OITDA looks at a changing Japan

It`s no secret that Japan in general and its optoelectronics industry in particular have been undergoing change. Partly this is the result of the economic downturn in East Asia, and partly it is the result of changes in business practices and strategy as Japan adjusts to global trends. Laser Focus World senior editor W. Conard Holton and contributing editor Paul Mortensen discussed these and other matters with Koji Matsukura, executive director of Japan`s Optoelectronic Industry and Technology D

Oct 1st, 1998

OITDA looks at a changing Japan

It`s no secret that Japan in general and its optoelectronics industry in particular have been undergoing change. Partly this is the result of the economic downturn in East Asia, and partly it is the result of changes in business practices and strategy as Japan adjusts to global trends. Laser Focus World senior editor W. Conard Holton and contributing editor Paul Mortensen discussed these and other matters with Koji Matsukura, executive director of Japan`s Optoelectronic Industry and Technology Development Association (OITDA) during InterOpto `98, held in July at Makuhari Messe outside Tokyo.

Laser Focus World: The first and obvious question concerns the impact of the general economic turmoil in Asia. How has that affected OITDA and your plans?

Koji Matsukura: Every year the OITDA surveys domestic production values of optoelectronic manufacturers for the current year and the previous year. Based on the survey, we actually show a growth of 10.4% for FY1997, which is a strong upward trend. But the problem is that it was conducted in November last year. The Asian economic crisis happened in November at the same time that the Japanese financial crisis began. So the actual numbers for the latter part of last year will be lower than the manufacturers` estimate last November. But once again this year we will do a survey in November to get the actual figures of the last fiscal year. So my view is that the actual increase probably won`t be as high as 10.4%.

LFW: Do you think the number will still be up, though?

Matsukura: Compared to the previous year, it will probably be up for several reasons. One reason is magneto-optical disk players, which are very popular in Japan. They are rapidly driving cassette players out of the market. Also, the growth of digital cameras is very positive. Third, in the United States, communication products, especially for wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM), are very big sellers.

LFW: What about overseas production by Japanese companies?

Matsukura: We have found that, as of March, the Asian economic situation had slight impact on their output. But in the long term Japanese companies are all of the opinion that they would like to grow and extend their manufacturing within Asia.

LFW: Changing the subject, there has been much talk about venture businesses and how you would like to encourage them. What steps has OITDA taken to promote venture business?

Matsukura: Right now, we are concentrating on upgrading the technical ability of the venture businesses in the optoelectronic field in Japan. Venture business is very important to us.

LFW: What is the actual process?

Matsukura: We ask university professors and people from national research laboratories to be technical advisors for venture businesses. We ask them to go in as mentors and advise the companies on how to develop the technology. We have about 60 people that do this for us. For the venture people, it is all free.

LFW: Do you also directly invest money in the companies?

Matsukura: That all comes with a high risk, of course. But when a venture business comes to us with a concrete idea to develop an innovative optoelectronic product that we think is a good one, we try to provide 50% support. For example, in one case, we have provided approximately 䂃 million ($106,000).

We can usually do two to four cases a year. We also have a booth for venture businesses at InterOpto. In addition, there are the support systems we discussed, along with discussion groups and meetings between the venture businesses, venture capitalists, and university professors.

LFW: Is the venture-capital business growing in Japan?

Matsukura: It is on the rise, but we do have several problems just as with anything else. One question is whether [investors] really have the ability to evaluate high technology. The other is finding an angel [investor].

Most people would actually prefer to wait many years until the venture business grows big, and then they are enthusiastic about putting in money. But not at the very beginning.

The Japanese culture is not very inclined toward risk. For example, in the United States, you actually tend to value people more if they jump into a small business rather than go into a big corporation. In Japan, we would tend to value NEC or NTT, very big, stable companies. So in order for any change to occur, we have to start influencing people`s ideas while keeping the cultural background in view.

LFW: What recent technical or economic developments have been a surprise?

Matsukura: It is not just me--I think everyone has the same opinion that beginning in 1995, the big surprise has been the tremendous growth and spread of the Internet and of information in communications. The demand for WDM to respond to this growth of the Internet is very big. Our 1996 roadmap for communications predicts that between the years 2010 and 2015, we will have 100-Mbit/s transmission to everyone`s home. And for big users, we are predicting 1 Gbit/s. So for the trunk lines, we will need 5 Tbit/s. Also, by 2010, we will need 1 Tbit/s for optical time-domain multiplexing and 100 channels for WDM.

Recently, the pace of progress in WDM technology has been faster than predicted in the roadmap, so a revision will be necessary. However, we are actually a bit skeptical if we will be able to realize 100 channels of WDM at 40 Gbit/s for each channel in this current fiber network situation. So we think that we might have to lower the speed to 100 channels at 10 Gbit/s, if that.

LFW: Is that possible?

Matsukura: It will very difficult to realize with the current fibers. So that leaves us with a very big technological problem to solve. We have asked researchers from companies like NTT and NEC and university professors to come together to work on it.

As for optical memory, we think that if we use blue-emitting lasers, we will be able, within the next few years, to raise storage capacity on disks from 10 to 20 gigabytes. But we also foresee that within the next 10 years, we will probably have to start using subterabyte-storage capacity. And to do that, we will need multilayer substrates or pit-edge recording with several hundred different steps in one pit.

By the year 2007, we will probably be needing optical memory with recording densities of 100 gigabits per square inch and, by the year 2010, 1 terabyte per square inch. To realize such memory density, we are now researching near-field optical technology, with spot sizes of 15 nm. Companies such as Toshiba and Hitachi are showing great interest in this technology.

LFW: So we can expect the next few years to be very interesting?

Matsukura: I feel that way, yes. We predict that within Japan the optoelectronics industry will grow 10% a year through 2010. o

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