The price of doing business

Not surprisingly, 100-Gbps networking provided one of the main topics of discussion within both the conference and exhibit halls at last month’s ECOC 2009. Despite the various technologies discussed in the presentations, on the show floor vendors generally agreed that the Optical Internetworking Forum’s dual-polarization quadrature phase-shift keying with coherent detection would provide the most popular path toward product development. But this surety did not leave technology developers unconcerned. Particularly for module houses, the route toward 100G may be clear, but how to afford the required tolls is not.

Designing 100-Gbps transmission technology will be expensive. Sure, much of what will go into the transmit end of things will look similar to what’s inside most DQPSK transmission devices, if just in more abundance. We might even ignore the cost of test equipment.

But the “coherent detection” aspect can’t be ignored because it demands attention to something we don’t often consider in fiber optics: electronics. And bleeding-edge, “are you sure we can do that anytime soon?” electronics at that. How many companies (particularly in the module arena) have such expertise? If you don’t have it, how do you get it?

More to the point, how do you afford it? Companies ponder these questions all the time, balancing the price of R&D with the potential return on such investments. The difference here is that the ROI variables might prove unusual. Do you have the in-house electronics expertise? If you don’t, where do you get it if it’s not readily available in a standard offering (which several people tell me will be the case initially)? Do you partner with a systems company that might have the smarts, and hope that you choose the eventual market leader?

Furthermore, how much of a market will there be? We already know how long it took 40G to reach even rudimentary deployment. How much first-generation 100G will be fielded—and will it be deployed quickly enough for more than one supplier to avoid taking a bath?

Those who truly want 100G in the next couple of years may find their options limited not by a lack of the right technology but by too few suppliers with the means to develop it.

Stephen M. Hardy
Editorial Director
& Associate Publisher

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