What do you say about the 2000 Optical Fiber Communication Conference (OFC) when the fire alarm sounds and the attendees have to be badgered to exit the building? A record 17,000-plus attendance of exhibitors and engineers and the interest from the investment banking community were -- well -- scorching. At times the registration line snaked out of the Baltimore Convention Center and around the block. David Hardwick, vice president of IPG Photonics of Sturbridge, Mass., and a member of the Optical Society of America (OSA) planning committee, said the group had planned for 13,000 people. Dozens of companies rolled out new products -- a dozen or more per company was not unusual. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based start-up Xros Inc. introduced the X-1000, described as the world's highest-capacity optical cross-connect system for open optical networks made with silicon-based micromirror technology. Only a few days later Nortel announced it was acquiring Xros for $3.25 billion. And later in March, Nortel said it had plans to purchase another OFC exhibitor, CoreTek Inc. of Wilmington, Mass., for $1.43 billion. CoreTek makes tunable lasers. In late-breaking technology news, Lucent Technologies' research arm Bell Labs demonstrated what it described as the world's first long-distance triple-terabit data transmission. Alastair Glass, director of Bell Labs' photonics research laboratory, said scientists sent a record 3.28 Tb/s of information over 300 km of experimental Lucent premium optical fiber. A combination of dense wavelength division multiplexing and Raman amplification made it possible. In fact, several companies, including SDL Inc. of San Jose, Calif., and Corning Inc. of Corning, N.Y., introduced Raman amplifiers at the show. Other significant photonics technology trends included amplifier pump combiners, all-optical switching systems and multifunction optical spectrum analyzers. More than 125 top managers and 75 investment bankers and analysts attended a preconference OSA Executive Forum. About 30 speakers covered topics ranging from new products and technologies to a financial analysis of the telecommunications industry. And there were recommendations on where the industry should be headed. "The challenge for system integrators today is that they have limited optics expertise, short production cycle times and tight margins on optical hardware," said Henry Yaffe, president and chief technical officer of Yafo Networks Inc. of Hanover, Md. Hardwick said he was awed by the conference's impact on the photonics industry. "What we're seeing [in telecommunications] is a new infrastructure, just like the railroads in the 19th century and the automobile in the 20th century."