The advance of the Internet, together with the proliferation of smart mobile phones and televisions, plus cloud computing, has led to a significant increase in data traffic in transmission systems. This worldwide phenomenon requires continuous efforts by telecommunications companies and network operators to keep their fiber optic systems updated and increase transmission capacity. These long tubes—with a diameter similar to that of a strand of hair—need increasingly sophisticated equipment in order to carry voice, data, movies and music via laser light from one point to another in networks. Amplifiers, transmitters (lasers and modulators) and receivers (photodetectors) make the systems quick and efficient. Focusing on a world more interconnected by optical fibers, the Center for Research and Development in Telecommunications (CPqD), a former Telebras research center and a private entity since 1998, located in Campinas, in the state of São Paulo, has been developing a number of technologies that have resulted in the formation of a new company, BrPhotonics. It intends to market the center’s innovations and meet Brazil’s need for photonic and microelectronic devices for optical communications systems, in addition to exporting its future products, for which manufacturing will begin in the second half of 2015.
“CPqD’s mission, by definition, is research and development for the market. We are an applied research center. When there is a domestic market, we transfer the technology to industry. When industrial avenues are nonexistent, CPqD establishes a company and transfers the technology,” says Júlio César Rodrigues Fernandes de Oliveira, who has been chosen to be the chairman of BrPhotonics. At the age of 33, he is leaving the post of manager of optics technologies at the institution where he started as an engineer in 2004. He has led the group responsible for developing the devices that will be manufactured by the new company since 2007. The technologies developed at CPqD have already contributed to the formation of nine companies, directly or indirectly. BrPhotonics was the latest. “With privatization, the center became a foundation, and as it was not a manufacturer, it made a strategic decision to establish companies as a way to transfer technologies to this demanding market with a high technological density,” says Claudio Violato, CPqD vice-president of Technology.
“In our industry, the optical systems company purchases parts from (photonics and microelectronics) device manufacturers, assembles equipment and supplies it to the client, who is not the end user, but rather a telecommunications company, such as Vivo, TIM, Oi and Telefônica, for example,” says Oliveira. The new company is being established to supply devices such as optical transmitters and receivers to be integrated into equipment and optical systems that operate at transmission rates of 100 gigabits per second (Gbps) to 1 terabit per second (Tbps). “We intend to cooperate to ensure that the domestic industry continues to grow, avoiding bottlenecks, and also seek strong performance in the global market.” The main domestic company in the optical systems industry is Padtec, another company spun-off from CPqD and also located in downtown Campinas, near BrPhotonics.
Padtec is the largest manufacturer of optical communications equipment in Brazil. It provides optical networking systems for long distance telecommunications, metropolitan networks, access networks and data storage. Currently, on average, 15% of the company’s annual sales, which reached R$400 million in 2013, is invested in research and development (see Pesquisa FAPESP Issue No. 219). The company’s competitors are large multinational companies such as Alcatel, in France, Cisco and Ciena, in the United States, and Huawei, in China. “They all buy modules and devices on the market, integrate them into a platform and sell them to operators. These large international companies have also started buying companies in the device industry to have exclusive access to them. This makes it more difficult for smaller companies to buy components on the market,” says Oliveira.
“Before our products are purchased, even by domestic companies, they will first be carefully evaluated. If they have the desired performance and competitive pricing compared with others on the worldwide market, they will be purchased,” explains Oliveira. “If they are not good and do not have a competitive price, the industry will not buy them. We must have at least the same cost and performance.” The first BrPhotonics device being developed, currently in the engineering prototype phase, is a transmitter optical subassembly (Tosa), which is used for optical transmission at 100 Gbps, using a laser and an optical modulator capable of obtaining significant gains in data density. A demonstration phase prototype was shown at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition (OFC) in March, 2014 in San Francisco.
Since its foundation, the new company has been targeting the global optical component market for mid- and long-distance communications, with annual sales of $4 billion. “We want to sell to any company in the world. Unlike the optical systems industry, which has low volume and high costs, in the device industry we have low prices and therefore need high volume.” To reach the international market, the CPqD sought a foreign partner with a sales network outside Brazil.
GigOptix, an American company that manufactures high-frequency analog electronic devices, is a partner in BrPhotonics. “We concluded that we needed four types of important knowledge in the new company: the design and packaging of photonic chips, high-speed analog electronics and microelectronics. GigOptix is strong in analog electronics and CPqD in the other three areas.”
The American company also has a factory to produce the polymer modulators that will be used in the BrPhotonics transmitters. The equipment at this plant is being transferred from the city of Bothell, Washington, to Campinas. With significant market value, the plant was part of the financial consideration contributed when forming the company. Additionally, GigOptix has a worldwide sales network, with representatives in Asia, the United States and Europe. “The advantage to the American company was to gain a group with three of the capabilities that they lacked. All of this knowledge within a single company is an important distinguishing feature in the market.” The company is owned 51% by CPqD and 49% by GigOptix.
The factory being equipped by BrPhotonics will be able to produce optical modulators with thin film polymer on silicon technology (TFPS), which modulates the laser signal when traveling along optical fibers for distances of up to 5,000 kilometers. As part of the agreement, the American company is transferring 17 patents to BrPhotonics and CPqD is licensing 7 patents to the new company. “They are granting patents, while CPqD is licensing, because the technology was developed using public resources provided by Funttel (Fund for Technological Development of Telecommunications) and it is not the owner of the patents, just the inventor. CPqD will support BrPhotonics until the factory is ready, which should be in February 2015. “Today, the investors are seeking strategic investment partnerships to support the evolution of the company’s plans in the coming years,” said Oliveira, who majored in electrical engineering at the Federal University of Campina Grande (UFCG) and completed a master’s and PhD at the University of Campinas (Unicamp).
The company is already looking at the future of optical transmissions in order to develop new technologies to meet the growing demand in this field. “A connection with Japan certainly goes through optical fibers and, increasingly, they are closer to the home of the end user. However, the transmission rate must be continually increased in order to access the increased bandwidth we are seeing. Thus, we will begin to manufacture devices for 100 Gbps systems to be installed in medium and long-distance equipment, for distances of 600 km to 5,000 km and even underwater,” says Oliveira. Since operators are demanding smaller and smaller equipment, which requires less electricity and can be installed within existing telecommunications platforms, BrPhotonics and other companies all over the world are studying how to optimize devices with the guidance of the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF), which establishes standards in optical communications. “Today, a 100 Gbps optical transmission module measures 12.7 cm by 17.78 cm. The 100 Gbps module that BrPhotonics will produce will measure 4.1 cm by 10.7 cm, five times smaller, thus amplifying data density due to the possibility of a greater number of modules on the same platform.
Oliveira says that CPqD is developing other devices for optical communications and intends to transfer the technology to the company. According to Oliveira, the next steps include vertical integration of device production and building the laser itself, as it is currently imported from the United States and Japan. Consolidation of BrPhotonics should take place by the end of 2014, when the factory will be ready and 20 employees will have been hired, with 17 in Campinas and three in the United States, who will be responsible for polymer synthesis.Republish