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Fujitsu, Mitsui venture targets quantum dots

16 Jun 2006

Fujitsu and Mitsui have invested around $2.6 m in QD Laser, a joint quantum dot laser development venture. Matthew Peach finds out why the firm expects to achieve a leading commercial position in optical communications with the technology by 2010.

When technology giant Fujitsu and the world's largest trading house Mitsui, both headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, form a joint venture to commercialize quantum dot laser technology, it's time to sit up and take notice. With an initial investment of ¥290 m (€2.6 m), QD Laser (QDL) will be targeting its technology at the telecoms market and believes it is the only developer that can bring quantum dot lasers and amplifiers to the market.

"QDL will develop quantum dot lasers emitting at 9xx nm (around 980 nm) for the optical telecommunications light-source market," said Mitsuru Sugawara, president and CEO of the new venture, who is moving from Fujitsu Laboratories. "We expect the lasers will find applications in optical access and local area network applications."

In an exclusive interview with OLE, Sugawara explains how the microscopic lasers offer new capabilities and why they will find ready markets in optical communications applications worldwide. The quantum dots, and some of their associated technologies, were developed through an academic- industrial research collaboration between Fujitsu Limited, Fujitsu Laboratories and Yasuhiko Arakawa's laboratory at the University of Tokyo.

QDL describes its quantum dot lasers as being "revolutionary" and says that they are significantly superior to conventional semiconductor lasers. Utilizing quantum dot semiconductor crystallization technology, developed by Fujitsu, in combination with other laser design and processing technologies, QDL is aiming to capitalize on what it calls the superior performance of its technologies, to expand its market share and become the leader in this industry sector.

As QDL begins to take off, Fujitsu expects that, in addition to its current leading share of the optical transmission device markets in the US and Japan, the company will enhance its competitiveness in the optical access market, for which it anticipates fully fledged global expansion.

OLE: How will the partners support and finance QDL's development?

MS: The initial capitalization of QDL will be ¥290 m. The partner companies will invest in increments, with an ownership ratio of Fujitsu 61% and Mitsui 39%. Besides providing technical support through joint research with QDL, Fujitsu will offer business management and financial support. Fujitsu's capital investment will be made through one of its corporate VC funds while Mitsui's equity investment will come from Mitsui Ventures. As well as supporting QDL through strategic planning and fundraising, Mitsui Ventures will also support QDL's global marketing.

Why did Fujitsu and Mitsui decide to partner in this development?

This is a trial to conduct R&D, marketing and production simultaneously in order to accelerate the market-in of these still risky, innovative products, in contrast to a so-called linear model where each step proceeds one at a time. Fujitsu and Mitsui expect that this scheme will solve the so-called "innovator's dilemma" (when an innovation is commoditized, often stranding the developer) and activate Japan's global industrial competitiveness.

What is the market opportunity for your proposed lasers?

We anticipate that quantum dot lasers will become a core technology to underpin new high-performance light sources for optical telecommunications, for which the data traffic is continuing to increase rapidly. QDL will offer quantum dot lasers to the optical telecommunication light source market, initially for use in optical access and optical LANs within buildings.

What are the likely sizes and powers of the quantum dot lasers?

The typical length of the quantum dot laser chip is around 200 μm. The output power is in the 1-10 mW range depending on the injection current, which is enough for data transmission through an optical fibre.

What will be the R&D and product development routes over the next five years?

Starting with lasers for short-reach LANs, we plan to develop new types of quantum dot lasers that would be applicable to 10-40 km transmission distances. We are also developing quantum dot optical amplifiers with higher output power, broader gain bandwidth and faster signal response than any other existing amplifiers used in optical transmission.

How will the quantum dot lasers compete with other laser types in terms of cost and performance?

Quantum dot lasers are revolutionary lasers that are significantly superior to conventional semiconductor lasers. This is because they deliver higher performance in several critical aspects, such as: temperature-independent operation; low power consumption; long-distance transmission; and higher speeds.

What is QDL's likely position in this evolving marketplace?

The market size of our primary target area - which is laser devices and assemblies - is growing rapidly due to increased global demand for metro/access infrastructure and LANs. Currently, we believe that we are the only developer that can bring quantum dot lasers and amplifiers to the market. I'm sure that many others will enter the market later. But, with our leading technology and experience in the field, together with continued development of new technologies, we intend to stay in the top position.

How will business growth occur?

Through QDL's own business with support from Fujitsu and Mitsui. Starting with the long-reach multimode oriented lasers for a 10 Gbit/s LAN, we will extend our product portfolio to include middle- and long-reach lasers as well as quantum dot semiconductor optical amplifiers. That means we expect a large volume of sales in the very near future and certainly by 2010.

For technological developments, QDL will collaborate with Fujitsu Laboratories and the University of Tokyo. Our goal is to form a solid alliance network consisting of chip, assembly and module makers, using our quantum dot based innovative technologies.

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