Lucent backs startup networking chip maker

Lucent Technologies Inc. announced this week its backing of AraLight Inc., which will focus on relieving high-bandwidth Internet switching and routing bottlenecks.

A startup based in Monroe Township, New Jersey, AraLight will use technology developed at Lucent's Bell Labs to develop devices that will let network equipment vendors build faster networks. The devices will integrate components such as optical detectors and semiconductor VCSELs (vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers) with silicon circuits that contain millions of transistors. The result: A chip that can switch and route "hundreds to thousands" of optical inputs and outputs, according to AraLight executives.

Ashok Krishnamoorthy, AraLight's CTO and co-founder, said that when the chip is ready to launch, equipment makers will be able to use AraLight's technology to bundle more devices and ports into circuit boards used in routers and switches.

"There's tremendous pressure on equipment makers to make their equipment more efficient," Krishnamoorthy said. "What the industry really needs is a way to take the laser chips and detector chips and direct-bond them to the electronic chips. Companies can't make big enough switches and routers to handle all the DWDM [dense wavelength division multiplexing] transport that's scaling so quickly. They need optical inter-connect [technology] to make a bigger box."

AraLight is targeting major system OEMs, such as Cisco and Nortel. "We're going after big iron," said Krishnamoorthy, noting that router and cross-connect switch makers are facing a need to use optical short-reach solutions within their products.

The company also hopes to reach businesses that use optical short-reach technology in central offices. "Very short-reach standards are now in place that use 850 nanometer short-reach fiber links -- precisely the wavelength that VCSELs reach," Krishnamoorthy said. "We can cater to cutting-edge products in these spaces."

Although AraLight was originally created by Lucent's New Ventures Group, AraLight insists that Lucent's current involvement is minor. AraLight officials stated that the networking giant has only a small minority stake in the company.

AraLight would not comment on when products would be available, except to say that it expects samples to be delivered to test users by the end of the year.

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