The UK opts for opto

The UK opts for optoRichard Wilson reports on this year’s Optical Fiber Communications Conference (OFC) in San Diego
Optical fibre technology specialists found themselves in San Diego, California last week. But the exotic venue is not the main reason why two UK optoelectronics firms are making product introductions at this year’s Optical Fiber Communication Conference (OFC).
Historically, fibre optics is one of the few areas of semiconductor technology in which the UKhas gained an international reputation. Only in manufacturing start-ups like Bookham Technology and Kymata do we now have UK firms committed to turning university research into commercial products. Other OFC highlights
Lucent Technologies talked about optical fibres into which they have put microscopic air bubbles in order to improve their optical performance. It also described an all-optical regenerator that converts the wavelengths of 20Gbit/s optical signals for use in wavelength division multiplexers.
NTT from Japan described an experiment to transmit a data rate of 40Gbit/s over 1,000Km. It was the first field trial at this rate using tiny soliton pulses.
Researchers from the Heinrich-Hertz institute in Berlin succeeded in transmitting a single 80Gbit/s channel at 1550 nm over 106km of conventional single mode fibre.
Mitel Semiconductor unveiled a resonant-cavity LED, which a low cost light source designed for 250Mbaud data transmission over plastic optical fibre.  
 
Less than a year after its creation, optoelectronic component developer, Kymata made its commercial debut last week in California. The firm, which spun out of Southampton University, is introducing a range of optoelectronic devices for wavelength division multiplexing networks – including arrayed waveguides, optical attenuators, switches and splitters (see picture).
“The telecommunications industry needs independent optoelectronics component suppliers to provide dedicated support and speed time to market for new generations of communications systems,” says Brendan Hyland, Kymata’s chief executive. “Kymata brings that capability, on a platform that we believe will become the standard for opto ICs.”
Kymata has opted to commercialise a technology called silica-on-silicon that is already being developed by leading US and Japanese component suppliers. “We believe that silica-on-silicon will be the most widely adopted technology platform in the medium term and with other suppliers in the market offering a multiple source is a benefit,” says Hyland.
Silica-on-silicon is, however only one of a number of new technologies bidding to become the foundation of a new optical IC industry. Much in the same way that silicon CMOS technology became the basis of today’s $100bn semiconductor industry. “Optoelectronics is going through a period of structural change similar to the chip industry 30 years ago,” says Hyland.
The silica-on-silicon technique being used by Kymata may be widely adopted by the likes of Lucent Technologies and Hitachi, but another UK start-up Bookham Technology is already putting into production in Oxfordshire its proprietary all CMOS (silicon-on-silicon) applications specific optical circuit (ASOC) technology.
Bookham, which introduced its first products two years ago and which has recently won the financial backing of Intel and Cisco Systems, has extended its optoelectronic device range with a family of transceiver modules based around its ASOC dual-wavelength transceiver.
The full-duplex, bi-directional devices contain an integral low-noise automatic gain control transimpedance amplifier for a wide receiver dynamic range. There is also an option to integrate clock and data recovery electronics or a limiting amplifier in the one device.


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