Fibre optic start-up attracts $55 million

A new start-up, which will design and manufacture fibre-optic components for the global telecommunications market, has attracted first-round funding of $55 million, one of the largest private investments in the industry to date.

Southampton Photonics will create 200 high-tech jobs during the next 18 months in the UK and will also establish design, production and sales facilities n California where it expects to employ an additional 250 staff by the end of 2002. The new jobs will consist of professional engineers and manufacturing personnel, as well as sales and marketing staff.

Southampton Photonics, which will operate on a global basis, has its roots in the world-renowned Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton in the UK, one of the world’s foremost optical communication research laboratories, where, for 35 years, scientists have developed technologies that are critical to communications networks. The company will base its initial product range on technology licensed from the University of Southampton, much of it being developed and patented by the founders and employees of Southampton Photonics while working at the ORC.

Southampton Photonics will benefit from an on-going alliance with the ORC: in addition to its significant in-house product and technology development efforts, the company will continue to licence key know-how and further patent portfolios from the ORC.

Don Spalinger, President of Southampton Photonics, commented, ‘This is an exciting new venture. The global communications market is being driven by Internet traffic, currently doubling every 100 days. This global demand for additional bandwidth is being satisfied with dense wavelength division multiplexing, a market where we intend to be pre-eminent. Our unique products are enabled by our depth in optical fibre technology.’

Broadly, the planned product range can be divided into three categories; DFB fibre laser arrays which will provide closely packed channels for DWDM (Dense Wave Division Multiplexing) and which will offer significant advantages over semiconductors lasers; optical filters with enhanced performance allowing more channels per optical fibre; and broadband optical amplifiers. All of the planned products will exhibit performance parameters an order of magnitude greater than those of current alternatives.

Southampton Photonics was founded by Professor David Payne FRS, head of the ORC, who is the company’s Chairman. Professor Payne led the team that invented the optical amplifier, the enabling technology behind DWDM, in 1986, and was jointly awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal for developing the erbium-doped fibre amplifier in 1998.

The major investors in Southampton Photonics include QuantumTechnology Partners, a Silicon Valley-based investment company formed especially for the purpose of investing in the company; Interwest Partners and Sevin Rosen, both US-based and whose previous investments included Ciena, a pioneering company in the DWDM optical networking industry; and Amadeus Capital Partners, the UK-based technology investment company. Other investors include Marsh & McLennan Capital and the University of Southampton.