Stealth or atrophy?

I received a phone call last month from a marketing person at a well-established optical module and cabling developer regarding the timing of a new-product announcement the company hopes to make at the upcoming OFC show. She was concerned that her release might get lost amid a flurry of other new-product debuts, so she wanted to know if I had already heard from several other companies about March unveilings.

The answer, unlike most years, was no.

Even last February, when I complained in this space that life in the optical world had become too quiet, the stillness wasn't as pronounced as it is now. Twelve months ago, I urged vendors, big and small, to roll up their sleeves and go to work, make some noise, and put themselves in position to compete for share in a market that, while smaller than the previous year, would still be of substantial size.

A year later, the din of new-product development, of innovation, is muted—at least as far as announcing new products at OFC is concerned. I suppose there could be several reasons. Companies could be playing their cards closer to their vests. Several may have pruned their promotional budgets, which would mean fewer PR types are sitting at their desks with a list of editors to call for three or four clients.

I hope it doesn't mean that the majority of companies have thrown in the towel on product development until the market improves. We frequently hear about companies that have "gone into hibernation," that have cut staff and expenses to the bare bones in hopes of conserving their cash until the carrier's capital expenditures rebound. While it certainly makes sense to trim expenses as revenues decrease, it seems unlikely to me that individual companies—or the optical communications community in general—will be able to ramp up technology development efforts quickly enough to meet renewed carrier requirements if they let their innovation machinery slow to a stop.

Therefore, OFC again becomes an important indicator of how this industry will respond to very uncertain circumstances. Once attendees and exhibitors trade estimations of how badly business has slumped, where will their conversations lead them? As foreboding as the current economic climate may be, how one decides to address it will prove the ultimate prognosticator of long-term success.


How much of the fanfare surrounding the Chinese market is justified? Lightwave and the Optical Society of America (OSA) will team to help answer this question by presenting the 2003 China Forum Sunday, March 23. You can find more information via OSA's Website (www.osa.org) and registration forms at www.osa.org/partner/china.

Stephen M. Hardy
Editorial Director
and Associate Publisher
stephenh@pennwell.com

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