By Stephen Hardy
So, about the photo that “graces” the page this month.
I was pondering the subject of this month’s editorial when it dawned on me that February will mark my 15th year as the lead editor at Lightwave. The image you see here ran alongside my first editorial back in the March 1997 issue. I thought I had destroyed all copies of this photo. But nothing is gone for good anymore, thanks to the Internet.
Go ahead, laugh. Then click on the video link and laugh again when you discover that I’m wearing exactly the same shirt and sports jacket in this month’s “First Take.” No, I didn’t plan that. And, yes, my wardrobe desperately needs a refresh.
My sartorial sins aside, 1997 actually represented a good time to join the fiber-optic community. The optical bubble, of course, began to grow that year. For the next three years or so, I was an editorial genius as far as my superiors were concerned. Naturally, my genius quotient dropped precipitously along with the market shortly thereafter.
The same thing can of course be said about optical communications in general. The space went from the financial/venture capital flavor of the month to, at times, an afterthought. Or, worse yet, a cautionary tale.
The market hasn’t recovered the luster it held at the turn of this century – and probably never will. But that doesn’t mean optical communications has become a backwater. Carriers spend multiple billions of dollars on optical communications technology each year, and new advances such as 100-Gbps coherent transmission, colorless/directionless/contentionless reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexers (ROADMs), and tunable optics should continue to make fiber optics a worthwhile area of service-provider investment.
Meanwhile, the increasing deployment of fiber to the home (FTTH) networks has given optical communications a more direct role in the everyday lives of a growing number of consumers worldwide. These broadband pipelines typically deliver voice, video, and data services now. But we should see increasing use of FTTH to deliver a variety of new services – from home security to telemedicine and others not yet envisioned – that will benefit subscribers in a way non-optical transmission techniques currently cannot.
And, of course, optical fibers will find increasing use in consumer products, medical devices, and industrial applications. As silicon photonics work advances, the door to cheaper production techniques should open even more doors to optical communications.
So while fiber no longer is a magic word among the financial community (these days, that would be “mobile” when it comes to communications – enjoy it while it lasts), optical communications remains a foundational element in carrier networks. Its place among communications media should remain secure for decades to come.
And, who knows, maybe another spike in prestige and investment is just around the corner. I understand that fish-eye glasses like the ones I’m sporting here may be coming back into style. And if those things can enjoy a resurrection, anything is possible.
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