Telecom Student Papers: Geller - California Western
Fall 2004 Telecom Student Papers: Geller

Achieving the Next Generation of Fiber Optic Data Networks by Utilizing Integrated Photonics

By Alisa Geller

Introduction and Description of Integrated Photonics

Current reliance upon technical applications necessitates advancements in technology.  Telephones, television, and the internet are all media through which data is transferred. Integrated photonics is an innovative technology which integrates optical components to enable the rapid deployment of high bandwidth networks.

            Before the creation of integrated photonics, traditional optical networks require individual systems built by manufacturers through optical fibers which are extremely costly and labor intensive, regarding creation and maintenance.  For consumers the traditional fiber optic model is inefficient and unreliable data network due to signal loss and an increased occurrence of bottlenecks in metropolitan networks.  As a response to these problems integrated photonics evolved.

Integrated photonics arose in response to telecommunication manufacturers and network operators needing to reduce the cost of the technology while enhancing the capability of the telecommunication network system that the market demands.  The aim of integrated photonics is to “completely integrate [the] telecommunications sub-system on a single chip,” says ASIP, a leading supplier of fiberoptics.  The creation of this hardware chip which works in conjunction with fiber optic wires to transmit data enables faster and more efficient signal processing.

This chip combines wavelength channels onto a single linecard.  The card is manufactured by designers of multiwavelength receivers and transmitters into single multiwavelength transceiver or transponder.  This application is developed to eliminate information loss since the use of “a banded configuration can also be used for optical add-drop multiplexers, where one or more bands are dropped while the other bands are passed through,” according to ASIP.   Used in conjunction with fiber optics these integrated photonic chips will create a multifunctional optoelectronic application which should satisfy the market demand for data networks.  

Benefits Provided by the Usage of Integrated Photonics

Numerous benefits exist as a result of the development of integrated photonics.  The integration of numerous wavelength channels onto a single linecard permits for the efficient and effective use of already allocated bandwidth.  This maximizes the use of bandwidth, promoting goals of the Federal Communications Commission, involving innovation in broadband technology and services as well as encouraging the highest and best use of the spectrum.

The use of fiber optics and integrated photonics provides a secure data network.  Although the current trend in technology is wireless, with wireless there is a decrease in the security of the data network.  Fiber optics uses cable wires to transmit data.  This form of transmission requires use of the already installed fiber optic network.  Wire line transmission of data is less easily intercepted and therefore more secure than most wireless technology.  

Integrated technology also offers network operators the ability to provide multifunctional components at a lower cost.   Price reduction is attributable to manufacturing smaller hardware operating with higher capabilities through a standardized process.   Ultimately this integration will increase the availability of optical technology to areas in need of cost effective systems.   Cost effective systems are desirable in metropolitan areas where a large number of integrated photonic chips would be utilized.  Since many fiber optic networks are deployed on a per block or even a per customer basis, the opportunity of reduce the cost becomes extremely significant, both for manufactures and consumers.

Drawbacks to Integrated Photonics

            Although this technology arose in response to market demand for the correction of an existing problem, there are drawbacks to this technology.  In order to successfully develop of this technology, there is a stated reliance upon an individual manufacturer for the creation of single multiwavelength transceiver or transponder.   The need complicates the creation of the integrated hardware because it necessitates divulging trade secrets.  The release of this information increases the likelihood that other companies may also create similar technology through the utilization of fiber optic technology or another form where video, voice and data can be integrated without optics.  Increased competition providing more options, is beneficial for consumers, however, it may decrease the desirability of the optoelectronic option. 

Working with another manufacturer may also raise proprietary issues involving patent ownership.  The patent owner has the discretion to permit use of or the sale of the patented invention during the protective time period.  The enforcement of patent disputes and rights are commonly litigated in courts.   An issue of this nature may arise between two companies working on the same project.  It is possible that through confusion, misunderstanding or purposefully patent infringement may occur. 

In order to avoid patent ownership issues, the use of a confidentiality agreement can prevent the forfeiture of valuable patent rights.   However other issues arise when companies would enter into a confidentiality agreement, whereby certain types of information that passes between the parties would remain confidential.   The definition of what information must remain confidential would need to be discussed and agreed upon by the involved parties.   This process can be difficult, since the company disclosing the information would want the definition to be as all-inclusive as possible, where as the company receiving the information would like a narrow definition.

Also problematic is the difficulty that can occur when transferring a new technology from the research and trial stages to actual application. Problems often arise during the advent of new technology.  Substantial amounts of time, money, and ideas are commonly spent on the development unsuccessful prototypes.  Before creating the current model of the integrated photonic chip, years were spent on creating and testing similar prototypes which were ultimately concluded more costly and less sophisticated than the integrated photonic chip. 

Viability of the Integrated Photonics

Although alternatives to fiber optic data networks are available and problems with this technology have been identified, these concerns regarding trade secrets, proprietary issues, confidentiality agreements and the problems with trial prototype development will exist with most technological innovations.  The benefits provided by fiber optic technology outweigh the negative ramifications.  Networks using the integrated photonic technology aim to transfer voice, video and data through a faster, more efficient, secure and low cost telecommunication system which the market demands.  Therefore, integrated photonics represents the next generation of technology for fiber optic networks.          


ASIP Netherlands, The Optoelectronic Landscape, (2002), at (Nov. 22, 2002).

ASIP Netherlands, Cost and Size Reduction of WDM Systems and Transponders through Parallel Integration, (2003), at (March 6, 2003).

ASIP Netherlands, The Optoelectronic Landscape, (2002), at (Nov. 22, 2002).

Federal Communication Commission, FCC Strategic Plan, at (last modified March 13, 2003).

R. Goff, Fiber Optic Reference Guide, 3rd. Ed, Focal Press, MA (2002), available at (last visited Sept. 28, 2004).

ASIP Netherlands, The Optoelectronic Landscape, (2002), at (Nov. 22, 2002).

World Intellectual Property Organization, About Intellectual Property, at (last modified May 26, 2004).

David V. Radack, Understanding Confidentiality Agreements, The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (1994), available at (last visited Oct. 18, 2004).

ASIP Netherlands, The Optoelectronic Landscape, (2002), at (Nov. 22, 2002).