MEMS Put to Test Bed
Ready for another all-optical company?
Subsystems vendor Continuum Photonics Inc. is announcing products today after
more than three years of secrecy, but the company isn't banking on an
all-optical revival. Its opening move is a switch aimed at the test
Based on micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS), Continuum's
DirectLight IG is an optical switch that would sit between test equipment
and the devices being tested (line cards, for instance). The switch's
programmable nature means engineers could build arbitrary topologies in
the lab without rewiring all the equipment being tested. Networks arranged
in a ring, for instance, could be converted to a mesh via software, saving
Test-equipment vendors are aware of this concept, but it appears
Continuum won't face much competition yet. EXFO Electro-Optical Engineering Inc. (Nasdaq: EXFO
board; Toronto: EXF) was developing its own product based on an
all-optical switch, but the project was postponed because the market
hadn't yet developed for such a device, officials say.
All-optical switches haven't been used in this space before because
they lack the necessary precision, says Aaron Bent, Continuum's vice
president of marketing. Test equipment requires switches with near-perfect
repeatability, making the market the domain of mechanical steppers sold by
Inc. and JDS Uniphase
Corp. (Nasdaq: JDSU
board; Toronto: JDU).
Continuum claims it's got the precision and repeatability thanks to its
chosen technology. Most MEMS switches use electrostatic or electromagnetic
forces to move tiny mirrors, applying a voltage across an air gap.
Continuum alters the direction of a beam using a combination of MEMS and
piezoelectric forces, "pushing with a material that has the stiffness of
aluminum," Bent says. Piezoelectric technology was used by Astarte Fiber
Networks, the all-optical switch acquired by Tellium in 2000 (see Tellium's Pure
Optical Play ).
The piezoelectric method gives Continuum a level of precision usable in
test circles, but the company didn't discover this until recently. "We
realized about a year ago that we had performance specs that were unique,"
Another MEMS vendor moving into test applications is Integrated Micromachines
Inc. (IMI), one of the startups that preached 1,000-port crossconnects
during the bubble. IMI has shifted into the semiconductor probe-card
market, the business it had investigated before diving into telecom (see
Switches Strategy ).
Unlike IMI, Continuum is still pursuing the telecom market. At Supercomm in June, the
company plans to announce DirectLight TL for that market, followed at the
end of the year by DirectLight FD, for an application Bent calls fiber
Systems using the TL probably wouldn't emerge until 2005, Bent says.
Along the way, Continuum will have to battle fellow all-optical survivors
including Calient Networks
Inc., Corvis Corp.
board), Glimmerglass Networks, Lynx Photonic Networks, Movaz Networks Inc., and Polatis Ltd..
DirectLight IG is available in sizes from 16 ports to 64 ports.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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