Marconi forms independent components group

Trends

By STEPHEN HARDY

Marconi has bet that the market for its components expertise extends beyond its in-house systems group. The London-based communications company's new components entity, Marconi Optical Components, will attempt to compete with the likes of Nortel Networks, JDS Uniphase, and Agere Systems while helping to keep its systems sibling competitive.

"The plays we are concentrating on really are tunability, high bandwidth, integration based on our gallium arsenide [GaAs] capability, and amplification," says the new company's chief executive, Dr. David Parker. With this focus in mind, the first products are expected to include tunable lasers, 10- to 40-Gbit/sec optical modulators, and erbium-doped fiber amplifiers. Parker expects initial product releases in the first half of this year.

Marconi Optical Components will combine activities at Marconi Caswell Technology in Northampton, UK, and Marconi Applied Technologies in Chelmsford, UK. Parker touts Caswell's existing design and development capabilities in active optical components using indium phosphide (InP) materials as well as integration of optical functions using GaAs as major strengths. "The challenge is to make sure that we execute on bringing that portfolio to market and make sure that we do that slickly and quickly enough that we're not just a 'me too' player," he concedes. To this end, Parker will tap the capability within the Applied Technologies group at Chelmsford in optical-amplifier development and manufacturing as well as its expertise in the design and development of silicon-based components.

Marconi will plan for success by making significant investments in manufacturing infrastructure to ensure adequate capacity to meet the forecasted needs of its customers. These investments include a new, purpose-built facility, according to a company announcement. New re sources will include multiwafer MOVD reactors and 6-inch GaAs wafer technology, according to Parker. He also predicts a commitment to automated manufacturing, particularly in the area of automated population and welding of multi-element optical assemblies. Marconi also plans to hire more than 200 new engineers for the company, which will roughly double its current workforce, according to Parker.

The new organization will serve two masters. "Clearly, there is a charter to enhance the competitive positioning of the Marconi systems businesses by getting them very good access to very advanced technology as quickly as possible," Parker explains. "But in addition to that, we will be selling on the open market. So this is not just an internal play."

Marconi thus follows a path similar to that employed by such multifaceted communications companies as Nortel Networks and Lucent Technologies, which have had component houses that have served both internal needs and those of the market in general. Parker therefore is already aware of the fine line he'll need to walk between meeting the needs of Marconi Communications while establishing his group as a trustworthy partner for others. "One thing that we can absolutely say with total confidence is there should be no concerns from anybody from a merchant point of view because each customer will be treated independently," he promises. "Information that we have in terms of doing design-ins with a third party will not be translated back into a knowledge base to help Marconi Communications."

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