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Infinera's Dave Welch: People will Figure Out the Solutions

By David Chaffee, Founder and CEO, Chaffee Fiber Optics

There may be no one in the fiber optics industry who believes more in the ability of the optical technologist to figure out problems holding the industry back than Infinera Chief Marketing Officer Dave Welch.

Welch has a legendary career in fiber optics, involved in a huge sell off of SDL to JDSU in the 1990s for the staggering sum of $40 billion and then coming back and helping create a successful U.S.-based optical systems transport company in the 2000s seemingly against all odds that continues to thrive.

To hear Welch speak at OFCNFOEC 2012 as part of a special symposium of the Optoelectronics Industry Development Association (OIDA) here today, that same can do attitude continues in force.

“Someone will figure out how to do optical transport at lower power levels, it is just not clear who and how they will do it,” Welch told a packed room. However, he realizes that “this is a hard problem.” Still there are positive signs. For example, less power is required for optical multiplexing than electronic multiplexing.

The fiber optic industry vital signs continue strong. “There is simply no stoppage to the insatiable demands for bandwidth,” says Welch. “We are moving to video everywhere and also video at higher and higher bandwidth demands.”

Welch says the Internet continues to go through a number of paradigm shifts and “with paradigm shifts come opportunity.” He cites the fact that “digital photography completely revamped the industry, completely revamped winners and losers.”

“The network architecture is more complex than it needs to be,” according to Dave, “we have the transport guys, the switch guys, the router guys. We have silos. In order to better have a network, the silos are going to have to converge. You can't keep creating efficiencies by telling these silos they are going to have to all get better. These silos are going to have to converge. It creates power, it creates efficiency. Layer convergence will become a fact of life.”

Another paradigm shift is the fact that “we no longer live in a transponder world but in a transceiver world.”

Regarding the growing importance of silicon to photonics, Welch says “I would find a way to get the leading edge silicon cheap. I would find out how to get leading edge silicon faster than my competitors.”

Concerning Infinera's success, Welch says that early on the company decided that “innovation is more important than lower cost structure. The company's R&D budget is less than two times that of our competitors. That keeps us up at night. That forces us to think differently. If we had half the budget and going down the same path we are in trouble.”

Some final Welch thoughts on innovation include the fact that “low-cost labor will not stay low cost and automation will become more important.”

Nor, perhaps, is there a more knowledgeable voice when it comes to explaining the importance of fiber optics to life. Welch said he recently was involved with celebrating the 50 year anniversary of the laser diode. “The semiconductor laser industry turned into something that people didn't understand because people didn't understand the value of semiconductor procession or low-cost manufacturing processing.”

The serendipitous convergence of the ruby laser and low-cost manufacturing, then, changed not only optics but also telecom forever.

What if there had been no laser diode? Welch says there would not have been an Internet because the economies of scale would not have been achieved. “Try running the Internet on argon lasers, or helium neon lasers or CO2 lasers.” Adds Welch: “It impacted our economics and it impacted our social world.”

“The first lesson of the laser diode is that it takes many years of consistent investment to produce something like that,” concludes Welch.

Posted: 5 March 2012 by David Chaffee, Founder and CEO, Chaffee Fiber Optics | with 0 comments

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