NFOEC—'Sold Out' with record attendance

Oct. 1, 2000
Conference organizers were overwhelmed with the high attendance at the 16th annual National Fiber Optics Engineers Conference (NFOEC) held in late August at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, CO.

Conference organizers were overwhelmed with the high attendance at the 16th annual National Fiber Optics Engineers Conference (NFOEC) held in late August at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, CO. Technical sessions were standing-room-only and exhibit aisles were packed. Walk-in registrants encountered signs at the registration booth announcing "Technical Sessions Sold Out," as a pre-show estimate for 3500 attendees was eclipsed by actual attendance of 10,000.

On the first day of the conference, organizers said, registration swelled to 7000. By the end of the three-day conference, an additional 3000 walk-in registrants had come to participate in a feeding frenzy that now typifies the booming communications and networking field. A large component of the attendees were brokers, financial analysts, and investors looking for venture capital opportunities in promising high-tech companies. Also conspicuous were employment recruiters, on the prowl to fill a plethora of openings around the world at companies like ADC (Minneapolis, MN), Alcatel (Plano, TX), and Cisco (San Jose, CA). Some companies, like JDS Uniphase (Ottawa, ON), handed out invitations to evening parties to advertise their job positions.

Modest beginnings

The NFOEC comes from modest roots, beginning as a small annual gathering of the regional Bell operating companies after the breakup of AT&T in the 1980s. "In the first few NFOEC meetings," said Jennifer Inglisa, director of marketing with Ciena (Linthicum, MD), "there were presentations of papers on phone systems and fiberoptics, with a few simple table-top exhibits." The exhibits have expanded in just a few years to include big business and along with that, big marketing. "A lot more customers turned up here than in the past," said Inglisa, whose marketing plan for the conference included "Lightworks Lou," the optical networking mascot, complete with toolkit. On the third day of the conference, customers who came looking for Ciena's give-away bendable model of the mascot at the booth were told, "Sorry, we're all out."

The game-show atmosphere sometimes seemed to detract from the purpose of NFOECto display the newest applications and technologies. But for those who are unhappy to see the marketing efforts at NFOEC outshine the technology, take heart. Industry experts presented more than 150 papers at the conference, representing the leading technological advances in fiberoptics, optical switching, wavelength routing, and metro network architectures, among other topics. Joe Padgett, director of marketing at Nortel (Brampton, ON) reported, "We presented 20 new papers, all standing-room-only, some with over 500 people in attendance." (Most meeting rooms could seat around 100.) One attendee said that at 3 p.m. the day after the exhibits closed the technical sessions were still packed with people.

What was the buzz?

Beyond the trivia games resembling "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," the buzz was about arrayed waveguide gratings (AWGs), metro/access networks, and all-optical vs. not all-optical. Companies like Kymata (Livingston, UK), Lightwave Microsystems (San Jose, CA), and Wavesplitter Technologies (Fremont, CA) introduced variations on arrayed waveguide gratings, designed to multiplex/demultiplex (mux/demux) in dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) applications. Lightwave Microsystems announced the Lightweaver series of waveguides, the only AWGs hermetically packaged for protection against the elements. WaveSplitter Technologies introduced its WaveArray High Channel AWG, based on planar lightwave circuit technology.

Interoperability was a common theme. Tony Stelliga, general manager of the optical processor operation at Intel (Fremont, CA), who attended the show for business and financial reasons, gave his take on the show. "The industry is converging into one common platform, breaking down barriers between metro and rural, submarine and terrestrial, and between network architectures," he said. For example, technical sessions at NFOEC related how laying submarine fiber has overcome the high cost of transferring signals "over the beach." The large facilities required for the translation from land to sea have been eliminated. Protocols between terrestrial and submarine have come into alignment. Another example of convergence is the announcement by Centerpoint Broadband Technologies, Inc. (San Jose, CA) of an enhancement/alternative to legacy systems (WDM and SONET) called subcarrier multiplexing, or SCM (see this month's WDM Solutions, p. 20). The SCM architecture can either stand alone, replacing legacy networks, or it can be used to smooth transitions between them.

Cisco Systems is concentrating on systems interoperability, buying companies that offer alternatives. At the show, John Adler, director of marketing with Cisco, cautioned that all-optical has problems in metro, where the size of data pipes are limited. As a solution, Cisco presented the ONS 15900 Wavelength Router, which lives in the core of DWDM networks. Related to the ONS 15900 is the Test Access feature, which monitors wavelengths for troubleshooting networks from a remote position.

Borrowing technology

Many companies revealed that they are applying established technology from other fields like semiconductors and voice systems to solve problems in the telecom field. "The submarine guys are borrowing technology from the terrestrial guys, and vice versa," said Stelliga. "Borrowing from other technologies is a good sign for the industry. Why reinvent the wheel?" Companies like Tsunami Optics (Mountain View, CA) are developing and providing products for selling wavelengths, much like gas, water, and phone companies sell their goods. "We want to sell bandwidth as a commodity," said Rick Galyean, Tsunami's vice president of sales and marketing. Toward that end, Tsunami introduced a family of coarse wavelength- division multiplexing (CWDM) products for metro/access networks.

Borrowed technology was also seen in other applications. Dynarc, Inc. (New York, NY) showcased its capabilities to manage and reserve bandwidth to allow billing of networking, similar to making a phone call or watching cable TV. Dynarc's Channelized Reserved Services (CRS) architecture is now in use in Washington, DC. Corning Incorporated (Corning, NY) presented results of a paper to extend the projection of lasers from 600 to 2000 km, using forward air correction alone. Adding Raman scattering techniques could extend projection to 8000 km.

The conference schedule was not altered to accommodate the higher-than-expected attendance, with exhibit hours of 3:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. two days, and noon to 3 p.m. the third day. When asked about the brief hours for the exhibit hall, exhibitors were ambivalent. "It's tough to get in everything you want to do in 11 hours," said Padgett. But others reported a sense that the exhibit hours were irrelevant. Business meetings could be observed taking place 12 hours a day, sometimes in carpeted, double-decker exhibit booths, and sometimes with cell phones and briefcases spread about on the floor of the convention center.

Flyers advertising next year's meeting projected an attendance of 5000. Those flyers were likely printed before John Ryan, chief analyst at RHK (South San Francisco, CA), made projections at the conference of a $1 trillion per year industry. In light of Ryan's prediction, it may be prudent to reprint the flyers with a "one" in front of that 5000. For more information on NFOEC, visit

About the Author

Valerie Coffey-Rosich | Contributing Editor

Valerie Coffey-Rosich is a freelance science and technology writer and editor and a contributing editor for Laser Focus World; she previously served as an Associate Technical Editor (2000-2003) and a Senior Technical Editor (2007-2008) for Laser Focus World.

Valerie holds a BS in physics from the University of Nevada, Reno, and an MA in astronomy from Boston University. She specializes in editing and writing about optics, photonics, astronomy, and physics in academic, reference, and business-to-business publications. In addition to Laser Focus World, her work has appeared online and in print for clients such as the American Institute of Physics, American Heritage Dictionary, BioPhotonics, Encyclopedia Britannica, EuroPhotonics, the Optical Society of America, Photonics Focus, Photonics Spectra, Sky & Telescope, and many others. She is based in Palm Springs, California. 

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