Rediscover Europe

Remember Europe? It’s that continent between Asia, where Western companies have long eyed the market opportunities and cheaper manufacturing facilities that countries such as China offer, and North America, where upgrades at Bell Canada and RBOC interest in BPON, GPON, and reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexers (ROADMs)-as well as an embrace of Carrier Ethernet by service providers in general-is credited with helping optical communications emerge from its doldrums. Somehow in the general discussion of increasing optical prosperity, Europe appears to have been obscured by the shadows its continental neighbors to the east and west have cast.

This situation could begin to change at the end of this month with the advent of the European Conference on Optical Communications (ECOC) in Cannes, France. Certainly members of the European optical community carry the same economic scars as their brethren in other parts of the world. The flight of manufacturing and engineering jobs to Asia as companies such as Bookham and Avanex seek to lower costs could be viewed as even more damaging to Europe, if only because there are fewer companies to offer alternatives for displaced workers. However, several signs indicate that Europe continues to offer both opportunity and innovation within optical communications.

For example, as Meghan Fuller writes in this month’s issue (see “European Municipalities Lead FTTH Charge,” page 1), Europe also has caught the optical access bug. The market mirrors that of the U.S. three or four years ago: The incumbents for the most part appear happy with DSL, but alternative carriers and municipalities have realized that fiber to the home can offer either a competitive advantage or improved quality of life. While the incumbents in Europe currently don’t face the same competitive threats as the RBOCs and most of their copper networks should support VDSL2 without optical assistance, carriers such as France Telecom have decided they can’t ignore what’s going on around them. Recognizing this, the ECOC exhibition will feature an FTTX Resource Centre (coordinated by The Light Brigade), and the conference program includes a wide variety of presentations on fiber-to-the-home strategies and technologies.

European carriers also have displayed a willingness to modernize other aspects of their networks. BT’s 21st Century Network initiative has justifiably garnered a great deal of interest and attention for its scope and ambitions. Deutsche Telekom, meanwhile, has 40-Gbit/sec deployments on its roadmap, while other incumbents, from Telefonica to Telenor, continue to upgrade their capabilities. Eastern Europe also offers opportunities as carriers there seek to bring their facilities up to par with their Western European counterparts.

Europe’s vibrant technical community also will display its capabilities at ECOC. My front-page article on quantum dots illuminates one area of advanced research where the Continent takes a back seat to no one. Needless to say, the technical conference will highlight other areas where European scientists and engineers (as well as kindred souls from around the globe, particularly Asia and Australia) have advanced research in areas ranging from packet and label switching to photonic crystal devices and electronic dispersion compensation for high-speed applications.

Outside the confines of the conference (but perhaps not the exhibition hall), European industry has responded to changes in the global marketplace. In particular, systems companies have noted the requirement for a greater depth of product offering and worldwide reach. The result is a series of mergers and partnerships that have or will create entities comparable to any in the world. The proposed Alcatel/Lucent pairing, which awaited shareholder approval as this issue went to press, has attracted the most attention and discussion. However, Siemens’s pairing with Nokia bears watching, as does Ericsson’s acquisition of Marconi Communications’ optical systems products.

Readers also should note the newer companies in Europe. Syntune and Eblana have already been touted in these pages for their work in the component and subsystem areas. Ekinops has recently begun a push in the United States for its optical transport products, and Pirelli Broadband Solutions is moving quickly to get technology out of the labs and into the market. Transmode, meanwhile, has enjoyed considerable success in the European market. Other European-based companies that have drawn our attention include Core­Optics, Cube Optics, Ignis Photonyx, MergeOptics, Polatis, and u2t Photonics, among others. Most of these companies will be displaying their wares on the exhibit floor at ECOC.

In short, the comparative lack of attention Europe has received recently is a result more of the amount of commotion in Asia and North America rather than a lack of activity within the Continent itself. As visitors to ECOC at the end of this month will discover, there’s a lot to see in Europe.

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

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