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Concentrated effort

Amplifiers, optical fibers and ultrafast networks bring a new stage for research into the Internet and telephony

MIGUEL BOYAYANTest vessels for preparing fibers with silicon and germanium nanostructuresMIGUEL BOYAYAN

From the middle of the 70’s to the privatization of telecommunications, in 1998, Brazil created telephone systems that were every bit as good as those then in use in the developed countries. The merit belonged chiefly the Telecommunications Research and Development Center (CPqD), a technological arm of the state holding company Telebrás, which managed telecommunications in the country. After privatization, investment in research and development fell, and a wave of imports started. The situation has improved, but it can improve even more with the recent developments coming from various research centers linked to universities or companies.

Advanced amplifiers for operating with telephone and data transmissions, special optical fibers and networks for a super-rapid Internet, besides special software for managing mobile and fixed phone equipment and networks, are some of the new products that may serve the country in the near future, avoiding imports, besides providing for a more active participation in the international voice and data communication market. “Technological value still has to be added to the Brazilian products”, comments Professor Hugo Fragnito, from the Physics Institute of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), one of those making up the Optics and Photonics Research Center (Cepof), financed by FAPESP.

“An important advance are the projects for high-speed networks on which it is possible to test new technologies on a far superior scale than in the laboratory”, says Fragnito. One of these is the network of the Giga project, a venture of the CPqD in partnership with the Ministry of Science and Technology, which had the support of Embratel, Telefônica, Telemar, and Intelig, and received R$ 54 million in finance from the Telecommunications Technological Development Fund (Funttel).

It began to operate in April, connecting 20 teaching, research and development institutions with Internet network technology to WDM technology (a system of wavelength division multiplexing), which expands the transmission capacity of the optical fiber networks. With a speed of up to 10 Gigabits per second, the Giga project is 400 times quicker than the domestic broadband connections. Another network with these characteristics is KyaTera, which is part of FAPESP’s Information Technology in the Development of the Advanced Internet Program (Tidia). “The researchers from the two networks are working in cooperation”, says Fragnito.

Tidia has the Internet itself as the object of its studies and is bringing together several research groups specialized in information technology, communications, and laboratory control and automation. Groups of excellence in all the experimental sciences will join them so they can develop projects in optical communications, optical networks, access networks, information superhighways, and instrument control software and hardware. It will be a sharing of networks with objectives in research and in training specialists in developing technology for the Internet.

Collaboration is, incidentally, one of the specialties of Cepof, which teams up with other research centers and companies of all sizes. A little over a year ago, for example, it wooed the University of Bath, in The United Kingdom , to develop a fiber optic parametric amplifier (Fopa, for short) that promises to increase by hundreds of times the speed of transmitting data and voice in long distance networks. Only three other research centers in the whole world are working on the development of this kind of amplifier: Bell Labs and Stanford University, in the United States, and Chalmers University of Technology, in Sweden. Today, the world market for amplifiers grosses roughly US$ 8 billion a year.

The amplifier’s function is to guarantee that the light signals that take information and spread themselves over the optical fiber cables in the form of a laser do not lose their original potency. In the 1980’s, this was done by electronic equipment, which had to convert light signals into electrical ones and afterwards convert them back again, in a process that would increase the risk of failures. In 1989, optical amplifiers with erbium doped fibers inside them produced a veritable revolution: they increased the transmission band from 1 gigabit (1 billion bits) to 4 terabits (4 trillion bits), started to operate with multiple communication protocols, and, for good measure, reduced tremendously the cost of the networks. The parametric amplifier should also cost far less than the equipment currently in use, besides protecting the investments of the operating companies, by virtue of its practically inexhaustible capacity.

The equipment needs a special optical fiber, called photonic crystals, and the research for choosing the most suitable ended up leading to an unexpected discovery – a material that much reduces the Brillouin effect, an undesirable result of the interaction of the electric field of the light with the acoustic waves present in the fibers, allowing part of the light return to the generating source. The discovery was made by Paulo Dainese, who is studying for his doctorate at Unicamp’s Physics Institute, under Fragnito’s supervision.

Presented in May at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (or Cleo) of the Optical Society of America, the work was awarded the prize for being one of the seven best studies, out of 5,000 competitors. Detail: the fiber, now patented, will probably be applied widely in the fields of optics and acoustics. In the meantime, a process for producing optical fibers doped with erbium, not yet mastered in Brazil, is being developed at Unicamp by Professor Carlos Kenichi Suzuki, a researcher linked to the Quartz Integrated Cycle Laboratory, of the School of Mechanical Engineering.

With this innovation, in 2003 Suzuki founded a company called Sun Quartz, which is currently installed in Unicamp’s Incubator. The project, supported by FAPESP’s Small Business Innovation Research Program (PIPE), should result in a substantial increase in the level of erbium in the fibers, which will expand their communication capacity. This limit, today, goes so far as to hinder the amplification of the light signals. “Our work aims to control and manipulate nanostructures of particles of silicon and germanium, the fiber’s raw materials”, Suzuki says. “The results have indicated that the characteristics of these nanostructures are decisive elements for the concentration of the erbium.”

The production of the fibers is based on a technology called vapor-phase axial deposition (or VAD), much employed in Japan, which makes it possible, in five stages, to produce silicon with a high level of purity and a potential application in such diverse areas as the administration of medicines and the production of solar cells. The foreign market is also in the sights of a company from the city of Campinas called Padtec, the only manufacturer of equipment using WDM technology in the Southern Hemisphere. Dismembered from the CPqD at the end of 2001, Padtec offers products for corporate data storage networks and metropolitan and long distance communication networks.

In Brazil, it is a supplier to the main operating companies, and it exports to Latin America, the United States, India, and Portugal. In 2003, it sold about R$ 7.5 million, of which R$ 4.5 million was set aside for research and development. According to the company’s technical director, Jorge Salomão Pereira, of Padtec’s 75 employees, 15 are engineers dedicated exclusively to research and development.

“The challenge for Brazil now is to conquer more participation in the world market”, says Bruno Vianna (the former superintendent of the Genius Institute), from Orion Consultadores Associados (Associated Consultants), specialized in innovation, telecommunications, and energy. A few conditions seem to be taking shape for the accumulated knowledge and the quality of the human resources to begin to generate a good volume of new projects and products, as well as hard currency.

On its renewal, in 2001, the Law on Information Technology encouraged efforts in research and development amongst the manufacturers of equipment, with tax benefits that will probably be extended until 2019. The creation of Funttel in 2002 ensured funds for innovation. More recently, the federal government chose as one of its priorities the software area, the heart of telephone apparatuses. Furthermore, major international companies have been increasing their investments in research and development in the country, and Brazilian companies are beginning to be successful in export strategies.

Voice packet
The importance of the Law on Information Technology is also highlighted by Hélio Graciosa, the president of the CPqD, which in July 1998 became a private foundation. According to him, the CPqD has had four major conquests from then until now – competence in licensing products, ability in developing software for fixed and mobile telephony, and the capacity for providing technological services, besides offering studies, tests, and consultancies. The CPqD, which keeps itself closely connected to universities and research institutes – it has 30 partners in these areas –, is also working on the development of products in conjunction with small companies. With 1,500 employees, it is now focused on the new generation networks (NGNs), which transmit voice in packets, with a considerable improvement in the level of usage of the band. “The telecom companies are beginning to place orders”, Graciosa reveals.

With an office in Silicon Valley, California, since 2000, the CPqD is consolidating its work in the United States, which supplies support software for operations and business. In 2001, it started to establish a series of partnerships for distribution that took its products and services to Latin American countries, Portugal, Spain, Germany, and, more recently, Angola. At the moment, they are running 18 major research projects. Its income, which was R$ 185 million in 2002, reached R$ 205 million in 2003 and should grow 10% this year.

To attend better to global customers, the major suppliers of telecommunications equipment are also beginning to invest in research and development in Brazil. In December 2003, Siemens, of Germany, created the Portal of Technologies, where universities, research institutes, technology-based companies, and even independent inventors can present proposals. “A team of 45 analysts assesses each project in detail”, says Ronald Martin Dauscha, the director of corporate technological management. And there are already four proposal that seem to be very viable. Amongst its six research and development centers in Brazil, Siemens employs 315 persons. “Investments, which in 2003 were R$ 80 million, should rise to R$ 100 million”, says Dauscha. In May, the company’s factory in Curitiba became their world-wide export platform for PABX equipment.

At Motorola Brazil, the research and development team, made up of 60 persons at the end of 1999, has today 150 professionals in the software area alone, explains Rosana Jamal Fernandes, the company’s director for research and development. American in origin, the company has entered into agreements with 17 universities and several research institutes, like Eldorado, which, founded on her initiative in 1997, today provides services for various companies. And it encourages its partners to certify its processes and products – an essential condition for conquering the international market. From 1997 until now, its investments in research and development in the country have added up to US$ 135 million. “All the Motorola cell phones, regardless of where they are made, carry something Brazilian”, she warrants.

The projects
1. Amplifying Optical Fibers of Silicon Doped with Erbium (nº 03/01163-9); Modality Small Business Innovation Research Program (PIPE); Coordinator Carlos Kenichi Suzuki – Sun Quartz; Investment R$ 307,627.00 and US$ 12,700.00
2. Optics and Photonics Research Center (Cepof), at Unicamp; Modality
Research, Innovation and Diffusion Centers (Cepids); Coordinator Hugo Fragnito – Physics Institute at Unicamp; Investment R$ 1 million a year