Trade shows reflect changing moods for 2002

TRENDS

By CAROLYN MATHAS

The 2002 trade-show season began in January when SUPERnet and Photonics West hit Silicon Valley. Marketing budget cuts were evident in the selection of logo-laden giveaways. Last year's zoomy alien space guns made way for this year's ballpoint pens. The atmosphere, however, was far from somber. Cautious optimism could be felt across both show floors, and although they were very different in scope and focus, clear messages resounded from presenters, exhibitors, and show management that indicated how the industry plans to approach the year.

SUPERnet 2002, sponsored by the Telecommunications Industry Association, promised and delivered an intimate venue to experience all aspects of broadband-network infrastructure. About 60 exhibitors dotted the Santa Clara Convention Center floor. From speakers and vendors alike, the messages were clear: The need exists for converged communications products and services; the availability of transitional products; continued integration and expansion of features; and a level of focus on research and development missing over the past several years.

The move is definitely away from whiz-bang science projects that required customers to scrap their investments in legacy infrastructures and toward products that will transition those networks to the future. The first example of such a product was Sycamore Networks' SN 16000 SC, an advanced optical switch for regional and metro-core switching applications designed to bridge the edge to the core. The product, according to Rick Thompson, director of product marketing, makes Sycamore Networks unique as the only vendor with integrated small, medium, and large switch portfolio offerings.

Continuing this trend, in a move from SONET/SDH to Ethernet, Atrica Inc. announced that its Optical Ethernet System breaks through a metro Ethernet resiliency barrier to deliver sub-50-msec restoration for metro Ethernet networks. The announcement represents the first deliverable of the Atrica Resilient Ethernet Access (AREA) framework. Nan Chen, Atrica's director of product marketing, says that AREA uses two rapid restoration mechanisms-tunneling and hardware mechanisms-to provide metro Ethernet networks with the same levels of resiliency previously available only in SONET/SDH networks.

Meanwhile, Nokia introduced the D500 next-generation multiservice broadband access platform and demonstrated the Nokia ASR 2020, said to be the industry's first aggregation service router with "five nines" availability. The products will enable service providers to reliably move to an all-IP network architecture. The ASR 2020 specifically allows providers to drive revenues, cut costs, and accelerate the migration to always available, fully resilient IP networks.

In addition, Laurel Networks claimed that it is the first to provide a multiservice-over-MPLS provisioning system for carriers; and Centillium likewise claimed it is first to offer the world's first ADSL secure router on a chip.

All together now
Across town in San Jose a substantially larger show, Photonics West, was sponsored by SPIE, the international society for optical engineering. More than 600 exhibitors spilled over from the main convention center into the Parkside Hall Civic Auditorium complex across the street. Approximately 80 technical conferences covered lasers and applications, optoelectronics, electronic imaging, and biomedical optics and applications. Here, the messages focused on partnering, mentoring, and fostering industry growth and were stated in a myriad of ways.

Worldwide, academia, government, business, and finance are teaming to further optoelectronics development. Scotland, for instance, was represented at the show by Scottish Development International (SDI), which promotes trade and investment, and the Scottish Optoelectronics Association (SOA), which is responsible for technology transfer and partnerships. Both agencies had substantial show presence. Chris Gracie, SOA chief executive, reports there are already 60 optoelectronic companies in Scotland that account for more than 800 jobs in "Silicon Glen."

Similarly, on the "Optronics Coast" of North Wales, optoelectronics research and development forms a substantial activity. Since 1995, more than $4 billion has been invested in the Welsh optoelectronics sector. The Welsh Development Agency, a government organization whose goal is to further economic development in Wales, and the Welsh Opto-Electronics Forum, a consortium of Welsh companies, university research efforts, users, and support organizations, exhibited and took an active part in the show's conference agenda.

In addition to international organizations promoting their countries and capabilities, Palomar Technologies, once a part of Hughes Aircraft until a 1995 management buyout made it an independent company, followed suit. A designer of precision machinery that enables companies to assemble their complex packages, the company said it is increasing a type of mentoring program-working with startups and fostering development through loan assistance, relationship building, etc.-taking young companies under its wings to further the knowledge and expansion of automated manufacturing capabilities in the industry.

Likewise, at a time when venture capital funds are difficult to acquire, Olympus Integrated Technologies America Inc., a spinoff of camera giant Olympus, announced the formation of a partnership development group (PDG). Based in San Jose, the group was formed to enhance the success of partner companies through technology and business alliances. Partnerships are planned with early-stage and established companies in optical communications, optical networking, and semiconductors. Areas of interest include laser optics, optical switches, DWDM, and optical wireless. Olympus Corp., an 80-year-old, $4-billion conglomerate is ready and able to support PDG partners in R&D, engineering, precision manufacturing, sales, marketing, and distribution.

Several products and capabilities were announced at Photonics West, including Coventor's micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) platforms for the creation of cost-effective variable optical attenuators (VOAs) and VOA arrays; a new family of closed-loop motorized stages by New Focus Inc., offering accurate, high-resolution motion control and placement for precision processes such as fiber-optic alignment and semiconductor wafer positioning; and the opening by ULM Photonics of a new manufacturing facility in Germany to meet and serve the growing vertical-cavity surface-emitting-laser (VCSEL) market. Backed by its lead investor, Schott Optovance, ULM Photonics expects the market for 850-nm VCSEL diodes to be $180 million in 2005 and $560 million in 2010.

Companies and organizations at both shows discussed a renewed focus on the bottom line-research, product planning, and marketing clearly reflect leaner organizations. Gone, however, seems to be the pessimism that was evident during Opticon 2001. SUPERnet, in its second year of operation, did not draw the crowds and numbers of exhibitors that Photonics West garnered, yet exhibitors at SUPERnet reported they were not overshadowed by dozens of larger companies, giving them a good chance for dialogue with attendees.

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