BREINIGSVILLE, Pa. Lucent Technologies Inc.'s Microelectronics Division is pulling together its telecom-chip and optoelectronics groups for an unprecedented collaboration, to prepare for bringing packet-handling logic directly into optical transponders to modulate OC-48 (2.5-Gbit/second) and OC-192 (10-Gbit/s) networks.
The new initiative involves the networking and switching semiconductor groups in Allentown, Pa., and the optics groups in Breinigsville, as well as two acquired companies: Ortel Corp., an optoelectronics specialist in Alhambra, Calif., and Agere Inc., a network-processor startup in Austin, Texas. Lucent is turning both those locations into new "centers of excellence" for design integration.
Ken Brizel, Lucent's strategic marketing director, said the integration of packet and circuit networks is creating a world in which line cards for central-office switches, mediation switches and core routers all must integrate functions from the semiconductor realm (packet parsing, Sonet framing and quality-of-service prioritization) with dense wave-division multiplexing (DWDM) transmission in the optics interface. As a result, line cards are shrinking to CompactPCI size, while physical-layer interfaces with embedded logic are dwindling to the size of credit-card modules.
James Johnston, director of optical network and switching ICs at Lucent, said one consequence of this trend is that analog semiconductor vendors who deal strictly in Sonet transceivers may find they can only sell bare die to optical-component vendors. That's because OEMs want to put more chip functions in mezzanine cards and modules, rather than directly on a line card, he said.
Another hurdle for the optics groups is an unprecedented backlog in all forms of fiber cabling, laser transmitters and receivers, and optical connectors. To help alleviate the component shortages, Lucent is building additional subassembly manufacturing facilities at its Breinigsville site and a new laser fabrication facility in Irwindale, Calif., close to the former Ortel headquarters in Alhambra.
The $40 million investment in Ortel facilities includes a new 20,000-square-foot fab and test site in Irwindale, and revamping of existing facilities in Irwindale and Alhambra. This comes on the heels of a $30 million expansion at the Pennsylvania site, to quadruple production of laser products there.
Brizel said that the addition of Ortel, with its heavy presence among cable TV multisystem operators, helps Lucent expand in cable headends, which are shifting to packet-based router and switch equipment.
Ron Hartmayer, strategic marketing manager in the optoelectronics division comprising the former Ortel, said that many of the digital modulation products Lucent has developed for telecom and networking will be applicable to cable networks, as these go from analog to digital. The merged Lucent/Ortel will continue to focus on 1,310- and 1,550-nanometer transmission devices, he said, not the enterprise-based 850-nm markets, which are seen as more commodity oriented.
Optical design groups from Lucent and Ortel will work together on 10-Gbit Ethernet and very short-reach optics for enterprise and metropolitan applications.
As evidence of the digitization of the cable industry, the former Ortel group plans to show, at next week's Supercomm show, bidirectional fiber-to-the-home transmission products that integrate packet data, packetized voice and digital video delivery to residential gateways.
Meanwhile, Agere chief executive officer Ford Tamer said he expected the Lucent acquisition to accelerate Agere's work on 10-Gbit/s versions of the company's PayloadPlus architecture. But the rapid integration of this design work with the optoelectronics teams working on line cards indicated to Agere's founders how much Lucent was focused on end-to-end solutions, Tamer said.
Far from losing personnel, Agere's Austin facility has grown to more than 120 employees since the acquisition. The near-term goal is to release a concatenated OC-48 version of Ortel's Routing Switch Processor and Fast Pattern Processor by July, then to begin work on OC-192 designs. Modular software functions are being expanded to include ready-to-roll firewall and Access Control List support in processor software.
Tamer said the Agere processors already offer a glueless interface to the Lucent TDAT chips for Sonet packet processing, and that the Austin design teams will collaborate closely with Johnston's New Jersey and Pennsylvania design groups for future processor chip sets.
Johnston said the Agere acquisition took place just as the Lucent group in Atlanta charged with developing ATM-switch chip sets was planning a next-generation universal switching fabric capable of handling any packet or cell service. With the addition of Agere processors, Lucent can offer every portion of a multiservice-access switch-router for either asynchronous transfer mode or Internet Protocol, Johnston said.
As Agere moves its designs to 10 Gbits/s, Johnston's groups will move into volume with devices like Isis, an OC-192 overhead processor. Many of the Agere and Lucent designs will be offered as synthesizable macros, for customers who would prefer ASIC solutions from Lucent's Broadband Netcom Intellectual Property group.
Brizel said that the integration of Agere and Lucent designs is where the talents of the optoelectronics group help the most. Part of the Breinigsville expansion involves chip-on-board manufacturing to allow a fiber transponder to include 2.5-Gbit overhead processing silicon. Integration of add-drop mux silicon is planned in 2001.
In the same time frame, the 10-Gbit transponder could be upgraded with integrated Isis chips, allowing a 10-Gbit transponder to support four OC-48 streams.
To make the use of DWDM and wave-assignment line cards more flexible, Lucent is boosting production of wavelength-selectable lasers, beginning with temperature-tuned two- to four-channel devices, and moving to a 10-channel tunable laser based on Bragg reflectors.
At the recent WDMcon conference, OEMs were clamoring for tunable filters to use along with the new tunable lasers in the market. Brizel said Lucent will be ready to serve such a market in the near future, using microelectromechanical system (MEMS) designs developed at Bell Labs.