Electronic Design

Emerging Technologies Hot Even In A Down Economy

Even as the financial markets continue to nosedive, several bright spots have maintained their appeal. Emerging technologies, such as MEMS and dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) optical components, are still managing to attract significant investment from the financial community. What is it about these technologies that the investors find so attractive? Well, for starters, they're real technologies that hold the promise of major leaps forward in system performance.

MEMS technology has been a hot topic at various conferences over the past decade or so. But only during the last few years have dedicated manufacturing facilities been funded to explicitly produce MEMS devices for applications ranging from sensing to optical networking. One area where the MEMS technology has emerged as a major factor is that of optical switching. Applications are in the large terabit network switches and other equipment used in metropolitan- and wide-area networks.

In such systems, the efficiency of keeping the optical signals as light provides significant performance gains and better overall cost savings. In contrast, previous approaches converted optical signals into electrical signals, then routed the electrical signals through a crossbar switch, and finally converted the signals back to light. Depending on the number of channels in the switch, this method could be quite expensive because each channel needed separate optical receivers and transmitters. The space and power required for the optical receivers and transmitters could also be significant in these systems, making them larger and more power-hungry than desired.

In optical systems, the ability to pack more data on a fiber is essential to leveraging the expensive infrastructure of already-installed optical cables. Rather than spending billions of dollars and digging thousands of trenches, the optical industry has found ways to superimpose thousands of wavelengths of "light" on a single fiber. So for basically the cost of the new optical transmission/reception components on either end of the existing fiber, designers can achieve major improvements in data throughput.

The use of DWDM technology thus heralds the beginning of almost unlimited data bandwidth over optical fibers. Now with unlimited bandwidth, what can we do to further reshape the industry? Should we stream movies directly from a remote server? Will we be more interactive with each other thanks to full-motion video conferencing?

The excitement of these emerging technologies and the impact that they can have on just one area of the industry is impressive. Still, these are only two of the basic technologies presently at our proverbial fingertips. What is the next technology that we should leverage and exploit to revolutionize yet another segment of the industry? Send me your ideas.

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