths can be spaced a long way apart, so that much lower cost, lower quality lasers can be used -- ones that pump out rather ragged streams of light pulses that would interfere with adjoining streams in DWDM systems. This has a big attraction in metro networks, where the cost of lasers represents a higher proportion of carrier costs.

It's also said that CWDM can be used on types of fiber that can't support DWDM. That's another big source of potential savings, because capacity on DWDM-unfriendly fiber is often sold at bargain rates, according to Bill St. Arnaud, senior director, network projects, of Canarie Inc., an organization developing Canada's next-generation Internet backbone.

However, Tsunami isn't alone in developing CWDM. At least one other vendor, MRV Communications, Inc., has already announced products (see MRV Unveils Coarse-WDM Transceiver). Its transceiver incorporates CWDM chips and lasers in the same packaging (not on the same chip) and supports four wavelengths over a distance of 50 kilometers.

It’s tough to figure out how Tsunami stacks up against MRV, because it hasn’t provided any details of its developments.

Likewise, Tsunami hasn’t divulged key information concerning its plans to develop the optical equivalent of ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) -- the other goal cited in its press release. On the face of it, it’s targeting the same market as Nanovation, and could run into the same problems (see Nanovation Comes Down to Earth).

-- Peter Heywood, international editor, Light Reading

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