Eyeing optical’s future

Optical technology has made huge inroads in telecommunications in recent years, but in most other areas, it continues its decades-long role as the technology of tomorrow. There’s a big disconnect when it comes to determining when tomorrow may come.
For those who supply advanced electronics for military products, tomorrow is within short range planning. The VME International Trade Association, whose members make many of the boards and boxes used in modern military systems, is actively moving towards optical.
VITA executive director Ray Alderman said “It’s finally time we dropped copper connections and moved to optics.” He and many others note that 10 GHz is the level where the transition becomes critical.
VITA’s Standards Organization has a couple standards in the works for putting optical connectors on backplanes and the small removable mezzanine boards used to add specialized functions and communication links to larger VME boards.
VITA members are finally getting serious about replacing some copper links with optical. But the IPC members who make the bare VME boards barely have optical on their roadmaps. IPC Roadmap Committee chairman Jack Fisher noted that the last IPC road map didn’t focus much on optical, adding the iNEMI has seriously considered removing optical from its roadmap due to lack of interest.
Fisher feels the roadmap he’s now starting may have more optics for the last two years of its scope, taking hold around 2020. That may be a bit later than what VITA and some of its military customers may want. And it may well be sooner than IPC members move long-term roadmap concepts into real production.
There’s plenty of work needed if there’s going to be a connection between the two camps. And plenty of work to be done if boardmakers are going to be integrating optical wave guides. Both researchers and corporate planners will be spending a fair amount of time figuring out what they need to accomplish if indeed optical’s tomorrow is finally dawning.

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