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17 March 2009


OneChip secures $19.5m in VC funding for InP-based photonic integrated circuits

The privately held firm OneChip Photonics of Ottawa, Canada has secured $19.5m in venture capital financing from Canadian and US investors, including BDC Venture Capital, DCM, GrowthWorks Canadian Fund and Morgenthaler Ventures. The funding should enable the firm to expand its operations globally and deliver what it aims to be the only fully integrated fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) transceiver technology on the market (providing higher performance than competing solutions at significantly lower cost).

OneChip develops and manufactures optical transceivers based on monolithic photonic integrated circuits (PICs) fabricated in indium phosphide (InP) for access networks and other mass-market broadband applications. The firm reckons that its technology can remove the cost and performance barriers that have been impeding the ubiquitous deployment of FTTH and enable new business and consumer broadband applications. Currently, the firm is developing transceivers for optical network terminals (ONTs) and optical line terminals (OLTs) in Ethernet passive optical networks (EPONs) and Gigabit passive optical networks (GPONs).

“OneChip is well positioned to help system providers and carriers deploy FTTH more cost-effectively than ever before – and meet consumer and business demand for high-bandwidth voice, data and video services,” reckons CEO Jim Hjartarson. “OneChip is one of only a few companies with new core intellectual property and advanced technology in the optical transceiver business that can sustain a competitive advantage over other optical component providers, which rely on conventional technology and assembly processes,” he adds.

Most current FTTH transceiver providers base their transceivers on either discrete optics or planar lightwave circuit (PLC) designs, which offer low levels of integration and require assembly from multiple parts. There is little technical differentiation among them, says OneChip. Rather, vendors must compete on the basis of who can assemble the parts in a slightly cheaper fashion, and there is little opportunity to further reduce such costs.

“Carriers and system providers recognize that an approach that would eliminate assembly from multiple parts is needed to lower the cost and improve the performance of transceivers and ONTs in optical access networks,” says Dr Lynn Hutcheson, VP of communication components at analyst & consulting firm Ovum.

OneChip’s PIC technology monolithically integrates all the functions required for an optical transceiver onto a single InP-based chip. All active and passive components of the chip – including the distributed-feedback (DFB) laser, optically pre-amplified detector (OPAD), wavelength splitter (WS), spot-size converter (SSC), and various elements of passive waveguide circuitry – are integrated in one epitaxial growth step, without re-growth or post-growth modification of the epitaxial material.

With respect to transmit performance, the single-frequency DFB lasers can offer performance that is more suitable for longer-reach and higher-bit-rate applications than competing Fabry-Perot (FP) lasers, it is claimed. With respect to receive performance, the OPAD design is a higher gain-bandwidth solution than competing avalanche photodiode (APD) solutions, as well as being lower cost (as it does not require a high-voltage power source), the firm claims.

As well as its monolithic PICs having a small footprint, OneChip says that the optical parts are aligned for life and are highly robust (resistant to vibration and other outside elements). Further, the PICs are designed for automated mounting on a silicon optical bench, without requiring active alignment, using industry-standard, automated assembly processes – resulting in high yields of good devices.

In addition, the firm says that, by using automated production processes, it can maintain high production scalability and respond rapidly to demand. Standard production processes also provide reliable supply, it adds.

“OneChip’s fully integrated technology can help unleash the potential of FTTH and other mass-market optical communications applications,” says Hutcheson.

There is tremendous potential for FTTH to become widespread in access networks in the next three years, reckons Ovum. It forecasts that the number of FTTx subscribers – including fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) and fiber-to-the-building (FTTB) subscribers – will increase from about 48 million by the end of 2009 to more than 100 million by the end of 2012. FTTx broadband users comprise about 8% of all broadband users currently, and should rise to about 16% by 2012, forecasts Ovum. OneChip believes that its technology will strengthen the business case for broader deployment of FTTH worldwide, and enable it to claim a significant share of the FTTx optical transceiver market, which Ovum estimates will grow from $387m by the end of 2009 to $594m by the end of 2013.

OneChip says that it also recognizes that optical communications are becoming economically and technologically mandatory in areas outside traditional telecommunications. The firm is therefore poised to introduce photonics integration into other high-volume business and consumer markets, reckoning that its PIC technology can also reduce costs and improve performance in those domains.

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