Brian Moore, president and chief technology officer for BigBangwidth, wants to revolutionize the use of fiber optic networks through his Edmonton, Alberta-based company.
Two elements differentiate Big Bangwidth’s all-optic, nanoswitch system, known as GRID, from other optic switches, he said. The switch itself has a loss of less than 1 decibel as the light passes from sender to recipient, and the company’s proprietary software can augment existing local area networks (LAN) by adding an “express lane,” said Big Bangwidth’s director of marketing and communication, Patrick Weinmayr.
The company’s software creates this express lane by adding intelligence to the switch system, Weinmayr said. It recognizes when a large data transfer is about to take place and instantly lifts it from the existing LAN to Big Bangwidth’s expressway, avoiding any risk the system might freeze from overload, he said.
While other photonic switches are just components in another company’s routing system, BigBangwidth hopes to capture the LAN market with its combination switch and software.
The company received an investment worth about (U.S.) $2 million in startup funds from TechnoCap, a Montreal venture capital firm. Along with GRID and software for either manual or automatic switching on existing LANs, BigBangwidth is negotiating with an unnamed partner to offer by-the-minute optical cable rental — similar to a long-distance phone service.
Moore said higher speed, lower cost and elimination of heat generation, size and latency drag of current optical switches will open the fiber optic market to a broader range of customers with short-term needs for massive data transfer, including academic institutions, software developers, financial institutions and movie post-production firms.
But full commercialization remains at least six months away, Moore said. The company, which was spun off from the University of Alberta, only has “beta customers.”
There is skepticism about BigBangwidth’s ability to actually break into the cash heap that has evaded others.
“It’s a market I’ve seen others try to attract,” said Lawrence Gasman, president of Communications Industry Researchers. “Ten years ago, ATMs (Asynchronous Transfer Modes) were all the rage, and a number of companies wanted to use ATMs in the same way BigBangwidth uses optical switching. But (the explosion in ATM use) never happened because there are other ways of doing” large data transfers, he added.
Latency — data transfer delays due to traffic congestion in the pipeline — is not a problem for most users, and if it becomes an issue, buyers are more likely to turn to major players like Extreme Networks or Cisco Systems Inc. for a gigabyte Ethernet than to a startup, Gasman said, adding, “at least 20 other companies, including big ones,” are also eyeing by-the-minute fiber optic sales.
Gasman said BigBangwidth is “talking about high end applications, which is a relatively small market.” Also, Gasman said, there are not enough video transfer and postproduction houses willing to dive into fiber optics, and users like the military will likely go to established firms before a startup.
Marlene Bourne, a MEMS analyst for In/Stat MDR, said questions remain about the company’s development of an all-optic switch, she said.
“The window of opportunity is closing” for optic switch manufacturers, and companies like BigBangwidth that are still in development can still make it, “but they have a tough road to haul because they’re behind the curve.”
Suite 301, 10328 81 Ave.
Company was founded in 2000.
BigBangwidth seeks to bring high-bandwidth capabilities to enterprise desktop users. Its goal is to transmit data at the level of one exabit (one billion billion bits) per second using optical fiber.
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BigBangwidth’s GRID product is a massively parallel nanomachined optical grid that increases data transmission capacity in fiber optic-based networks by enabling high-bandwidth connections and reducing bottlenecks. The company creates this increased capacity by developing an optical chip with highly reflective micromirrors that efficiently redirect light in two dimensions. This platform-independent system eliminates the need for fiber optic signals to be converted into electric signals and back again — the cause of many network delays. BigBangwidth also hopes to bring consumers the option of “a la carte” high-bandwidth usage, for networks that may only temporarily require increased capacity.
In 2000, BigBangwidth received (U.S.) $2 million in seed financing from TechnoCap, a Montreal-based VC. The company’s University of Alberta micromachining facility has garnered a (U.S.) $1.3 million provincial grant. BigBangwidth also receives financial support from the National Research Council Industrial Research Assistance Program.
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“That’s where the money is.”
— Research by Gretchen McNeely