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What is DWDM and why should you care?


What is DWDM and why should you care?

Imagine a couple of small trucks moving along a country road in opposite directions, carrying goods between factories and consumers. As the population grows and demand increases, the trucks grow in number and in diversity of goods and traffic increases. At some point, city planners must start adding lanes until eventually the small country road has become a large multi-lane highway with 18-wheelers moving huge volumes of different types of merchandise every day.

A similar rapid expansion in ‘cargo’ has happened in telecommunications. The telecommunications industry and particularly service providers have faced a dramatic and very rapid increase in the volume and type of data their systems must handle. Networks originally built to transmit soundwaves as electrical signals from one phone to another are now faced with managing data and video in real-time from many devices. Since the introduction of the Internet and creation of the Worldwide Web in the 80s and early 90s, within approximately 30 short years, 5G wireless technology is now rolling out and rapidly moving toward the IoT through which virtually all devices can theoretically be interconnected.

Fibre optics and optical communications in general have had significant impact on the telecommunications industry and will continue to do so, with light as a carrier enabling much higher data transmission rates over greater distances and with lower losses compared to electrical signals. To encode data into light to transmit it and decode it back into electrical signals upon receipt, optical communications rely on optical transceivers.

Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) is transceiver technology developed around 20 years ago that has made optical telecommunications even better. It dramatically increases bandwidth (essentially the amount of data that can be transmitted) over existing fibre networks. Simply put, data from various signals are separated and encoded on different wavelengths and put together (multiplexed) in a single optical fibre. At the receiving end, the wavelengths are separated out again and reconverted into the original digital signals. In other words, DWDM allows different data streams to be sent simultaneously over a single optical fibre without requiring new cables to be laid. It is ‘dense’ reflecting the large number of signals that can be packed in a single fibre. Furthermore, because DWDM connections can be amplified, they can transmit data across very long distances.

The tremendous expansion in data volume afforded with DWDM can be seen in comparison with other optical methods. A standard transceiver, often called a grey transceiver, is a single-channel device – each fibre has a single laser source. You can transmit 10 Gbps with grey optics. Coarse Wavelength Division Multiplexing (CWDM) has multiple channels, although far fewer than possible with DWDM. For example, with a 4-channel CWDM you can transmit 40 Gbps. DWDM can accommodate up to 100 channels. At that capacity, you can transmit 1 Tbps or one trillion bps – 100 times more data than grey optics and 25 times more than CWDM.

While the volume of data transmitted with DWDM is impressive, demand will continue to grow as we move toward IoT and 5G. Adding additional optical transceivers with different wavelengths to a fixed-wavelength DWDM system can significantly increase cost. Tunable DWDM transceivers allow you to control the wavelength (colour) that the laser channel emits adding flexibility and reducing cost. Few companies supply the technology. EFFECT Photonics is among them, with its tunable and cost-effective DWDM technologies that will act as enablers of 5G and IoT, bringing the future to you today.




Chip Engineering Manager

“We grew together with EFFECT Photonics, I started as an engineer and I got promoted to engineering manager of a group of 12 people”

What is the most interesting aspect of working at EFFECT Photonics? And what about your job specifically?

My motivation to come to EFFECT Photonics was to shift from an academic to a business environment. At a company you can focus as a team on a single objective. Instead of being scattered over multiple research areas, all people at EFFECT Photonics focus on a single project and goal. Coming from a PhD where I was the only Dutch candidate, managing a multi-cultural team is no big change for me. I do operate from a Dutch perspective, my team gets the impression that Dutch companies are fairly flat. Although there is a formal management hierarchy, the work environment is very open and friendly. I try to be as approachable as possible. Decisions are the result of discussions with the team and weighing that against other business requirements. As a manager, I can lean on a strong technical background to be able to make correct decisions and guide the team to the best approaches. As my team is quite big, members are expected to be quite independent. This creates a lot of independence within people’s roles.

What advice would you give to someone who is planning to apply at EFFECT Photonics?

What me and my team do, is central to the company. It is a nice position to be in. It means we have a lot of interaction and dependency. Because of this central role, expectations are high and there is pressure to get good results. We deal with this by working very precisely and thoroughly preparing any designs we send out for manufacture. I feel that there is a very solution-focused environment here at EFFECT Photonics, where taking initiative is rewarded. I’d say join us if you want to be a part of a team developing high-tech solutions for the telecommunications industry.

Describe in 3 words what your job is all about.

Challenges, learning, advancement

I joined EFFECT Photonics during its early beginnings in 2014. I had just finished my PhD and was looking for work. I knew the co-founders of the company via the Technical University of Eindhoven and I was able to help them out with some odd jobs here and there. My role initially was very undefined as the company was in its early stages. When the company got its first round of funding, I was brought on for a full-time position. I really grew with the company, initially as an engineer and then I became an engineering manager, where I came to lead an ever-expanding team. I still love the engineering work itself, but managing a team of people is also very rewarding. EFFECT Photonics is a very high-tech environment, there is always a lot of cool stuff going on. Few companies do what we are doing. We are really trying to bring about lower cost solutions, which does come with engineering challenges. We have a very skilled and talented team, and I have full confidence that we will solve these challenges.

What is your biggest highlight of working here so far?

I think for me it is seeing the level of commitment from the team. Every one is prepared to go the extra mile in order to get good results. Additionally, there is a lot of excitement here, there is a buzz when you get new results. The wafer has only been in the office for an hour and you already get messages from colleagues eagerly waiting for the results. It’s this buzz that is a real highlight for me.