An easy question

Sep 1st, 2002

How are you? In any language, the question is usually a casual form of greeting and the person posing it doesn't expect a real answer. Yet these days it is the question that we in the world of optical networking keep asking each other in all sincerity. It was also the question that Rod Alferness from Lucent Technologies posed in his plenary talk at the July LEOS Topical Meeting in Mont-Tremblant, Québec.

Neither Alferness nor anyone else I've met recently has a clear answer to where the market is heading-they just know that business is very difficult. Lacking such an answer makes business decisions risky, but that is the current situation and, as Alferness believes, the best decisions will come from a deeper understanding of the value optics brings to communications. Consistently, the great strength of optical networking has been to drive up capacity while driving down cost per bit.

Fortunately, the demand for communications technologies continues to grow and there is an increasing desire for the cost-effective services that sophisticated optical technologies can provide. Metro and access opportunities are slowly rising, and some long-haul routes are nearing capacity. The timelines for these opportunities will surely be longer than we wish, but the introduction of new technologies has always been an extended process, taking years-or decades.

From this perspective, the LEOS meeting was a stimulating mix of sessions on advanced technologies that may one day have a substantial impact, such as wavelength conversion, optical burst switching, and long-wavelength VCSELs. The meeting also examined other technologies that are available now, such as tunable dispersion compensators, and dynamic gain equalizers. The latter, which is the subject of an article in this issue by Bob Shine at WaveSplitter, enables both cost savings and efficiency in long-haul design and better performance of reconfigurable networks.

In this issue we also track other advanced technologies with potential impact, including articles about components based on photonic crystals, by Fabio Pizzuto at RSoft Design Group; pulse-generating lasers for 40 Gbit/s transmission, by Michael Brownell at GigaTera.; and PLC-based interleavers, by Jerome Prieur and colleagues at OpsiTech.

This is a great month to investigate advanced optical technologies and new commercial products at three major industry conferences: the China International Photoelectronic Expo in Shenzhen (Sept. 6-9), the European Conference on Optical Communications in Copenhagen (Sept. 9-12), and the National Fiber Optic Engineers Conference in Dallas, Texas. Jet-lag alone makes attending all three a near-impossible task for one individual, but I think this global interest in optical networking helps answer that simple question of how we are.

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