Intel readies optical parts to lower carriers' costs

Intel's drive into optical networking will produce a transceiver with a tunable laser and a processor that should help carriers send signals reliably over longer distances, both of which could help drive down the cost of optical networks, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

Intel, in Santa Clara, California, is developing the products as part of a broad initiative in the optical network equipment market. The timing of the introductions of these two products was not clear and Intel declined to comment on unannounced products.

Over the past two years Intel has made massive investments and bought several companies in the optical arena, with a vision of optical fiber as the high-speed connection of the future in large enterprise and service-provider networks, said Sean Maloney, vice president and general manager of Intel's Communications Group, at the Intel Developer Forum here in February. The company in part aims to reduce the cost of optical gear through economies of scale, similar to the downward trend in microprocessor prices.

The upcoming transceiver will be Intel's first to use a tunable laser, which can be adjusted to transmit several different wavelengths, according to two sources familiar with the plans. In WDM (wavelength-division multiplexing) systems, a single fiber can carry multiple wavelengths of light, each modulated by its own data signal. Tunable lasers are designed to reduce a high-cost requirement in current systems that use fixed-wavelength lasers: Carriers need to have one replacement laser on hand for each one in active use. A tunable backup laser can substitute for any of a number of different lasers.

Intel later is expected to develop a more widely tunable laser that can be tuned to use an even larger number of wavelengths. The company will develop this laser using technology it acquired in May from New Focus Inc., the sources said. In addition, a processor being developed by Intel for forward error correction (FEC) can be configured for two different modes, one of them standardized and the other allowing for custom products, according to the sources.

Forward error correction reduces the degradation of data as it travels over fiber, allowing the transmission to cover a longer distance without errors. The further an optical system can send its signal, the fewer signal amplifiers a carrier needs to install on its network, so error correction saves service providers money.

The FEC processor Intel is developing supports two modes. In one configuration, it supports the International Telecommunication Union G.709 standard and so is interoperable with other standard optical components. Set another way, it allows system makers to build custom products for particular projects, such as long-haul submarine cables, and optimize them to give signals a greater-than-standard reach. This flexibility means the processor could be used in several systems across a vendor's line, leading to greater economies of scale.

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