Is there life after telecom?

March 1, 2000
By any measure, it's an exciting time to be involved in optoelectronics. The worldwide craving for more and more bandwidth has created an unprecedented level of interest in optoelectronics technology and the related expertise for telecommunications applications.

By any measure, it's an exciting time to be involved in optoelectronics. The worldwide craving for more and more bandwidth has created an unprecedented level of interest in optoelectronics technology and the related expertise for telecommunications applications. Furthermore, the excellent health of the world's major economies has resulted in an extraordinarily high level of money available for investment (according to The Wall Street Journal [Feb. 7, 2000], the amount of money invested by venture capitalists in 1999 was more than the total invested for the three prior years).

So huge amounts of money are now flowing into an industry that previously was considered by many to be unworthy of any significant attention. Company stock prices are at all-time highs, mergers and acquisitions abound, and the job market is as tight as it's ever been. All this activity was clearly evident in January at Photonics West in San Jose, CA, which was sold out to exhibitors and attracted a record 12,141 attendees. And this month's Optical Fiber Communication conference (OFC; Baltimore, MD) shows every sign of boosting the trend.

There is another side to this picture: optoelectronics technologies are by no means exclusively telecom-related. A broad spectrum of applications, from interferometry (see p.121) to imaging (see p. 131), has little or nothing to do with telecom. One might expect these other markets to benefit from the "coattails" effect of all the attention and investment directed at telecom, but the reverse appears to true. Startups catering to these other markets seem to be having more difficulty raising funds now than before telecom became the darling of Wall Street. And the lure of finding one's own pot of gold at the end of the telecom rainbow has created a small "brain drain" of people moving away from these non-telecom arenas, even within individual firms. Understandable though this may be, we shouldn't forget that many aspects of the new telecom technologies originated in other areas—the optical coatings used in filters for wavelength-division multiplexers are but one example.

Despite the lack of sex appeal to the investment community, technology research and development continues unabated in multiple non-telecom aspects of optoelectronics. Laser designs are constantly being improved to provide higher performance and efficiency (see p. 63). New fabrication techniques are enabling mass-production of microstructured optics (see p. 107). The latest laser-based instrumentation is allowing us to probe the ultrasmall world (see p. 115), and turnkey systems are moving routine spectroscopy well beyond the laboratory (see Optoelectronics World supplement following p. 82). So, while telecom may dominate our current thinking, let's not overlook other developments that may be precursors to something equally exciting.

About the Author

Stephen G. Anderson | Director, Industry Development - SPIE

 Stephen Anderson is a photonics industry expert with an international background and has been actively involved with lasers and photonics for more than 30 years. As Director, Industry Development at SPIE – The international society for optics and photonics – he is responsible for tracking the photonics industry markets and technology to help define long-term strategy, while also facilitating development of SPIE’s industry activities. Before joining SPIE, Anderson was Associate Publisher and Editor in Chief of Laser Focus World and chaired the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar. Anderson also co-founded the BioOptics World brand. Anderson holds a chemistry degree from the University of York and an Executive MBA from Golden Gate University.    

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