Future networks will need flexibility and novel components that can move quickly from R&D to production.
Since the mid-1980s, optical fiber has been the backbone of telecommunications networks. Companies that make system hardware for these networks have traditionally been large, established and well-known. At the heart of the technology, however, are small firms producing the semiconductor lasers, detectors, transmitters, receivers, multiplexers, optical amplifiers, couplers and isolators that are the enablers of the fiber optic revolution.
These smaller companies have included privately held technology boutiques and captive-supply divisions of larger entities. Collectively known as fiber optic component manufacturers, they use exotic materials and process technologies in largely manual factory operations and job-shop environments.
With the explosion in demand for greater bandwidth, the fiber optic component industry has changed. Unprecedented demand for components enabling high-speed transmission (2.5 and 10 Gb/s) and dense wavelength division multiplexing has turned technology boutiques into large, publicly traded companies, consolidating in many cases through mergers and acquisitions that make front-page news. Factory automation and mass production are ubiquitous, and business managers are replacing technologists in the boardroom.
There is, however, another force at work. As the demand for capacity in the backbone networks continues unabated, fiber optic networks are migrating from long-haul infrastructure to short-haul metropolitan area applications with ring and mesh architectures. Provisioning bandwidth is no longer the key driver of technology. In metro networks, it is all about flexibility, the ability to route traffic on demand in real time and dynamically change the structure of the network.