That's show business

March 1, 2003

We can all recall the halcyon days of glitter and glitz during OFC 2000. The euphoria of that era was evident in the first issue of WDM Solutions, published in September 1999 as a supplement to Laser Focus World. The cover image depicted a figure dragging a chart line ever higher as he climbed a stairway, with the headline explaining, "Demand for DWDM components keeps rising."

The magic held through OFC 2001, although booth size (including height) began to diminish, and booths disguised as medieval castles disappeared. It's easy to predict a more subdued exhibition for years to come, but I think "subdued" can be translated into "focused," and the focus is on business, not show. Companies have limited their product lines and, of necessity, limited their customer base. They know today's customers well and are sticking close to them as optical networks are upgraded or new builds conceived.

Those few short years ago, who could have imagined that so many of the major equipment makers would sell off their component divisions for a song, that an IC company would loom so large in optics, that so many companies would abruptly rediscover their roots in the nontelecom world, or that so many academics would return to the ivy-covered walls. Surely such changes offer new opportunities.

I've looked hard for analogies to the telecommunications industry ride, first considering the airline industry, in which the carriers have a history of losing money, but suppliers have found ways to prosper by selling everything from seat cushions to jet engines and ticket services. Likewise, railroads, built in a global frenzy during the late 19th Century, may also offer some lessons, one of which is that once the infrastructure is sufficiently constructed, power shifts from the builders to the network operators.

Like any analogy, these have plenty of holes. Yet both analogies hold the message that being part of a dynamic industry has its ups and downs as companies scramble to meet constantly changing risks and opportunities. For the moment, much of the long-haul optical network is in place. The opportunity lies in bringing the end-user to the network. So at OFC 2003, let's recognize what's been accomplished, understand the trends and technologies that are important, and seek out the customers and products that will help. Remember, the show must go on—see you there.

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