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Mitel Announces Fiber Traffic Breakthrough

Mitel Corp. semiconductor researchers Friday announced a breakthrough in fiber optic multiplexing technology.

According to company officials the product, called LightRider, will improve the price/performance ratio of dense wave division multiplexing, considered the most efficient method of carrying digital signals over fiber optics. Using DWDM multiplexing technology, each bit of data is carried using its own light wavelength, or channel.

Before Friday's announcement, the ability to carry 80 channels or more over one fiber optic fiber existed only theoretically. Most commercial products handle 16 channels, while top-end applications using DWDM multiplexing can use up to 40 channels with the Arrayed Waveguide Grating.

Jacques Guerette, Mitel vice president of corporate communications, said the method has always been there, it just took people some time to come up with the process.

"Historically, it's been very expensive to produce components for multiplexing products," Guerette said. "The challenge has been to do the precision etching. We have made it so 80 channels isn't theoretical, but practical."

Mitel believes its chipset is better the AWG, mainly because of the limitations in capacity and the expense it incurs to manufacture. Most are constructed using expensive and exotic materials, driving prices upward for equipment makers.

To find a better solution, Mitel went back to the roots of computing: Silicon. Using a technique called Echelle Grating, the company has found a way for routers to run faster and less expensively.

Moris Simson, Mitel senior vice president and chief technology and marketing officer, said the announcement is just the beginning.

"This is an example of what some people call disruptive technology," Simson said. "By being able to etch deep enough, smooth enough and vertical enough into silica, we have laid the foundation for dramatic improvements in the capacity, size and cost of these devices."

Mitel's has perfected three processes which make Echelle Grating an efficient solution for chip manufacuture: they were able to control its refractive index, or performance level; precision etching allowed the Echelle grating function to work in the first place; and taking the product from the lab to the field.

John Miller, Mitel director of photonics, said the breakthrough opens up new avenues of research and will be scalable to future projects.

"With a 40 channel multiplexing device, we believe our footprint per channel is five times smaller than competing alternatives," Miller said.

"With this level of miniaturization, our approach provides unprecendented scalability leading to higher capacities and reduces the need for expensive, highly specialized amplifiers in the network. Mitel's current prototype conforms to the ITU-T grid with 100GHz channel spacing. An 80-channel 50GHz device is also in development."

Product details, including prices, will be announced in the fall. Officials expect the chip to be sent to equipment makers early next year. When products featuring the chipset will be released commercially is up to the manufacturers.