Timing is everything — and the material

When is a weakness a strength? Consider the industry's numerous start-ups, lurking in the background in "stealth" mode, each with its own individual solution that will one day turn common practice and business preconceptions on their heads. The priorities of a maturing start-up — one which has moved from the drawing board to the laboratory and pre-commercial prototypes — swing between refining the technology (inevitably a unique solution) and raising finance for the transition into the real world. Start-ups that claim their plan is to challenge the market in, say, 2004-5, can secretly heave sighs of relief that they're not out there actually competing in today's static or declining marketplace (albeit a temporary state of affairs). So beyond venture capital, they enjoy no real revenue but they suffer no real loss either. If the company has achieved the near impossible in raising finance in the past year, then it follows that they must be almost guaranteed to succeed when they launch for real. The question they must answer is when to take the giant leap into the market?

A case in point is Blaze Photonics, currently tucked away in a corner of the University of Bath, UK. Blaze was established in March 2001 to exploit the commercial possibilities offered by photonic crystal fibre (PCF), also known as microstructured or holey fibre. This was invented by the university's Professor Philip Russell and his team, who formed the basis of Blaze's team.

New CEO Simon Haslam told LWE: "While there's no fundamental patent on holey fibre — it's public domain — we do have various patents, covering solid- and hollow-core fibre types, their designs, and the fabrication processes.

For example, we've developed a 1.5µm core with a lot of air around it and hence nonlinear performance. Currently, commercial nonlinear devices do not exist in operations, although we believe we can find various applications."

During consultations about funding and development Blaze was advised to hire a commercially minded director (Haslam) which, in turn, he believes has assisted the company in finding further funding. But, considering the sensitive issue of when to take the holey fibre to the marketplace — and Haslam suggests that PCF.could enable "a new fibre that reduced loss of a system by 50%".— Blaze's current insulation from the downturn is fortunate indeed. Looking out of the window at January's bleak marketplace, he said with evident relief, "Probably 2005 to 2007 will be a more significant commercialisation period for us."

More signs of the times are to be found in this edition of LWE; the much forecasted consolidations continue and this month it's two big and well established players NetTest and Ericsson who are in the spotlight, reorganising their priorities (News p7). Also in the news there's a whole clutch of optimistic, medium-term forecasts (timing again!) for increased spending on amplifiers, modulators, switching technologies and metro Ethernet. The latter topic is investigated by Nan Chen of Atrica and Metro.Ethernet Forum fame, who expounds on the economic benefits of.ME-networks. Also with opportune timing, we have a report from.Siemens on its recent 15,000km optical network installation in China, the first in a series of articles planned to show how that territory is beginning to fulfil the recent promise it has been showing.

Matthew Peach Editor in Chief, Lightwave Europe
matthewp@pennwell.com

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