Fiber optics achieves a new peak

Fiber optics achieves a new peak

George V. Kotelly

Senior Editor

As a technology, fiber optics has gained new heights, based on observations, interviews and presentations made at the February Optical Fiber Communications Conference. A record attendance--more than 6000, a record number of exhibitors--nearly 240, more than 250 sessions and numerous new product announcements, when integrated, forged a dynamic link between experiments and applications.

Complex networks worked effortlessly throughout the conference, increasing worldwide sales of cabled optical fiber were reported, new lightwave and opto-electronic products and test instruments filled the exhibit booths and researchers continued to expand lightwave limits with their latest optical studies and promising results (see Lightwave, page 6). Suppliers, investigators and users all generated an aura of confidence that fiber optics is now a robust technology that can be installed anywhere and operated with predictable performance and reliability.

Probably the best conference example was the demonstration of a scalable, rearrangeable, multiwavelength prototype network. The all-optical system resulted from a three-year effort by the nine-member Optical Networks Technology Consortium, spearheaded by Bell Communications Research as the system integrator. It can provide large aggregate bandwidth, flexible bandwidth management and diverse service provisioning to handle multimedia broadband traffic over two rings of fiber and four network nodes.

What makes this network robust is not its impressive list of emerging technologies--multichannel laser arrays, wavelength-division multiplexed optical crossconnect switches, 4-channel opto-electronic integrated circuit receiver arrays and integrated circuit data regeneration arrays. Nor is it the demonstrated ability to carry live Sonet-based asynchronous transfer mode-switched video conferencing on three wavelengths while simultaneously transmitting four analog video movie channels on a fourth wavelength over 350 kilometers of singlemode fiber.

It is robust because this fully operational system was disassembled in Red Bank, NJ, packed in crates and shipped by truck nearly 3000 miles to the San Diego Convention Center. According to Gee-Kung Chang, member of the Bellcore technical staff, "Optical devices are no longer operational problems; the network was reassembled in two days and it worked without any failures."

Corning Inc.`s annual media briefing was another presentation that bolstered the concept of a fiber-optic boom. Clifford Hund, Corning`s marketing and strategic planning manager, presented an impressive array of 1994 North American cabled optical fiber shipment statistics.

The total market consisted of 7.2 million kilometers, a growth of 29% from 1993. Telephone companies purchased 47%, or 3.4 million kilometers of fiber cable, an increase of 6% that represented two years of continuous growth. The fastest growing buying sector was the cable-TV industry, which bought 2.3 million km of fiber cable. Its 32% market share translated into three consecutive years in which the cable-TV industry has doubled its fiber growth.

The premises sector is poised to take off with an 8% market share, declared Hund, especially in the areas of local area networks and fiber-to-the-desk systems. The remaining cabled fiber market sectors included long haul at 6%, submarine at 2% and others at 5%.

For the worldwide cabled optical fiber market, North America totaled 40%, Europe, 22%, Japan, 18%, and the rest of the world, 20%. Hund predicted a 15% growth in market share during 1995 for the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and France. Japan`s market is expected to grow 20%.

Add in the extensive number of new opto-electronic devices and test gear that were displayed on the exhibit floor, many of which were priced 15% to 40% less than last year, and the conference mix tallied a pace-setting year for fiber optics technology.

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