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Photonics Moves at Light Speed

Photonics Spectra
Dec 2000
Dan Drollette

The future of light-based technologies is bright.

That was the consensus at Boston University's fourth annual symposium on emerging business opportunities in photonics, held in early October at its Photonics Center. Speaking before an audience composed of several hundred physicists, engineers and venture capitalists, nine industry leaders described current trends and their visions for the future:

* Japan's dominance of optoelectronics manufacturing continues to fade, said Fred Welsh, executive director of the Optoelectronics Industry Development Association. Japan had captured 70 percent of the worldwide market in 1992, with the rest of the market share spread throughout the globe; now Japan's share is down to 30 percent, with the US and Taiwan splitting most of the remainder.

* To keep up with demand, the technology-hungry Internet will continue to grow rapidly. Bandwidth capacity has been doubling every eight months, surpassing Moore's law, said Paul D. Callahan, in charge of strategy and technical investments at Nortel Networks. Most of the technology that the 'Net needs will involve photonics, which should make the industry happy.

But it will make for a bumpy ride, he warned: "Networks are inherently messy."

* With the advent of optical switching technologies such as microelectromechanical systems and bubble switches, the all-optical network is poised to become a reality in the near future, predicted Waguih Ishak of Agilent Technologies' communications and optical research branch. But as fast as the technology improves, consumers' expectations rise even faster.

Ishak said that the moment the industry overcomes the "last mile problem" and is finally able to provide high-speed, large-bandwidth optical fiber connections throughout the entire system directly into each person's home, consumers will ask for even more. "[They] don't want fiber to the curb, but fiber to the pillow," he said.

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