"Optical Switching Subsystems and Components: Markets and Trends," a new report from Communications Industry Researchers, (CIR), an optical industry market research firm based in Charlottesville, Virginia, claims that new developments in optical switching technology will create a $1.1 billion U.S. market opportunity by 2005 (see Exhibit below). While this represents a big leap forward from the $152 million figure that the U.S. market is currently worth, the new CIR report cautions that many challenges need to be addressed.
Opto-mechanical switches have been around for over a decade. CIR believes that, despite the onslaught from new technologies, the U.S. market for mechanical switching subsystems will grow slowly from $63 million today to $77 million in 2004. CIR attributes the survival of opto-mechanical switching to the fact that these switches continue to be used for some protection and test equipment functions and equipment vendors see no need to try more "innovative" technologies.
Yet, CIR warns that some mechanically oriented vendors, such as DiCon, appear too complacent about the threat from new technologies. By contrast, it commends such vendors as Oplink and Optical Switch Corporation for being aware of future technology challenges as well as finding innovative product designs that improve on mainstream opto-mechanical switching.
In MEMS We Trust?
CIR predicts a much bigger opportunity for MEMS-based switches, and sees the U.S. market growing from $43 million today to almost $600 million by 2005. The report notes that almost every major optical components vendor including Agere, JDS Uniphase and Corning, along with a host of start ups, such as C Speed and Onix, are now involved with MEMS switching products. And almost all of the potential important vendors of optical crossconnects - including Alcatel, Lucent, Nortel, Calient and others -- are betting that MEMS will help lead them to their all-optical futures.
CIR believes that MEMS is the most important enabler of optical switching to come along in many years, but also points out that MEMS is no optical switching panacea. At the present time, only one components/sub-systems vendor, OMM, is shipping MEMS sub-systems in production quantities. CIR also notes that the 3D MEMS that will be necessary to build equipment with higher port densities will not be delivered in quantity until the end of 2001 and is of unproven reliability. And it points out that MEMS-based optical crossconnects, such as Lucent's LambdaRouter have yet to be successful in the marketplace and are being significantly outsold by OEO grooming switches such as Ciena's CoreDirector.
Fulfilling the Dream
"Optical Switching Subsystems and Components: Markets and Trends" goes on to note that solid-state optical switching technology has begun to progress rapidly. The dream has always been to build an optical switch on a chip that parallels the electronic switching chips that currently form the guts of most telecommunications systems and CIR points out that several companies appear to be making significant progress towards fulfilling that dream -- examples of such companies include Brimcom, Lynx and NTT Electronics.
CIR predicts that the U.S. market for "solid state" optical switching components and sub-systems will grow from $18 million today to $202 million in 2005. But, it cautions that these new all-optical switching products have very low port counts and, most are not shipping yet. At present these switches are most useful in protection switching systems, where their fast switching speeds are of considerable benefit.
However, the new CIR report suggests that some of the vendors of solid state optical switching components and sub-systems may be focusing too much on switching speeds in promoting their new products. It mentions Brimcom, especially, in this regard and notes that, while very high switching speeds - in the few nanosecond range - may be possible with solid state switches, such speeds may be useful primarily for optical packet switching, a technology itself that is many years from commercialization. By contrast, CIR praises Trellis Photonics for its realistic view of optical switching. Rather than being concerned with futuristic applications, Trellis, is building a small crossconnect system, using a solid state technology called "electro-holography," which it says can improve on OEO switches in terms of switching times and power management.
According to the CIR report, the area in which solid-state optical switching has truly made progress in the past year is the recognition that it is possible to build such switches using silicon, rather than exotic materials, such as lithium niobate. This opens up the way to build optical switches using conventional microelectronics manufacturing processes, leads to higher yields, and makes it easier to create optical integrated circuits of which switching is only a part.
"Optical Switching Subsystems and Components: Markets and Trends" covers the markets for 2D MEMS, 3D MEMS, liquid crystal, solid state, mechanical and OEO switching components and sub-systems for applications including optical crossconnects, optical add/drop multiplexers, and protection switches. It includes profiles and strategic assessments of approximately 30 vendors of optical switching sub-systems and components, along with case studies and analyses of the optical switching component/sub-system requirements of 14 leading equipment vendors. In addition, "Optical Switching Subsystems and Components: Markets and Trends" includes five-year forecasts of optical switching sub-systems broken down by technology type, application, port-size and whether it is a sub-system or component. Finally, the report contains a detailed assessment of all the major technologies currently being proposed for optical switching.
CIR is an industry analyst firm specializing in the areas of Fiber Optic Networking Systems, Software and Components. Through its reports, market advisory services and custom client engagements, CIR provides research, analysis and consulting services available for the optical market. "Optical Switching Subsystems and Components: Markets and Trends" is available for $4,500 for hard copy and may also be purchased in electronic format. For more information, visit www.cir-inc.com.
EXHIBIT 1:U.S. Optical Switching Components and Sub-Systems Markets ($ Millions)
Waveguide and other solid state: