Mood upbeat at ECOC 2005

With attendance about even and the show a little smaller than last year, the mood at this year’s European Conference on Optical Communications (ECOC) was nevertheless good.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - With attendance about even and the show a little smaller than last year, the mood at this year’s European Conference on Optical Communications (ECOC) was nevertheless good. For the first year since the telecom boom, none of the exhibits had more than one level. They have become smaller, and they were more about what companies can actually do. Revenues are generally improving again this year, so the mood is generally upbeat, even if profits are still largely missing.

The show floor was quiet two of the three days, but exhibitors seemed satisfied with the business leads they were getting. More than 3000 visitors and more than 1000 conference delegates attended from Europe, the United States, and Asia, and more than 300 companies were represented.

KMI’s 9th Annual European market conference started the week, with a lot of discussion of the different business models for FTTX. Europe lacks a large project on the scale of NTT in Japan or Verizon in the U.S., but a lot of homes are able to access FTTX in Europe via many local projects, much like the many small projects in the U.S. And, as the NTT project is losing money for the time being, there is a lot of interest to understand just what model works for Europe going forward.

Systems companies did not generally exhibit again this year at ECOC, but there was some new attention paid in the technical sessions to “anything over IP.” The Internet Protocol (IP) presents special challenges with regard to the lower layers of optical communication, such as when it is used for Voice over IP (VoIP) or Video IP.

New product announcements were few and incremental, and several prominent companies seemed to be narrowing their missions. After all, with losses continuing into 2006, no supplier can expect to be strong in many product segments anymore. To give a few examples, Bookham featured its tunable laser, modulator, and XFP combinations for emerging applications. JDSU is emphasizing its circuit pack business and its expanded test and measurement group. OpNext had a more reserved approach, emphasizing its strength in existing 10G and longer reach products, while it is also investing in new products, including lasers for applications outside of telecom.

Some companies continue to present the “one-stop-shop” approach. Mitsubishi and Sumitomo emphasized a wide range of transceiver and discrete laser products. New quasi-Chinese companies like NeoPhotonics and Fiberxon are adding product lines, with NeoPhotonics now offering products from transceivers to pumps to passives. The two companies claim revenues in 2005 that add to nearly $100 million, which would make each among the top suppliers, depending on what one counts. Pirelli Broadband Solutions (Milan, Italy) chose ECOC as the venue to launch its new Photonics Division and product portfolio.

The new topic at the conference was about slow light techniques in communications, very much the sort of R&D topic that one expects to see at ECOC. Talk of 100G Ethernet also appeared, and we can expect to hear more about new R&D in that subject next year.

Many exhibitors say they are expecting that the attendance will be up next year as it will be held in Cannes, France. In 2007 ECOC will be held in Berlin.

- Tom Hausken, Strategies Unlimited

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