Q&A: Vivek Rajgarhia Updates on Operational Progress
December 21st, 2021
Interest in POET Technologies’ products continues to blossom in China, where the company’s live demonstrations at two notable industry events in September were met with critical acclaim. In a recent interview session, POET President and General Manager Vivek Rajgarhia provided updates on customer engagements following the China events and explained how the industry is viewing the breakthroughs of POET’s Optical Interposer™ and the products built form it.
Q: What have the follow-up discussions since the China product demonstrations been like?
VR: It was a coming out party for us at those conferences. The impact of those events was that people now know what we are doing and understand the value we can provide to them, and in many cases to their customers. Since those events, we’ve had multiple engagements. I would say we have three levels of engagements happening.
First, we have customers who make transceiver modules and see the value of getting an optical engine from us or a semi-customized product from us because of the benefits we provide of cost and scale, and the flexibility we have in terms of form factor. Those would be Level 1 customers and we have a whole list of them, especially in China, and also in North America that have come up since those meetings.
Second, there are technology companies who have developed a certain device and they need a platform to make that device operate for the application while working with other devices. So they’re looking to see if we can integrate their device into our platform and make it meaningful to the market. Also in that same category, I would say there are incumbent companies who have been packaging their products in a certain way and they look at us and want to see if they can get to the next level of packaging and provide value to their customers.
Third, is a level of companies who are end users. These are the data centers who are coming to us to say, ‘Hey, can you provide a solution for better performing and cheaper products for optical connectivity?’
At all three of those customer levels, we have multiple engagements in our pipeline.
Q: Where is the stage of your products in regard to sampling for your customers?
VR: We are sampling our engines to the Level 1 customers, and even some Level 2 customers, that I mentioned, and they have confidence in our technology and our platform. We also have unique device customers who are sending their devices to us because they want us to incorporate their device into our engine. So, we have multiple communications at all levels and in all areas of manufacturing.
You start with someone coming to us through our network and then you may have conversations where you determine that, yes, there is an alignment, and we can perhaps move together. Then, there is an evaluation, there is a proposal, and there is a project. And we deliver what is required to be delivered.
In terms of how things are advancing, in my assessment, over my decades of interactions with customers in the industry, I would say it is moving very well.
Q: Both yourself and POET’s Dr. Mo Jinyu have long-standing relationships with the industry in China. How have those relationships helped to elevate POET’s notoriety in that country?
VR: The optics industry is a young one. It’s about 35 to 40 years old. Optical communications started in the 1980s. So it’s new and there is a limited number of people who have been doing it for 20 or 30 years who know the ins and outs. The processes are not as well established as in the semiconductor space, which is 30 or 40 years ahead of optics. The transistor, for instance, was invented in 1947. So, with semiconductors there is a well-established process and mature companies operating in the space.
In optics, it’s still a boutique industry in a lot of ways. That means that although there is a lot of innovation that happens, there is also a lot of risk. There are many attempts to make new applications commercial and we have seen over the years that a lot of those innovations do not pan out — due to various reasons: resources, money, the timing.
When we approach a former colleague in the industry, they’ll say, ‘Okay, we’ll look at what you have,’ because we have the credibility through those relationships and network interactions. After that, the next step is to put our innovation into their system so they can see that it is working, and also on our end we have to qualify the product, to make sure it is robust enough for industry standards. That validation needs to meet industry requirements and we have already gone through that phase.
Now, we have contracts. Customers are convinced, they have given us some NRE contracts to develop the products for them.
Q: Outside of China, what are customer engagements like?
VR: With customers in North America and Europe, we have one-to-one discussions with various potential customers including some blue-chip companies. We have taken a conservative approach where we didn’t want to trigger a deepening of our engagements too early because you want to make the most of your first opportunity to present to customers of this stature. There is a certain way to launch new products in this industry and we have followed that process. Now we are at the stage that we can engage with blue-chip customers more meaningfully and we are doing that.
The next major event for us will be the Optical Fiber Conference in March 2022. We did it online in 2021 because of the pandemic, but in 2022 we are preparing for live demonstrations of next-generation products.
Q: What does the recent news of an added laser partner mean for the business?
VR: The laser source is a key part of optical communications. That’s where the light is generated. You need the laser in the optical engine, just like you need the battery in electronic modules. Within optics, there are two platforms in the data communications space that we are addressing: DML, or directly modulated lasers, which are contained in one platform, and the continuous wave, or CW, lasers. With the CW lasers, you require an external modulator. With DML, you use the electrical signal to turn the laser on and off as needed, and you don’t need an external modulator. The CW laser needs more optical power, because you are using a shutter, so the intensity of light has to be greater. We have multiple laser suppliers and that’s good for us because different customers require different performance.
Sanan IC has partnered with us on the DMLs for 100G and 200G Optical Engines. For 400G engines you need that external modulator. As the technology evolves we will have DML at that speed, we believe. Right now, we have the CW laser and external modulator at 400G, and we’ve been working with Almae for three years on those components. In early October, we announced a collaboration with a major, top-tier partner whose lasers can be customized to bond onto our Optical Interposer™. This partner’s lasers are a “KGD” — a known good device — and that means they can be incorporated into our platform without needing to be re-qualified.
We have that newest partner and Almae supplying us with CW lasers. We have Sanan IC providing us with DMLs and we will have other DML suppliers to fill the need should Sanan IC not have the product available. We’ll integrate these lasers as needed into the Optical Interposer™ products. From there, Super Photonics, our joint venture with Sanan IC, will assemble the products for the market.
Q: What are the latest developments at Super Photonics (SPX)?
VR: There is significant progress. SAIC has been very cooperative and supportive, providing office spaces and clean-room facilities. I saw it with my own eyes when I visited in August. It is a world-class space. And SAIC has been hiring people, since even before SPX was incorporated, that shows great support and belief. We now have about 25 to 30 people at Super Photonics, a lot of them are in the engineering department but we also have staff in sales and on the finance team.
We average two calls per day between SPX and the POET offices, so there is a lot of activity and a lot of collaboration going on throughout the operations of both companies.
At the same time, POET is hiring our own people, outside of the SPX joint venture, in Shenzhen, in Singapore, and in Allentown. We have been able to attract experienced people who normally wouldn’t have left their lucrative jobs.
Q: How do you attract that talent and convince them to join?
VR: Of course the potential of being a disruptive technology and being part of building a legacy, with a long-lasting impact to the industry, is attractive to them. But in optics the risk is also high in terms of reaching success as a company. People with 10, 20, 30 years of experience don’t want to just join another company and spend their time working on something that won’t succeed. They don’t want to lose two or three years of their lives on it. How do they get the confidence that we’re on the right track? Well, they get that confidence from the people who are here, that’s a big part of it, and they also understand that POET’s technology has advanced beyond the development phase and is ready for commercialization. That’s the reason for the credibility that POET has. We are able to attract and hire talent from all over. We were able to recruit people during this pandemic without even meeting them. Talent is a big part of making a winning team and you need to be able to attract that talent to ensure you achieve what you want to achieve. We’ve been able to recruit highly qualified and experienced people. This says a lot about the stage we are at as a company.
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