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Lightbit Heralds its Pure-Optical Processor Chip

Optical telecommunications subsystem provider Lightbit Corp. says it has come up with a pure-optical processor chip technology designed for handling multiple channels over optical fiber networks.

The Mountain View, Calif. startup, known for its BandXchange optical processor subsystem, says the chip has the ability to process multiple DWDM channels simultaneously, without requiring electronic conversion. Lightbit says just one of its optical processor could replace multiple Optical-Electrical-Optical (OEO) transponders, typically the most expensive equipment in fiber-optic networks.

The company is a little shy on specific details but the chips are manufactured in Lightbit's optical fab at its headquarters, using IC-industry, wafer-scale processes. Spokesman Gabriel Kra said the chips have been clocked up to 160 Gbps without any effect on protocol transfer.

"Our chip harnesses the parallel processing power of light. We dramatically reduce per-channel cost of DWDM systems through multi-channel optical processing, just as the EDFA enabled dramatic cost reductions through multi-channel optical amplification," Lightbit CEO Larry Marshall said in a statement.

Additional characteristics include a wide operating bandwidth that could be tuned to C, L or S bands.

Along with the rest of the computer hardware and telecommunication industries, Lightbit is confronting bandwidth limitations at two levels. Telecommunication firms have had success tackling the problem of creating fiber-optic "pipes" through which to send data long distances.

But the field of microphotonics has met with less success. The problem: after digitized light signals are sent across fiber networks, they must communicate with individual silicon chips within computers. That requires "switching" between photonic and electronic signals -- a time-consuming process that chipmakers like Lightbit want to hasten.

Other chip companies like Intel are turning to using their processors as tunable lasers to adjust the frequency without performing a hard swap.

Applications supported by Lightbit subsystems include optical regeneration and multi-channel wavelength (band) conversion.

Founded in 2000, Lightbit had been operating in "semi-stealth" mode. The company is currently being backed by tier-one venture capital firms Mayfield and Accel Partners, as well as some telecom industry luminaries.

The company said it is in talks with partnering companies and will publicly announce its first product later this month at the Optical Fiber Communications (OFC) conference in Atlanta.