Contributed by C. David Chaffee of FiberToday.com
The Optical Fiber Conference (OFC), which kicked off with the Executive Forum yesterday, is nothing if not a direct look at the fiber optics industry as we now know it.
For many years back in the 1980s, it was exciting, new and innovative. There seemed to be no end to its potential, as Bell Labs was thriving and just beginning to understand that fibers could handle many wavelengths and lasers could be tunable. Then there was the build-up in the 1990s when OFC became the fiber version of SuperComm. Its exhibits area grew to new heights, transmission rates got to 2.5 Gbps and then 10 Gbps—a huge milestone—and WDM and DWDM started to become market realities. The culminating show was in Anaheim, with more than 37,000 attendees shepherded between the convention center and their hotels by high-booted policeman.
The industry, and the show, have become more sober since then. There is still room for innovation, of course. (Whenever you are dispatching photons down a fiber there seems to be an opportunity for creative thought.) While Bell Labs is far smaller than it was in its halcyon days, research is coming from many more corners of the world. The conference will always gravitate to major markets and FTTH is included in a number of platforms, although now there are entire shows that only focus on FTTH.
It is symptomatic of the industry that the company of one of the three plenary speakers, Philip Morin's Nortel, is now in bankruptcy. The show has always been a place for new beginnings—we have met countless individuals who are with companies different from the one we knew them from—and OFC has recognized this by placing the emphasis on getting jobs this year.
In recognition of the fact that it is the largest global fiber optics show, Shri Goyal, chairman of BSNL, the largest carrier in India, will also be a keynote speaker. Some of us will never get tired of hearing how nations we have little understanding of are using fiber optics to better their quality of life.
As with any show, even ones as big and as ongoing as this, there are and will be concerns. There is a Service provider summit; but will enough carriers be there to attract the major systems vendors? That is important because the components vendors need them to be there so they can sell to the systems vendors. Cisco and Fujitsu will be advertising. Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson will not. NEC and Huawei are corporate sponsors.
Meanwhile, reassuringly, the length and breadth of technical papers continues in force. This is the engine of innovation and it has not dimmed in the fiber optics industry. At the toughest point in the downturn earlier this century, which was much worse than what we are going through now, companies like Corning and Ciena refused to cut back on their R&D budgets. They knew, they absolutely knew, that broadband would continue to grow and that fiber optics would continue to be the medium of choice to get us there.
That is the sustaining force of fiber optics, a force so ably demonstrated by OFC. Other conferences may crash and burn along the way, or may wander around changing their names and their dates, but OFC will not waver, for the ultimate goals are still well ahead of us. They include the truly all-optical network and the day every premise in the world is connected to fiber. Until those days arrive, OFC will be here.