Research and commerce: A discussion with Jocelyn Lauzon of INO

Apr 1st, 2002

Jocelyn Lauzon is director of photonics and guide-wave optics at the Institut National d'Optique (INO; Sainte-Foy, Québec). In addition, he is president of the advisory board of the Synapse Consortium, which is creating a high-speed DWDM testbed. He has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Laval University, with an emphasis on fiber Bragg gratings.

WDM: INO is a rather unique organization in Canada. What is its primary technical mission and how is it funded and structured?

Lauzon: Actually, INO is a rather unique organization in the world. INO is a private corporation acting in the field of state-of-the art optical products and R&D contracts. Its scope ranges from applied research all the way to product qualification for leading-edge technologies in optics. The expertise acquired through these developments is offered to its clients. When the technologies INO has developed become commodity products, we then makes technology transfer agreements, creates joint ventures or spinoffs, or in other ways optimizes the impact of our efforts.

The organization is financed through the contracts and sales it gets, mainly from the industry, but also from governments. Our operational benefits are 100% reinvested to ensure we remain at the forefront of the optics and photonics technology. We have four technological sectors of activities: digital and optical systems; laser system technologies; photonics materials and processing; and my sector, photonics and guided-wave optics, which covers specialty optical fibers and optical communications.

WDM: What production or research facilities do you have for creating optical networking components and systems?

Lauzon: In my sector, we have a group working on fiber amplifiers, mainly EDFAs [erbiumdoped fiber amplifiers]. This group just recently released S-band superfluorescent sources and amplifiers.

We also have a group working on fiber Bragg gratings and other photo-induced fiber gratings. This group was the first one to introduce the short-period gain-flattening filters technology and is currently strongly involved in the development and fabrication of dispersion compensation devices.

The fiber Bragg grating group is really structured as an industry enabler. INO makes state-of-the-art prototypes, athermaly packaged if needed, for many different clients or collaborators.

A third group works on lithium niobate integrated optics components. This group is offering periodically-poled lithium niobate (PPLN) crystal for wavelength conversion on the market and has plans to introduce high-speed, wavelength-selective optical switching and optical crossconnects applications based on this technology in the future. In addition, the specialty optical fiber group offers silica fibers associated with many different photonic functions.

WDM: Specialty fiber is a critical element in many components. Which fibers are the most important at the moment and why?

Lauzon: Rare-earth doped fibers, such as erbium-doped fibers, continue to be the most important specialty fiber family of products. Their association with EDFAs, the key component for the deployment of WDM systems, explains their importance. They will remain important, but will have to be upgraded in the future to offer more gain over a larger bandwidth.

Polarization-maintaining fibers are faced with a very large demand as well. They are used for pigtailing polarization-dependent components such as laser diode sources. In the future, I think we will see more and more polarization-maintaining fiber combining other features such as photosensitive polarization-maintaining fibers to integrate pump-stabilizer gratings to laser diode pigtails, or polarization-maintaining erbium-doped fibers.

WDM: What future do you see for specialty fiber technology?

Lauzon: Performance-wise, I do not believe all-fiber components can be beaten, insertion loss being the main improvement point over other integrated optics components. Thus, where performance matters more than size and cost, as in long-haul communications, I believe specialty fibers—and components made from these fibers—are here to stay.

Some people question the fact that Raman amplifiers might replace EDFAs in the future. I believe they should be seen as a complementary technology rather than a competing one. As the specialty fiber manufacturing processes become more and more reliable and reproducible, I believe specialty fiber will be used in every all-fiber component in the future to improve performance.

The future is more uncertain for specialty fibers in the optical network periphery. Cost and size are the key factors. Specialty fiber components will be challenged by integrated optics components, even more so if these components offer some sort of intelligence to the network and specialty fibers components do not. INO is developing both the integrated optics and the specialty fibers technologies and thinks ultimately there will be niche applications for both technologies. The size of these niches will greatly depend on the developments that will be made in the next few years concerning these two alternatives.

WDM: Are you working on holey fibers and, if so, when do you believe they will be ready for commercial application?

Lauzon: INO has just recently developed its capacity to make holey fibers on a larger scale. We are certainly enthusiastic about the technology because it offers a still unsuspected potential. However, we have to put things in perspective and try not to be blurred by new-technology hype when evaluating the commercial potential.

Transmission losses and coupling losses are fundamental questions that remain to be fully answered. Thus, we will concentrate our efforts in the next few years at truly evaluating—either on our own or with different industry partners—some of the most promising applications related to this new specialty fiber family.

WDM: What are your views on trends in optical switching and wavelength conversion?

Lauzon: In my mind, wavelength conversion is just beginning to be considered seriously by the optical communications industry. A lot of R&D remains to be done for this technology to become a commercial reality. However, I believe wavelength conversion is essential if one wants to have a true all-optical crossconnect.

As for optical switching, it's on its way to becoming a reality for all-optical reconfiguration, restoration, and protection. However, a lot remains to be done to improve the reliability and

reduce the response time of these devices, and to make them intrinsically wavelength selective rather than being associated with external mux/demux.

A lot remains to be done also when talking about optical communication data switching, such as packet switching. In this case, not only should development work be made on the switch itself, but also on creating optical memory that might or might not be associated with a new, more optically oriented means of implementing optical communication protocols in the data headers.

WDM: What technologies or applications are you working on that present the greatest long-term opportunity?

Lauzon: It is quite difficult to answer this question. The technologies which offer the greatest potential are also associated with high technological risks and thus might not be considered as those on which to build INO's expansion.

The technologies we have identified as disruptive, that we are currently working on include holey fiber; photonic bandgap structure waveguides, which we foresee as the potential technology for making photonic chips; electro-optic fibers; novel specialty fiber manufacturing processes to increase dopant content; high-speed wavelength-selective tunable filters; and transmission fiber Bragg gratings.

WDM: What just-emerging technologies should be researched more deeply? What do you think of their potential?

Lauzon: Holey fibers and photonic bandgap structures have received a lot of attention, and although deservingly so, I believe they should not be researched more deeply than at present. Optical memory and 3R [reamplification, reshaping, and retimimg] are being addressed correctly from my perspective.

Where I believe the attention has not been proportional to the impact the technology would have is high-speed wavelength-selective optical tunable filters and switches, and PPLN different-frequency wavelength conversion. In these cases, I think that the attention received by technologies such as MEMS might have involuntarily cast a shadow, and that it might be time to restore the situation.

WDM: Have you had difficulty recruiting staff with the right expertise? What do you look for in your staff?

Lauzon: INO aims to be at the forefront of the technology, thus it cannot expect to recruit staff with the perfect expertise to fill its needs. We are looking for people who have the right background, state-of-mind, and scientific curiosity to train internally so that, after a few months at INO, they become pillars in our different technology groups.

It was difficult in 2000 to find such people because of the telecommunications market hype and the get-rich-quick opportunities that were offered by many emerging startups. As you know, the situation has changed since then, and because of the solidity of our corporation and our reputation, we can now choose from a good pool of candidates. However, since INO is planning to double in size over the next three years, we will certainly need to have an aggressive recruiting strategy for the future.

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