Breakthrough Optical Switch

Agilent Technologies has announced a switching technology breakthrough that allows information (voice, data, video) to be switched as optical signals without converting them from photons to electrons, thus accelerating the telecommunications industry’s move toward an all-optical network.

When combined with technology for cost-effectively increasing bandwidth (dense wavelength-division multiplexing, or DWDM), the Agilent Photonic Switching Platform provides a powerful solution for unlocking the full potential of the all-optical network. This technology will enable network equipment manufacturers to accelerate the time to market for next-generation, all-optical network elements.

The Photonic Switching Platform includes the first commercial photonic switches ever created by Agilent — a 32 x 32 port photonic switch and a dual 16 x 32 port photonic switch.

Agilent’s new platform is a vital missing link in the development of the long-envisioned, all-optical network. With Internet applications driving an urgent need for increasing capacity in telecommunications networks, a new generation of optical switches has become necessary so that wavelengths can be better provisioned and managed as information signals across entire networks.

‘As demand for communications explodes, the communications industry is being forced to make more rapid decisions about how networks are configured,’ said Tom White, senior vice president and general manager of Agilent’s Communications Solutions Group. ‘While DWDM has proven to be a reliable and cost-effective platform for increasing point-to-point bandwidth, the ability to switch wavelengths has been missing until now.’

The Agilent switching platform includes switch-control electronics and a simple application programming interface (API). To integrate the platform, Agilent customers only need to supply power and an industry-standard LAN interface.

Several industry leaders are already integrating the platform into carrier-class network elements. The platform’s flexible, modular architecture makes it easy to build optical cross connects (OXCs), re-arrangeable optical add/drop multiplexers (OADMs) and optical protection switching modules. These elements are essential for building an all-optical network, which the communications industry needs to keep up with exploding bandwidth demand. In addition, the platform is bit-rate and protocol transparent, so it will not need costly upgrades as communications technologies continue to evolve.

The simplicity of the Agilent Photonic Switching Platform design is the key to its reliability. The new photonic switches are based on Agilent technology that uses an innovative combination of reliable inkjet and planar lightwave circuit (PLC) technologies. They accomplish the task of re-directing light without the help of mirrors or any other moving parts. This switch is composed of a vertical and horizontal array of permanently aligned waveguides. Light is transmitted across a horizontal path from the input to output port until a switch command is issued. When commanded, a bubble is created at the intersection of the appropriate waveguides and the light is reflected down a vertical path to the switched port. This bubble is formed using the same reliable technology now used in inkjet printers.

Commercial prototypes of the Agilent Photonic Switching Platform will be available by the end of 2000.

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