FTTP or not FTTP -- that's the question for PLCs

May 7, 2004 -- Vendors of components based on planar lightwave circuit (PLC) technology are balancing the potential the fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) market offers versus the number of competitors they'll face, reports Editorial Director Stephen Hardy.

May 7, 2004 -- Vendors of components based on planar lightwave circuit (PLC) technology are balancing the potential the fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) market offers versus the number of competitors they'll face.

On the one hand, the technology lends itself well to the kinds of splitters FTTP applications will demand. While fused biconic taper (FBT) devices do a fine job for 1x2 and 2x2 requirements, FTTP configurations would require that designers cascade components. This degrades performance, increases cost, and results in a large device footprint -- particularly in comparison to PLC-based devices, according to Ferris Lipscomb, vice president of marketing at NeoPhotonics Corp. (San Jose). The company announced a line of PLC-based devices for FTTP at this year's OFC.

"I think it's generally considered that for 1x8, 1x16, 1x32 that PLCs are superior, both in cost and performance. And, obviously, the higher you go, the more superior they are," he offers. "A lot of the splitters in Japan are 1x4s, and they're made with PLC technology."

Lipscomb says that approximately 40,000 splitters per month are being used in Japan for FTTP applications -- the kinds of volumes that the semiconductor-based PLC manufacturing approach would thrive on.

However, the use of Japan as an example highlights one of the major problems with the FTTP market, says Richard Tompane, president and CEO of Gemfire Corp. (Fremont, CA). Gemfire, which has considerable PLC-based IP, has stayed away from FTTP splitters so far. "The biggest problem in particular is since most of this deployment is being done in Asia, the Asian suppliers also have an inherent advantage in that marketplace. So it is a much more difficult thing for a company to break into if they don't have a lot of domestic operation there," he adds.

As an illustration of Tompane's point, two Asian companies are ready to enter the FTTP market with PLC-based devices. Central Glass Co. Ltd. (Tokyo) has delivered samples of the CWS-08E 1x8 splitter based on fluoride polymer PLC technology. The company also has bi-directional triplexers and diplexers (as well as filters and other devices). Meanwhile, in China, Broadex Corp. (Shanghai) also has PLC-based splitters, couplers, and fiber arrays in the sampling stage for FTTP applications. Its line of splitters ranges from 1x4 to 1x32.

NeoPhotonics joins Central Glass as a potential supplier of PLC-based biplexers and triplexers. However, several companies are still weighing whether PLCs and FTTP make a good match. "We see PLC as potentially becoming even more significant down the road as cost becomes an even greater objective for the FTTx area," says Jy Bhardwaj, general manager of the Waveguide Business Unit at JDS Uniphase (San Jose). That said, Bhardwaj says JDSU is evaluating several technologies in addition of PLCs as it forms its FTTP component strategy.

-- S. Hardy

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