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CORPORATE RESEARCH

At the speed of light

Padtec is counting on innovation to help it become a global provider of optical communications systems

From left to right: Lavoisier Farias, Plínio de Paula, Roberto Nakamura and Pedro Grael Júnior

Léo Ramos From left to right: Lavoisier Farias, Plínio de Paula, Roberto Nakamura and Pedro Grael JúniorLéo Ramos

With just over a month to go before the start of the World Cup on June 12, a frenzy surrounded the production line and laboratories of Padtec, a technology-based company located in the Campinas High-Technology Complex, about 100 km from the state capital, São Paulo. Padtec, which specializes in the development, manufacture and sale of optical communications systems, was hired by Telebras in 2012 to provide optical transmission equipment for the construction of a high-speed network to handle the big events to be held in Brazil, including the 2013 Confederations Cup, and the forthcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup. A fiber optic network carries voice and video content, facilitating, among other things, transmission of the games and the task of providing media coverage. The network was completed last year in the six cities hosting the Confederations Cup, and it was to be completed by April in another six. “The equipment used in the high-speed network, which connects the 12 stadiums hosting the World Cup matches to the communications center in Rio de Janeiro, is for the most part being supplied by us,” says Roberto Nakamura, 49, Padtec’s  chief technology officer.

The company was chosen for the project because of its expertise in this area. As Brazil’s largest manufacturer of optical communications equipment, Padtec provides solutions for long-distance optical telecommunications networks, metropolitan networks (within cities), and data access and storage. It was the first Latin American manufacturer of transmission systems based on WDM (wavelength division multiplexing) technology, which is able to increase by tens of times the transmission capacity of optical fiber. Established in 1999 as a unit of the Center for Research and Development in Telecommunications (CPqD), a private foundation, Padtec became a private company in 2001. Now, besides CPqD, an independent research center focusing on innovation in information and communications technologies, the shareholders of the company are Ideiasnet, a venture capital company, and BNDES-Par, a subsidiary of the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), which invested more than R$138 million in Padtec in early 2013, acquiring 19% of its capital stock—CPqD owns 46% and Ideiasnet, 34%.

Company
Padtec
Location
Campinas, São Paulo State
No. of Employees
350 employees
Products
Optical Communications Systems
Sales in 2013
R$ 400 million

The company focuses on technological innovation. On average, 15% of the company’s annual sales, which reached R$400 million in 2013, goes toward research and development activity. The technology division, responsible for the planning, design and launch of new products, has a staff of 139 (40% of the total of 350 employees), 52 of whom have a master’s degree or doctorate in their specialty field. One of these employees is Arlindo Garcia Granado Filho, 52, an electrical engineer, who supervises the systems requirements and architecture. “My area is responsible for the one of the first stages in new products development. We do the feasibility analysis, draft the technical requirements and design the architecture of the new equipment or system,” he says. Granado has been working at Padtec since 2010 and before then worked for 10 years at CPqD—between 1984 and 1994. “The Padtec team has a good mix of researchers, made up of the most experienced people, who worked for technology companies located in the region, including CPqD, Motorola, Nortel Networks and Alcatel-Lucent, and younger professionals with a good university education,” says Granado.

The company, which includes among its main customers telecommunications giants such as Embratel, Oi and Vivo, has accumulated a record of pioneering product launches. In 2003, only two years after its formation, Padtec put on the market a high-power dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) system with an efficient process for reducing nonlinear effects, a phenomenon occurring within the fiber that hampers transmission. Padtec installed these optical systems, which supported over 250 kilometers of transmission without the need for network amplifiers; amplifiers are essential to regenerating the laser light signal, which naturally degrades along the length of the fiber. Two years later the company created a device called a transponder optical transport network (OTN), which is able to increase data traffic along optical fibers and replace synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH) multiplexers. A multiplexer is a device that combines signals of different wavelengths on a single optical fiber.

Test of optical transmission system

Léo RamosTest of optical transmission systemLéo Ramos

Transcontinental reach
More recently, in late 2012, a new innovative technology was born in the company’s laboratories, the first domestic 100-Gbps (gigabits per second) transponder. This unit is equipped with sophisticated digital signal processors that undo the effect of light scattering within the fiber; an effect responsible for signal distortion. This enables data to be transmitted over transcontinental or transoceanic distances up to 12,000 km. “We were the first and still are the only Brazilian company to develop and offer this product. Elsewhere in the world, our competitors also began to make this technology commercially available in 2012. It was a simultaneous development, and we did not patent this equipment,” says Nakamura.

The new optical submarine repeaters are another important innovation, according to Padtec’s head of technology. Formed by a set of 12 optical amplifiers stored in a kind of mini-container made of special steel in order to withstand extremely high pressures, the repeaters are installed in optical telecommunications cables that traverse the ocean carrying digital information. “This equipment is installed in transoceanic fibers in order to increase the signal strength of the light carrying the information. The problem is that they are located on the seabed at depths of up to 8,000 meters, and need to be very sturdy and reliable. In addition to supporting absurd atmospheric pressures, 800 atm, they must have a useful life of 25 years,” he says. Nakamura says these are the first optical repeaters of this type to be made ​​in Brazil. Patents have been filed for this equipment in Brazil and abroad. “There are only a few companies in the world that have mastered the manufacturing process of these devices, including the American company Tyco, the Chinese company Huawei, and the Japanese company NEC.”

Circuit boards for optical communications systems

Léo RamosCircuit boards for optical communications systemsLéo Ramos

To develop the 100-Gbps transmission system and the optical submarine repeater, which is in its final testing phase in the Caribbean Sea, Padtec received a loan of R$29 million from BNDES. The company is also developing innovative projects with funds from FAPESP. Beginning in 2007, the agreement, in the amount of R$40 million, was signed within the framework of the Partnership for Technological Innovation (Pite) research program, which supports research in telecommunications and optical communications, in addition to training human resources. Two lines of research are being developed with support from FAPESP. One of them involves digital signal processing and is coordinated by Professor Dalton Soares Arantes of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Unicamp. The other is in the field of coherent optical systems, which make it possible to achieve a massive increase in both the volume of data and its transmission distances over fiber optics; it is headed by Professor Evandro Conforti from the same school. “These projects have already led to three patent filings in the areas of optical access networks and coherent optical networks. These are quite advanced solutions, and still a bit ahead of their time. And so they are not yet ready for commercial application, but in the future, with advanced technology and cost reduction, they may give rise to disruptive technologies,” says Nakamura.

Padtec has also received funds from the Brazilian Innovation Agency (FINEP), subordinate to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI), to develop a piece of equipment known as an OTN Switch, a device capable of switching  circuits of extremely high capacity, between 1 and 100 Gbps. Optical switches are key pieces installed in trunking networks, which allow distribution of the optical signals on the network. Peter Grael Júnior, 52, an electrical engineer, is the project manager of this development. “We started working on the OTN switch two years ago and expect to finish it by early 2015. After that, the project will need continuity and improvements,” he says, emphasizing that this will be the first new-generation switch for digital beams produced in Brazil.

Mounting optical amplifier circuit boards

Léo RamosMounting optical amplifier circuit boardsLéo Ramos

Cooperative work with universities and research centers is a hallmark of the company’s approach to research and development. There are currently 12 projects in the pipeline with seven institutions, including the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE), the Atlantic Institute, in Fortaleza, the State University of Ceará (UECE), the Federal University of Espírito Santo (UFES) and Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp). Padtec has an ongoing agreement with CPqD to develop amplifiers and optical switches. “We look for centers of expertise that can help us meet our goals This interaction results in the transfer of knowledge from academia to our teams,” says Lavoisier José Leite Farias, 40, an electrical engineer who heads the software development area. Educated at the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB), he has been working at Padtec for eight years. Plínio de Paula, 34, a computer engineer and product manager for the company, shares a similar view. “Since we operate in a very competitive market, we need to join forces to achieve our goals. And so partnerships with universities are essential.”

Two pillars
With an extensive product line of high-tech equipment, Padtec has customers in 42 countries. Today, its exports of low-cost equipment account for about 10% of sales. Higher-value devices are sold only to Latin America. But the expectation is that the percentage of exports will multiply a few times over in the medium term. To this end, the company has established international offices in several countries, including Argentina, Mexico, Peru, the United States, France and Italy. In Italy, a team of 15 researchers is advising that country on the development of underwater optical repeaters. Padtec also has a presence in Israel. In 2008 it acquired control of Civcom, a local company and leader in developing and manufacturing devices for low-cost optical communication, such as transponders and tunable dispersion compensators.

064-067_Empresa Padtec_219_NOVO-2“Civcom makes an important part of the transponder, the optical transmission modules. It was involved in developing our 100-Gbps transponder, a process in which CPqD was also a partner,” says Nakamura. Besides the Israeli company, Padtec also established PSG Telecom in 2013 to meet the demand for professional services in broadband networks, and shares with Icatel Services, of São Paulo, the management of WxBR, a high-tech company in the wireless communications industry engaged in the design and sale of innovative solutions for wireless broadband access. The acquisition of new businesses and the expansion of its overseas presence are two pillars that will help achieve the objective set by Padtec, which is to become a major global supplier of optical network solutions.

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