MEMS at OFC - Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
According to In-Stat, the Optical Fiber Conference (OFC) held in Anaheim, CA, in March, was much quieter than last year's - a real reflection of the dismal market conditions in the telecom sector right now - and the fact that the tremendous hype surrounding the use of MEMS in optical networking has finally subsided.
At the 2000 OFC, MEMS was introduced; in 2001, basic products were demonstrated. This year, real solutions were being offered, with a particular focus on optical add/drop multiplexers (OADM) and wavelength switching, as opposed to just cross-connects.
The race is on for what appears to be the most competitive sector to date: small form protection switching. And the development of 3D MEMS continues on track. Beyond switches, the component segment is heating up in regards to variable optical attenuators (VOAs) and dynamic gain (and/or channel) equalizers. Another bright spot was confirmation that revenues are now being generated by a handful of companies. Although the dollars are primarily coming from engineering samples, the volumes are significant enough to go a long way toward validating the manufacturability of these devices.
The difficulty, now, is waiting for the market to turn. Numerous MEMS-based optical networking solutions are ready to go, but the telecom sector as a whole clearly is not. It is going to be a tough wait - one that will no doubt accelerate the inevitable consolidation of MEMS companies pursuing this market.