Electronic Design

John J. Kenny

My interest in electrical engineering can be traced back to my experiences with amateur radio at an early age. I worked at Bell Labs (No. Andover, Mass.) for the first 28 years of my career, developing analog and digital optical microwave radio products.

My focus has always been system oriented, closely tied to hardware development. I'm not satisfied until I achieve agreement between calculation and laboratory measurement. Surprisingly, simple "back of the envelope" models and calculations produce good estimates of real-world phenomena.

My last eight years at Bell Labs transformed me into a fiber-optic system engineer, first developing a synchronous multiplex product for the Japanese market, followed by another project involving the development of a linear analog optical transmission equipment used in the CATV industry for hybrid fiber coax (HFC) systems. Before that project was finished, I took early retirement from Bell Labs and moved to Georgia to work for ANTEC Corp. (an equipment supplier to CATV operators), where I worked under Tom Tighe, an engineer I had known from Bell Labs. ANTEC was just beginning to develop its own CATV fiber-optic products.

About five years later, I joined a group that Tighe was gathering to form a startup, now known as Wave7 Optics (W7O), where he is president and CEO. We spent the first few months intensely brainstorming, developing, and designing the system architecture and writing patent applications for our technology. Just 15 months later, we shipped our first-generation product for customer evaluation.

My responsibilities at W7O (www.wave7optics.com) involve all issues related to the optical aspects of our Fiber To The X (home, business, premises, or curb) or FTTX system. When W7O launched in September 2000, no standards for Ethernet-based fiber to the home existed, so we developed our own approach: proprietary in the middle and standards-based at the ends. This system can deliver telephony, high-speed data, and video in either analog or streaming IP video format. This means that both digital and analog optical technologies are required, and they must operate in harmony. In addition to architecture projects, I work on the specifications of all optical components for the system. I also participate in the IEEE 802.3ah, Ethernet in the First Mile, Task Force. I have been inventor or co-inventor in about a dozen patent applications here at W7O. The startup environment is very fertile for developing new ideas and incorporating them into product designs.

Some of the most interesting and perhaps highest-pressure engineering tasks lie in solving those unanticipated puzzles. Over a dozen years ago, we had to stop shipping an OC-12 multiplex product due to a dribbling bit error rate. One key to the puzzle was that the bit error rates on each of the 52-Mbit/s tributaries were different! It took a few late-night sessions to identify the source of the problem and at least find a screening test to prevent faulty optical transmitters from being deployed until the transmitter manufacturer fixed the root cause of the problem. Today, some puzzles transcend multiple technologies. It takes more of a team effort to solve issues that sometimes can involve optical and other hardware, software, or ASICs.

Fellow engineers should be very careful before saying something can't be done.

  • An engineering department said that reducing a product to half the size could not be done. I worked with product management and two outside vendors to design, develop, and manufacture the product that "could not be done."
  • I was working on a K-band radio product and our in-house device development organization would not supply us with the appropriate solid-state source diodes. I bought three from a competitor. We had in-house components a few months later.
  • I forecasted and actually measured a serious interference problem with a particular frequency plan. I was encouraged to look into all possible counter measures. We came up with suitable solutions through rather simple architectural changes.

As I look back on my career and look forward to retirement in the near future, I can say that I enjoyed my work and liked my colleagues, and I am proud of my achievements in the communications industry.

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