Telecom laser market to see growth in 2003--but spread over fewer players, says Strategies Unlimited

January 23, 2003--The telecom laser and transponder market stands to grow over 30% in 2003, largely due to the continued installation of line cards into existing systems, drawing down inventories. However, with dozens of suppliers competing for a share of the pie, prices and margins will remain squeezed for industry participants.

The telecom laser and transponder market stands to grow over 30% in 2003, largely due to the continued installation of line cards into existing systems, drawing down inventories, contends a new report by market research firm Strategies Unlimited. However, with dozens of suppliers competing for a share of the pie, prices and margins will remain squeezed for industry participants.

"Traffic is continuing to grow, albeit more slowly, and prices will stabilize enough for revenues in this market to grow beginning in 2003," contends Tom Hausken, Optical Communication Components Practice Director at Strategies Unlimited. "But, there is only business for a few key suppliers, plus some additional niche players. The longer it takes to consolidate, the longer will be the pain."

In some respects, the laser market has fared better than many other optical components during the current industry downturn, reveals the report. Laser products are installed into systems not only as new systems are installed, but also as new DWDM channels are added to existing systems. Consequently, laser manufacturers have not experienced the extreme swings seen by manufacturers of fiber-optic cable or optical amplifiers. Additionally, average selling prices (ASPs) of lasers generally have scaled upwards as the data rate of those lasers increased, since higher data rate lasers are expensive to package. ASPs for many passive optical components, by contrast, have risen only modestly with new generations of systems.

Integration of new features into functional blocks, or transponders, provides a higher revenue opportunity for many players in the 10-Gbit/sec and 40-Gbit/sec markets. While their overall penetration into the market is limited, these products sell for higher prices, and also scale well with data rates.

However, the industry remains plagued by inventory buildups that occurred during the initial phase of the industry downturn. As of the end of 2002, excess inventories remained for products aimed at the long haul market, such as continuous-wave lasers on the ITU grid, thus depressing sales of laser diodes. Products in the best inventory position are metro transceivers and newer products such as coarse wavelength-division multiplexing (CWDM) lasers.

Despite slow sales, the number of suppliers has expanded far beyond any reasonable value, to over 100. This is clearly excessive, even for this diverse market, say analysts, and even allowing for a healthy number of start-up companies as candidates for acquisition. So far, there have been few consolidations or closures in this market segment.

"Telecom Lasers, Transceivers, & Transponders: Market Review and Forecast-2003," reviews the applications, markets, technology, and suppliers of laser products in telecom networks. It presents forecasts by application broken down by data rate, wavelength, and other parameters, along with estimates of revenues and market shares of 17 key suppliers of the 85 categorized in the study. For more information about Strategies Unlimited (Mountain View, CA) and its research, visit the company's Web site at www.strategies-u.com.

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