Time to grow

Company incubated in the Campinas Ciatec develops equipment for optical transmission and is getting ready to export

MIGUEL BOYAYANOptical couplers: byproduct of the PIPE project that is ready for exportMIGUEL BOYAYAN

A small company producing optical fiber communications equipment and components is readying itself to take a decisive leap: as of September, OptoLink will double its production of optical fiber couplers – used in amplifiers in telecommunications networks – to meet the demand from Brazilian customers and, at the same time, to place these products in the external market. Solectron, an American multinational specializing in providing assembly services for electronic circuits, will support production financially and share all profits earned with OptoLink.

With this association, OptoLink is forecasting total revenues of approximately R$ 1 million for this year and twice that for next year, when the couplers and other products being developed in the company will be ready for exporting. Among these products are fiber optic cruppers with micro-lenses for use in laser equipment used in optical fiber transmission, optical amplifiers and laser sources.

Used in optical signal transmission and distribution systems in telephone exchanges, cable TV networks, and the Internet, the optical couplers and amplifiers “are essential to the modernization of the telecommunications sector”, according to Ildefonso Félix de Faria Júnior, a partner and the technical director of the company. These products are currently in use and will be increasingly present in future telephone connections. “One optical fiber alone connected to a house will be enough to transmit television, telephone and Internet signals”, forecasts Faria, a physicist who graduated from the State University of Rio de Janeiro (Uerj).

Valuable byproduct
OptoLink has ten employees and is one part of the small manufacturing units of the incubator of the Development Company of the High Technology Center of Campinas (Ciatec). It established itself in the field after the third year of participation in FAPESP’s Small Business Innovation Research (PIPE), with a project to produce an optical amplifier, which in the end produced a more profitable byproduct, the optical couplers. The function of the amplifiers is to intensify thelight from a signal emitted by telephone switchboards or cable TV systems working with fiber optics. The amplification is required because the signals lose strength on the way from one point to another.

“Amplified light is conveyed by optical fiber for long-distance or metropolitan area telephone communication, forming an access network for users”. This is where OptoLink comes in, manufacturing the optical elements essential for the transmission and distribution of good quality optical signals. The improvement of this equipment, achieved with Brazilian technology, enables the optical amplifier to integrate more easily, for example, with existing telecommunications systems.

Nowadays, access networks increasingly use fiber optics. This widespread use of optical fibers will increase the need for using components like the optical couplers exponentially, as well as increasing the large-scale use of amplifiers for the purpose of maintaining the optical signal level along the transmissions.The couplers are used in the amplifiers and their function is to put together or separate the signals (there are sometimes dozens of telephone calls at the same time) transmitted by optical fiber. Through this equipment, we can know when the amplifier is receiving light, and control the quality of this light to improve the system’s performance. The couplers also enable sampling of the quality of the optical signal that a telephone switchboard, for example, transmits and distributes within a town, or between different towns.

Unicamp and Telebrás
Acquiring the knowledge for the technical development of this equipment began in the 80s, when Faria was doing his master’s degree in Fiber Optics at the Physics Institute at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). Even today, he keeps a close working relationship with the Optics and Photonics Research Center (Cepof), one of FAPESP’s ten Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers.”OptoLink plays an active role in the Cepof, with access to the Fiber Optics Laboratory, where we carry out the characterization of our components and we experiment with new amplifier configurations”, reports Faria.Unicamp and other Brazilian universities are today OptoLink’s only customers for the optical amplifiers, in different versions for laboratory testing: the optical components are at the front of the amplifier, for easier handing by students.

Like AsGa, in the previous article, all the technology developed, today, in OptoLink has its origin in studies begun in the 70s and 90s at Unicamp’s Physics Institute and the Technological Development Research Center (CPqD) of the then state-owned company Telebrás. The CPqD continued the academic studies, converting laboratory prototypes into semi-industrial products. Subsequently, the technology was transferred to Brazilian industry.

Faria’s history follows the same path of technological transfer. After presenting his master’s thesis at Unicamp, he joined the CPqD’s research team, where he worked from 1985 to 1998. During this period he was responsible for developing prototypes of optical electrical components for telecommunications systems. Among these works are studies with micro-lens for fiber optics, holograph systems and long-distance laser apparatuses applied to optical telephone access networks. Faria also worked for two years as a visiting researcher at the National Telecommunications Studies Center in France.In 1998, he left the CPqD to dedicate himself to the PIPE project and to the AGC company, one of the first to acquire technology from the Telebrás center. OptoLink, then, created by Faria, was asubsidiary of AGC.

Business independence
Last year, however, AGC was sold to the Danish company NetTest and OptoLink business, including the PIPE project, was of no interest to the new owner. “I wanted OptoLink to be independent. The research could not stop and the idea was to turn the bench prototypes into profitable, commercial prototypes on an industrial scale”, says Faria. Then he bought AGC’s shares and became the controlling stockholder in OptoLink. At the beginning of 2000, the physicist Sérgio Celaschi was invited to become a partner in OptoLink. Celaschi brings experience of coordinating the optical fiber components group at the CPqD.The project supported by FAPESP is in the final stage.

The amplifiers developed have important innovations in the optical telecommunications field. They use a control circuit developed by OptoLink and optical gain modules using fibers doped with erbium, an element that enables laser light to be absorbed. “Depending on the concentration of the dope and the length of the fiber, the amplifier behaves differently. One of them refers to the usage band. OptoLink developed, jointly with Unicamp’s Cepof, a prototype light source covering the C and L bands, including the 1,520 to 1,610 nanometer-bands”, explains Faria.

Making room
The company also has its eye on new equipment, expected to dominate the fiber optics transmission scenario. It is developing a device to facilitate the combination of light sources with the optical signal. It is the so-called light wavelength division multiplexing – or WDM. This component, coupled to the amplifier’s optical circuit, mixes or separates the different wavelengths.The company’s intention is to reinforce its specialties in developing new products focusing on the world of photonics, that are renewable and are recycled every year, with products using 100% local technology. In Faria’s opinion, “Brazil already stands out in this field as one of the countries that most dominates the technology of the equipment for fiber optic transmission”.

The Project
Technological Updating of Optical Fiber Amplifiers Doped with Erbium (nº 98/07978-4 and 99/05456-3); Type Small Company Technological Innovation Program (PIPE); Coordinator; Ildefonso Félix de Faria Júnior – OptoLink; Investment; R$ 82,900 and US$143,460