Optical Industry Heads for Tuneup

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-03-26

The optical industry is getting a tuneup. Almost any device that can bring true intelligence closer to end users by tuning light waves is hot right now — especially tunable lasers, tunable filters and smarter switches.

Companies that make networks smarter have a better-than-average shot at surviving in the industry tuneup that seems inevitable, experts said.

At last weeks Optical Fiber Communications (OFC) Conference in Anaheim, Calif., 38,000 participants and 937 exhibitors were in attendance — more than double last years numbers. "Were about to see a lot of natural selection," said Gary Morgenthaler, general partner at Morgenthaler Ventures.

The downturn might be just what the industry needs, said Drew Lanza, venture partner at Morgenthaler Ventures. It will force companies to be more careful about how they spend their money, and which technologies they pursue. "Last year, companies that made sunglasses would have been funded in optical," Lanza said.

But many participants emanated optimism, not fear. And Karen Liu, co-director of the optical components service at RHK, said she saw fear last year. "Those guys knew then that there was an overbuild. Thats why youre not seeing the fear this year. There is optimism because there is a lot of innovation."

Carriers cant afford to stop spending, because the evolution to a network that will be ruled by data and Internet Protocol is inevitable, said Dana Cooperson, director of optical transport services at RHK, which isnt lowering its forecast of continued 28 percent growth in optical networking.

But doubt was raised about one of the industrys big planned advancements: products that move information at 40 gigabits per second. Those devices may be 16 times more complex to develop, while offering just four times the speed of the existing 10-Gbps systems, experts said.

Robert Lucky, vice president of applied research at Telcordia Technologies, raised the specter that the promise of more revenue from differentiated quality of service may just collapse in a flood of bandwidth.

"I think theres going to be carnage," said John Midgley, CEO of Lightwave Microsystems, one of the few companies shipping arrayed waveguide microsystems etched into silicon. "There are 150 metro players, and there might be five left standing. There are 26 companies trying to get into the optical silicon business. We had the big shakeouts in railroads, in steel, in dot-coms and well have it in optical. Some of its going to be luck, some of it is going to be timing. But there wont be as many companies at OFC next year."

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