MEMS-based switch subsystems carrying live traffic

Optical switch subsystems from Optical Micro Machines Inc. (OMM--San Diego, CA) have now been routing live traffic for almost six weeks in an unmanned central office in Oakland, CA. This represents the first time that optical switches based on micro-electromechanical (MEMS) subsystems have been deployed to carry live data traffic.

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Optical switch subsystems from Optical Micro Machines Inc. (OMM-San Diego, CA) have now been routing live traffic for almost six weeks in an unmanned central office in Oakland, CA. This represents the first time that optical switches based on micro-electromechanical (MEMS) subsystems have been deployed to carry live data traffic.Th Acfa3b

The rack-mounted optical switch subsystems provided by OMM are being deployed in field trials conducted by the National Transparent Optical Network Consortium (NTONC), which includes Nortel Networks, GST Telecommunications, Sprint Communications, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART).

Conrad Burke, OMM vice president of marketing and sales, explains that OMM manufactures subsystems with electronics integrated into the same hermetically-sealed ceramic packages with the mirrors. The company also produces modular solutions with electronics outside the package, but the exact design is determined by the customer's needs. "For the NTONC trials," he says, "we actually built a rack-mounted subsystem. Depending on the level of sophistication of the customer--and in most cases, they're very sophisticated, because we're focusing on the big five--it entails us adding a lot of value to our MEMS-based switches."

OMM's optical switch subsystems are non-blocking and feature low optical insertion loss and fast switching speeds. Burke notes that the company is currently manufacturing subsystems in 4x4 and 8x8 configurations, with 16x16's coming out immediately and 32x32's available by the end of the year. Putting together several subsystems gives the customer the capability to build a switch up to and greater than 256x256 to its own specifications.

"There's a lot of noise out there in terms of large optical crossconnects. We have a parallel program going on for larger, 3D switching capability and large scalability, and we'll be making statements about that in the coming weeks," notes Burke.

For the near term, however, the company is focusing on bringing its small subsystems to market in a timely and efficient manner. "If you have a large building block of 256x256 inside one package and one mirror fails, you have to throw away a multimillion-dollar switch, whereas if you build in smaller building blocks, you can replace a smaller part," explains Burke. He likens the optical switch craze to what happened with DWDM--it became a race with each supplier outbidding each other, going from 4 channels up to 128, 500, and even 1000. "But in actual reality," says Burke, "most of the deployment is still in the 16-wavelength range. So, it's easy to get carried away with the hype, and while there are certainly applications for larger numbers of wavelengths, or larger numbers of crossconnects in our case, the high volume will be somewhere in the middle."

Burke credits the company's success in being first to market to its use of automated and semi-automated manufacturing processes, which are not yet commonplace in the optoelectronics industry. In addition, OMM is currently ramping up manufacturing output, and plans to double employee headcount to over 200 by year end.

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