Hope and chutzpah spring eternal

Jan. 1, 1999

Hope and chutzpah spring eternal

Stephen M. Hardy

Editor in Chief

[email protected]

In the spirit engendered by the start of a new year, here`s a look at some of the new companies that hope to make an impact in fiber optics--and that we`ll be watching closely in 1999.

By far, the greatest recent attention among entrepreneurs has been directed at optical networking. Monterey Networks (Richardson, TX) is one startup working in this area. Having spirited away several employees from Alcatel and DSC Communications as the dust was still settling on the merger of those two firms, Monterey now must define its market niche clearly. Interested readers should be sure to pick up next month`s issue of Lightwave, which will carry an article from Monterey that could provide clues on what direction this firm will take.

Meanwhile, Chorum Technologies has set up shop in another part of town. Led by Scott Grout, most recently of Lucent, the company will attempt "to `activate` the all-optical network by transforming today`s point-to-point dense wavelength- division multiplexing (DWDM) networks into fully flexible and robust networks where optical channels are dynamically switched, routed, and managed all in the optical domain," in the words of a company press release. In essence, the company will focus on solid-state, all-optical switching, routing, and power-management technologies that have been used in such programs as MONET.

Optical switching is another technology considered essential to future all-optical networks. Readers may recall the article that appeared in our September 1998 issue (page 43) from another Richardson startup, Optical Switch Corp. The company will base its offerings on a technology called "frustrated total internal reflection," which promises nonblocking switch fabrics as large as 1024�. At press time, shipments of the company`s initial product were slated to begin by the end of last month.

A few startups have offered new ideas that challenge the current concepts of DWDM-based optical networking. For example, Commercial Technologies Corp. (of--you guessed it--Richardson, TX) has adapted a wireless transmission technique called code-division multiple access (CDMA) for application in fiber-optic networks. As explained in that same September issue (page 54), optical CDMA works by using a spatial filter to divide the fiber spectrum into individual codes, all derived from a single broadband optical source. The company`s initial products, under the brand name CodeStream, should be available in the first quarter of this year.

SilkRoad Corp. (San Diego, CA) also is offering an alternative to DWDM that it claims will provide as much as 10 Tbits/sec over a single fiber. The company`s technology centers on the ability to gather traffic streams before modulation, then modulating that bundle onto a single fiber. SilkRoad expects its first product, due this year, to be able to achieve 80 OC-48 signals on a single fiber. If the company is as good at developing products as it is at generating publicity, those initial systems should be something to behold.

But networking isn`t the only area that will benefit from innovative startups. New optical component companies also promise to shake things up. One firm, Nanovation Technologies Inc. (Miami, FL), has begun commercial development on what can be called an optical chip. The company claims its microcavity laser technology will capture photons more efficiently than electron-based chips--in a package 1000 times smaller. Its integrated optical circuit will include a photonic switch, optical waveguide, and the company`s microcavity laser. The development work is being conducted in a lab on the campus of Northwestern University.

One component company farther down the evolutionary road is Bookham Technologies (Milton Park, Oxfordshire, UK). The company hangs its hat on its ASOC technology, which enables optical circuits to be constructed on silicon chips. The company has already introduced a variety of products for the DWDM marketplace (see Lightwave, April 1998, page 17) and has attracted investments from such industry titans as Cisco Systems and Intel.

For each of the startups mentioned here, there are certainly a dozen others quietly hatching plots for the next optical revolution. As the century comes to its end, it seems that the promise of fiber-optic technology is just beginning.

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