Top of the pile - Lightwave

Top of the pile

This month's "First Take" video highlights the three stories that received the most page views this year on (Click my picture on this page to find out what they are.) But popularity is one thing and importance often proves another. Just so you don't think I'm using page views as an easy way to skate around providing my own opinion, here's a look at what I think were the most important stories of the year.

Two events we covered this year, the earthquake/tsunami in Japan and the recent flooding in Thailand, combined human tragedy with significant impact on the optical communications industry. The industry effects will fade with time; the human effects will remain with some people for lifetimes.

Elsewhere, the sudden return of excess optical-subsystem inventories first heralded by Finisar last March stalked the components and subsystems sector for most of the year. While several analysts had predicted that the market in China would slow, the sudden turn in fortunes Finisar described came to many as unexpected news. The shift certainly appeared to catch financial markets by surprise. And since Wall Street hates surprises, it punished Finisar and everyone else in the space severely.

But I think the most important story - or, really, category of stories - in 2011 revolved around the march of fiber-enabled broadband around the world.

This story has a number of facets. At the national project level, programs such as the initiatives in Australia and New Zealand moved from the planning to the contract and implementation stage. In the United States, broadband stimulus projects had a chance to prove just how shovel-ready they actually were. Several projects ran into delays, thanks in no small part to bureaucracy (environmental impact studies) and a fiber shortage that began this spring and should run into 2012. (The shortage represents a major story in itself, in that its impact isn't limited to FTTH projects.) We've already seen at least two projects abandoned, but most appear headed in the right direction.

Meanwhile, Google finally announced the site of its first FTTH test bed. Kansas City was such a pleasing choice that Google made it twice, first selecting Kansas City, KS, then expanding across the river to Kansas City, MO. Sources at the company indicate that a similar test bed may be set up in Europe. Just what these test beds will look like and the composition of service offerings remain a mystery, but the experiments should prove interesting. At the very least, we'll witness the success or failure of the 1-Gbps business case for today's users.

Successful rollout of broadband networks obviously benefits the industry in several ways, from the systems that will be purchased and deployed in the last mile to the ripple effect moving back toward the network core that should stimulate further demand for optical communications technology. But consumers will benefit as well. And those benefits are the ones in which members of the optical communications community should find the most pride.

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