26 March 2003
Advanced switch may significantly cut fiber optics costs
Rochester, N.Y. – A new technology disclosed Wednesday by Xerox Corp. could help drive down today's high "off ramp" costs of fiber optic information superhighways.
Xerox device integrates an optical MEMS photonic switch with planar light circuits on a single silicon chip
Xerox Corp. photo
Xerox researchers said the technology breaks the bandwidth barrier that exists today by integrating an optical micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) photonic switch with planar light circuits on a single silicon chip small enough to fit on a fingertip – a first-ever achievement.
The new switch promises to rapidly deliver optical services by providing the functionality of a reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexer (R-OADM), a routing device that's commonly used today but is 10 to 100 times as large and costly, Xerox said.
"Optical networks based on our technology could go way beyond delivering on-demand DVD-quality videos in homes," said Joel Kubby, a technical manager at Xerox's Wilson Center for Research and Technology in Webster, N.Y. "Our switch could help usher in a new era of undreamed-of Internet applications, changing the way we do business, seek information and find entertainment."
Today's optical networking equipment must switch from the optical to the electronic domain. Kubby said Xerox's technology enables switching in the all-optical domain. Because it controls the flow of light rather than the flow of electrons, it is ultimately faster, smaller and cheaper, he said.
"With the Xerox switch, an entire R-OADM can be compressed into 2 cm x 1.5 cm in size, and can direct enormous amounts of data in ways that currently require large racks of assembled equipment," Kubby said. "Our technology would let telecommunications companies install systems locally and even on utility poles."
"Waveguides" are very small conductors of light, about 5 to 6 microns or 1/10 the thickness of a human hair. The Xerox MEMS waveguide shuttle acts like a miniature train track switch for the fine waveguides, avoiding the problems of earlier, mirror-based MEMS switches.
The MEMS switches and waveguides are made together on a single crystal silicon wafer using widely available semiconductor processing equipment. Such on-chip integration avoids the complex alignment issues associated with manually connecting different and larger components with optical fibers, and avoids the cost and space associated with manufacturing, assembling and packaging the separate components of Add/Drop Multiplexers.
In addition, the new technology eliminates the need for technicians to make routing changes in the field, ultimately bringing bandwidth to consumers faster.
Kubby created a working prototype 8-channel reconfigurable OADM. Xerox intends to commercialize this technology through licensing to leading companies in the optical switching market.
"Global consumption of OADMs was $101 million in 2001 and will surge to $1.03 billion in 2006," according to Jeff D. Montgomery, chairman and founder of market research firm ElectroniCast Corp. "The most rapid growth is expected in fully reconfigurable devices."
Kubby and his team at Xerox began conducting MEMS research in 1993, optical MEMS in 1998. Using optical MEMS, Xerox is working to improve color image quality during the color reproduction process. Optical MEMS devices could eventually eliminate the need for high-cost precision manufacturing of components that stabilize movement in Xerox photoreceptor belts.
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