Codeon: Up close and personal

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One of David Huber's secretive start-ups came out of hiding in late January. Codeon Corp. announced that production is getting under way at its new 55,000 square-foot manufacturing plant in Washington, D.C.

It's the first time that the optical networking industry in general has gotten a hint of what Codeon is up to. To date, Codeon has said simply that it's making "high-speed optical components." It now turns out that those components are going to be based around a core technology: lithium niobate.

Lithium niobate is a crystal with some rather weird properties that make it possible to manipulate light. One, it's electro-optic, which means that it's possible to change the refractive index by applying an electric charge. And two, it's "birefringent." In other words, it has two refractive indices, so a light beam will split into two and take two separate paths through the crystal (unless the beam is lined up with one of the crystal axes).

In a January 30 release, Codeon describes its initial product line, which includes external modulators for 10G and 40G bit/sec data rates. Modulators are devices that block and unblock a light beam to encode it with data. Right now, the Washington, D.C., factory is equipped to make 200 units a month. In six months, Codeon hopes to be churning out 1,000 units a month.

Lithium niobate is already a popular choice of material for making modulators. That's because it can operate at high speeds and still provide a clean signal. "If you're a believer that speed is important, then lithium niobate is going to be key," says Codeon's CEO Bob Harvey.

Harvey notes that Codeon's competitors, though few in number, are extremely capable -- namely Corning and Lucent.

"Our claim to fame is high performance," Harvey adds. "We can make devices with very-low drive voltages. That means the systems integrators don't have to tax their systems so hard."

Of course, one product doesn't make a company. But this is just the start, Harvey says. Codeon plans to develop and build a variety of integrated modules based around lithium niobate, such as optical transmitters and polarization controllers.

It took $17 million to get Codeon ready for production. That money came from New Enterprise Associates and Optical Capital Group, the incubator backed by David Huber.

This story, "Codeon: Up close and personal " was originally published by Network World.

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