OFC/NFOEC meeting sees renewed optimism

March 15, 2005
Official attendance numbers were not available at press time, but according to exhibitors on the trade show floor, the number of exhibitors and exhibit attendees at the first combined OFC/NFOEC conference (March 6-11) was not much different from the previous year’s OFC meeting.

ANAHEIM, CA-Official attendance numbers were not available at press time, but according to exhibitors on the trade show floor, the number of exhibitors and exhibit attendees at the first combined OFC/NFOEC conference (March 6-11) was not much different from the previous year’s OFC meeting. Apparently many of the systems vendors that previously would have been at NFOEC were not at the newly combined event, having instead opted for alternatives such as Supercomm.

Nonetheless, the mood at this year’s meeting was strongly upbeat. People were once again talking, as they did in the days of the telecom bubble, about a growing market, spurred in particular these days by the imminent prospect of extending fiber to the home and to the desktop. But unlike the optimism at the height of the telecom bubble, this year’s upbeat mood was also firmly grounded in reality. Prominent themes underlying the numerous new technology and product announcements included industry consolidation, outsourcing, focusing on immediate market needs, and righting a long-standing market inversion between prices and costs.

Industry consolidation is likely to speed up over the next few years because there are still too many suppliers in the market and many companies, perhaps working with capital obtained during the telecom bubble, are still pricing their products lower than their costs to draw customers, rather than following a viable business model, according to Dave Buse, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Finisar (Sunnyvale, CA) optical products division. Finisar discussed its recently (Jan. 31) completed acquisition of the Infineon (Munich, Germany) transceiver product lines and technology at OFC, along with several new product introductions. Buse said acquisition of the Infineon 10 gigabit Ethernet products was particularly important in helping Finisar to service the still largely XAUI-based datacom market.

Ten gigabit Ethernet is the current market sweet spot, according to Thomas Fawcett, marketing manager for the fiberoptics product division at Agilent (San Jose, CA), which announced at the meeting that it had surpassed 90 million active fiberoptic modules shipped since 1999. Another important trend is the continued doubling of fiber-channel speeds, he said. Looking ahead from the current market focus on moving from 2 to 4 gigabits, Finisar was demonstrating 8 gigabits at OFC and Agilent was expecting to demonstrate 8 gigabits by the end of next year. Fawcett also discussed the growth of outsourcing at Agilent from contract manufacturing up to the sub-system assembly level in southeast Asia in the 1980s to full product line level assembly in southeast Asia and Japan in the 1990s and expanding further to include China and Korea in this decade.

NTT in Japan is anticipating 3 million new fiber to the home customers in the next 3 years, according to Chris DePalma, at Hamamatsu (Bridgewater, NJ), which is gearing up to serve that market and which also introduced new receiver optical subassemblies, one for use in 10 Gbps XFP transceivers and SONET/SDH networks, and another for use in 4 gigabit fiber channel applications. Anticipation of growing fiber to the home deployments is also driving development of test and measurement equipment, in terms of performance as well as efficiency and mobility, according to both Werner Huettemann, VP and general manager of computing and networking solutions at Agilent, and to Jack Landau, marketing communications manager at Anritsu (Laguna Hills, CA).

New product introductions at OFC from these companies ranged from mobile equipment for efficient handheld operation as well as 40-gigabit test systems. While the current market focus is on 10 gigabit, the likely growth of video over fiber to the home systems is likely to accelerate growth to 40 gigabits, Heuttemann said.

Picolight (Boulder, CO) has stopped its development of Fabry Perot and DFB technology to focus back on its roots in VCSEL technology and to pursue opportunities created by market consolidation moves such as the acquisition of the Honeywell VCSEL optics products business (Richardson, TX) last year by Finisar, according to Picolight president and CEO Steven Hane. Currently offering 850 nm and 1310 nm VCSELs for short and medium distances for applications ranging from SAN to SAN extension and 10 gigabit Ethernet, Picolight is being careful to “pick its fights and hopes to be profitable in a year,” Hane said of his company, which also relies on contract manufacturing to remain competitive.

“If we can’t beat the price of a transceiver coming from Asia, for instance, then we sell our component to that transceiver manufacturer,” he added.

Some of the other new technology introductions at the meeting included a small format transceiver based on planar external-cavity laser technology from Redfern Integrated Optics (RIO; Santa Clara, CA) with a physical interface compliant with the XFP multi-source agreement, targeted at a range of applications including 10 gigabit Ethernet and fiber channel.

Phasebridge (Pasadena, CA) introduced a 3-axis fiberoptic gyroscope transceiver integrating all three axes into one compact transceiver package with dimensions of 0.8 x 1.4 x 0.3 inches and transmitting more than 1 mW of output power with greater than 20 dB polarization extinction.

Color Chip (Or-Akiva, Israel) announced a single-fiber diplexer optical transceiver based on its ion exchange process that forms planar structures of circular shaped waveguides, in which light is guided through a high refractive index core in the glass substrate.

Fibercore (Hampshire, England), which supplies specialty fiber for telecom applications as well as applications in aerospace, optoelectronic components, basic research, defense, and medical device applications, introduced a design and simulation software package for erbium doped fiber amplifiers. And managing director Chris Emslie pointed out that, in reflecting the last few years in telecom industry, the development of new markets from new technology ideas seldom if ever takes place in just a few years, but normally takes a decade or more.

“There is no overnight success,” he said.

-Hassaun Jones-Bey

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