Editorial: Mission: Impossible?

Aug. 1, 2005

In addition to working on Lightwave, I have a role at a sister publication that’s also related to communications. The staff at that magazine is in the process of reviewing its position in the market and how that position can be improved-just, I would say, the way many companies in the optical communications space have no doubt reexamined their business models over the past five years. The magazine staff is pondering the fundamental questions that any enterprise must answer: What do we do? Why is what we do valuable? What sets us apart from the competition?

Of course, it is at this point that any consultants worth their salt would leap up from the conference room table and cry, “What you need is a mission statement!” This being a magazine, the sales and marketing people who have been exposed to basic business management strategies would nod their heads in agreement, while the editors would pelt the consultant with wadded-up pieces of paper. I know that to be true because that’s pretty much what happened when I suggested it.

Undaunted, I’ve subsequently wondered if you could come up with a mission statement for just about anything-including optical communications. Unlike a slogan (“552 zillion photons served since 1972”), the mission statement would encapsulate the fundamental questions I’ve listed above. Particularly in light of the move toward broadband services and the advent of copper and wireless technologies that can handle more bits per second than ever before, what does optical communications technology have to offer?

So let’s run through the questions. First, what does optical communications technology do? This question is pretty easy: Optical communications technology uses photons to provide high-bandwidth transportation of communications signals securely without impairments from electromagnetic interference. With the help of amplifiers and regenerators, these signals can travel thousands of miles at a relatively economical cost. The photons either move through optical fiber or through the air-farther via the former, of course.

Why is that valuable? For carriers, triple play service provision requires unprecedented (and probably ever-growing) amounts of bandwidth, which naturally plays into optical technology’s strength. Of course, service providers have already leveraged the technology in metro, regional, and national networks for hauling large amounts of aggregated traffic streams. That means optical technology can and has played a role in all aspects of carrier networks. For customers, the use of optical technology enables the enjoyment of a variety of communications services that previously weren’t available or weren’t as efficient or feature-rich.

What sets it apart from the competition? Optical technology provides more bandwidth capacity than copper or wireless alternatives. It is also less susceptible to interference or interception than those two competitors. It can transmit signals over longer distances than copper or wireless-and the higher the bit rate, the greater the disparity. Of course, satellite links can handle a lot of bits per second as well. But interactive service provision is pretty much impractical without some other technology acting as intermediary between end users and relay sites. In fact, for most practical applications, optics is the only technology that can be used to create an end-to-end network via a single medium.

So, let’s see how all this might combine into a mission statement. Maybe we could say something like:

Optical communications technology, the transport of communications signals via photons, supports higher data rates over greater distances with more security than competing copper and wireless alternatives. Its benefits apply to any part of a carrier’s network where high-bandwidth capacity or secure communications is required; it also enables the new generation of triple play voice, video, and data services over a converged network infrastructure that promises to support both current and future service necessities. Optical communications opens the door to a new world of communications services for both business and residential end users.

All right, it’s a bit prosaic-I’m a magazine editor, not a marketing communications director. Maybe you can do better. In fact, I invite you to try. How do you think an optical technology mission statement should read? Heck, extend the concept to your subset of the industry and write a mission statement for the systems or component sector. Email your efforts to me at [email protected]; I promise to print the most interesting ones in a future column.

Note: Using of the word “solution” in your mission statement will lead to automatic deletion of your email (unless you mean to suggest that the industry is suspended in a liquid). After all, I have to have some standards.

Stephen M. Hardy
Editorial Director & Associate Publisher
[email protected]

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