Its a hot market

Stephen G. Anderson

Editor in Chief

stevega@pennwell.com

"Sold out" is a term not generally associated with technical meetings, but that`s exactly what greeted many visitors to this year`s National Fiber Optics Engineer`s Conference (NFOEC), which was held in Denver, CO, at the end of August. Attendance at the meeting reached 10,000-more than double what the organizers had prepared for. So the inevitable annoyances associated with an unexpectedly large attendance were in evidence, such as long lines and an absence of printed programs while more were being photocopied. And many of the technical sessions attracted several hundred individuals to rooms intended for many fewer. Hassles notwithstanding, it was an exciting conference. The mood was distinctly upbeat-not surprising given the strength of the telecom market-and was likened by several exhibitors to a "feeding frenzy."

That analogy, it turns out, is quite apt. One reason for the sell-out at NFOEC was the unusual number of nontechnical attendees who turned out to take advantage of so much tightly focused optical communications activity. The exhibit floor was a hotbed of recruiting, reportedly with prospective employers wooing some individuals right under the noses of their current employers. Venture capitalists and other investors also were there in force-more than one exhibitor lamented that they had spent more time with prospective bankers than with potential (or existing) customers.

Another reason for the unexpectedly high attendance was the number of component manufacturers that felt the need to be at NFOEC, even though the meeting traditionally has been more of a "systems" oriented event. For established firms and start-ups alike, it was an unbeatable opportunity to see and be seen, but it also highlights another trend-other developments are conspiring to blur the distinctions between components and systems.

The emergence of integrated and hybrid devices is one aspect of this changing scene that was evident at NFOEC. Planar technology (with its roots in the silicon chip arena) is being used to integrate multiple optical components into single devices such as arrayed waveguide gratings (see page 26). And any overall approach to large-scale optical integration also must include a look at alternative materials (see page 47). The point, of course, is to add bandwidth and speed to optical networks. So the consequent demands on optical amplifiers means that the performance of their individual components must be honed to new levels. Novel pump laser designs are emerging to provide higher reliability and more power (see page 35), and new fibers will broaden the amplification bandwidth of these devices (see page 53).

Such developments in technology will continue during the coming year and the market looks to remain hot. Perhaps we can look forward to another "feeding frenzy" at next year`s NFOEC in Baltimore, MD.

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