Arrayed waveguide grating sources to increase

Oct. 1, 1999

Arrayed waveguide gratings (AWGs) promise improved performance for applications such as multiplexing and demultiplexing. However, potential users have not embraced these replacements for thin-film filter components because suppliers are not yet plentiful and few firms have direct experience with the technology. These obstacles should begin to erode next year, according to sources at one company working in the AWG field.

Kymata Ltd. (Livingston, Scotland) is putting the finishing touches on a 3300-sq-m wafer-fabrication facility company managers expect will produce 16-channel AWGs in the first quarter of next year. According to Brendan Hyland, Kymata's chief executive, and Bob Press, the company's marketing director, the startup has plenty of potential competitors in various stages of AWG development. These firms range from such powerhouses as Lucent Technologies, Nortel, Alcatel, NEL, and Hitachi to smaller companies such as PIRI and Lightwave MicroSystems.

Hyland expects Kymata will be one of a handful of companies in production mode early next year, although more should join the party as the year progresses. Yet, rather than fear the potential competition, Hyland welcomes the relatively large number of firms active in the field. He believes the advantages of AWGs over thin-film filter devices--particularly their greater degree of scalability, lower cost, and more compact size--are fairly well understood within his target market. As with any new technology, however, customer confidence frequently depends on experience with the components and the presence of multiple suppliers. The more companies that can supply AWGs, the more likely customers will buy his product, Hyland feels.

Thus Hyland views the other firms as potential partners--not to mention clients, in the case of firms that produce systems and subsystems as well as components. He predicts customers will find that AWGs will perform in a consistent fashion, regardless of the manufacturer. These users will find differences in packaging, which, Hyland suggests, may be an area where standardization becomes necessary.

Yet, while Hyland espouses partnerships with other AWG firms, he hasn't forgotten the competitive aspects of the business. Kymata plans to improve the channel count of the company's offering to 32 and 40 channels next year. The company also will expand its product line to include variable optical attenuators for load balancing and dynamic gain control in erbium-doped fiber amplifiers. The attenuators also should be ready for production in the first quarter of next year, to be followed by splitters and thermo-optic-based switches.

All these products will use Kymata's silica-on-silicon flame hydrolysis deposition fabrication technique. Hyland describes this process, which also includes the photolithography common in semiconductor fabrication, as simple, established, and capable of fast component turnaround. He expects the company will incorporate active devices via a substrate in hybrid fashion in the future.

Hyland believes most of the optical integrated circuits produced within the fab will be commodity devices, although he acknowledges that eventually there may be some customization of components or capabilities for particular clients. The firm has the backing of British Telecom, which has a 13.8% stake in the company, as well as a collaboration agreement with Lynx Photonic Networks (Encino, CA) for the development and marketing of planar switch arrays.

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