Viewed purely as a technological solution, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) are clearly an important component in advanced systems design, since they often pick up where purely electronic components fall short. This week's Focus section takes a look at how MEMS are becoming a pivotal technology in communications designs. As both optical and radio-frequency components, MEMS offer advantages over optoelectronic components.
For example, MEMS RF switches provide lower insertion loss, higher isolation, better linearity and lower power than solid-state switches. In optical networks, MEMS have speed-performance benefits .
Despite the inherent advantages, however, there are problems. Asked what telecom OEMs think about the difficulty of working with MEMS devices, Marlene Bourne, senior analyst for MEMS at Cahner's InStat Group (Scottsdale, Ariz.), said, "We hear different things, from fabrication processes not being workable to the concern that these OEMs might have difficulty working with mechanical technologies. The truth is that now, it's still a bit of a wait-and-see."
Problems and all, this week's contributors are betting on a bright future with MEMS in high-speed networks: Engineers at LightConnect Inc. (Newark, Calif.) are applying the company's diffractive MEMS in a fast variable optical attenuator designed for long-haul dense wave-division multiplexing. Solus Micro Technologies Inc. (Westlake Village, Calif.) touts the advantages of compliant polymeric materials while Integrated Micromachines Inc. (Monrovia, Calif.) has created extremely low-loss inductive torsional engine (Elite) MEMS with single-crystal silicon.
See page 49 for an in-depth report on the reality behind using optical MEMS .