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BeamExpress shines for investors

BeamExpress CEO Jean-Claude Charlier say his company has overcome VCSEL manufacturing difficulties (BeamExpress)


BeamExpress, a spin-off of Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), has made progress commercializing its range of optoelectronics devices.

The company develops next-generation multiple-wavelength arrays and tuneable lasers.

BeamExpress delivers its lasers in a semiconductor format, known as a VCSEL. Its target market is optical networking systems’ manufacturers, who provide equipment for metropolitan and access networks.

The telecommunications industry has been interested in VCSELs as a replacement for the more expensive, and larger, edge-emitting lasers. Telecommunications optical component manufacturers, such as AXM, Iolon, or Agility, have traditionally supplied these devices for the access and metro networks.

Few suppliers have however been able to deliver VSCELs that can be mass-produced, which is BeamExpress’ goal.

The two-year-old company expects to achieve its “technical milestones” ahead of schedule, according to Giuseppe Zocco, a member of the board and a General Partner of Index Ventures.

New manufacturing facilities are being built and BeamExpress is hiring a product development team.

One reason for the company’s rapid progress could be the two big-name researchers running the technical side of the firm.

One is Eli Kapon, of the EPFL, who came from Tel Aviv University. The other is Alexei Sirbu, who founded the optoelectronics lab at Kishinev Technical University in Moldova, and has since worked at Sheffield University, the Ioffe Institute in St Petersburg, and Bell Labs in the United States.

It also hired an IT industry veteran, Jean-Claude Charlier, to manage the company, which was founded by Kapon in 2001.

Cheaper technology

The main argument for using a VCSEL is cost. They are expected to be cheaper because of savings all along the manufacturing chain, from fabrication and packaging, to alignment and testing.

“They can be easily integrated with other optical functions,” added Jean-Claude Charlier.

BeamExpress faces the risks of being an industry pioneer though.

The cost argument is valid only if the vendor of VCSELs can find enough customers for volume manufacturing. Furthermore, a manufacturing process still has to be developed for handling the tricky wafer-bonding step.

Charlier says that the company has solved that issue. A proprietary wafer-fusion process enables layering of the different semiconductor materials for the laser cavity.

BeamExpress is working with Gallium Aluminium Arsenide/Galium Arsenide Bragg reflectors, as well as other materials. This combination enables the manufacturing of a high power VCSEL with good resistance to heat build-up, according to Charlier.

The company received an acknowledgement of its progress this month with a second round of venture capital of €6.4 million (SFr9.94 million) from Atila Ventures and Index Ventures. Index Ventures had been the sole investor for the first round.

The strategy for independent VCSEL vendors, such as BeamExpress, is to be the second source of components for major equipment suppliers. It is hoping to earn revenues by 2004 and break even by 2005 if all goes well.

by Valerie Thompson


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