Israel lights the way with fiber optics

Both iamba and Flexlight are leading the way in optical technology in the U.S. by making advanced equipment for the Fiber-To-The-Premises market, known as FTTp.In the not-too-distant future on some Super Bowl Sunday, tens of millions of Americans will sit …

Both iamba and Flexlight are leading the way in optical technology in the U.S. by making advanced equipment for the Fiber-To-The-Premises market, known as FTTp.In the not-too-distant future on some Super Bowl Sunday, tens of millions of Americans will sit down to watch the game, chat about it over the phone and download clips over the Internet – all from a single optic fiber. And mixed in with all that colored light will be more than a little Blue and White.

‘Let There Be Light’ may have been the first invention in the Universe, but it’s taken us mere mortals quite a long time to duplicate that feat. With those biblical origins, it’s only fitting that Israeli companies are at the forefront of world optical research and technology, finding new and innovative uses for light that are affecting every facet of life.

The future lies in a technology known as BPON, or Broadband Passive Optical Networking, that can operate at a speed of up to 622 MBits/second, with an option to 1.25 GBit/s. And here is where two Israeli companies – iamba and Flexlight – are lighting the way for greater use of optical technology in the U.S. and other markets. Both are makers of advanced equipment for the Fiber-To-The-Premises market, known as FTTp.


Think of the first network you ever set up on your own: all it required was two tin cans and a piece of string tied between them to create your own telecommunications system. Granted, the phone and cable companies are a bit more sophisticated than that but the principle remained the same: sending a sound wave (and later an electrical wave), which is an analog signal, down a medium such as copper wire.

In the past couple of decades technology has turned the analog signal into a digital one and sent it along that same copper wire at greater speeds and capacities. But most recently researchers have been turning the digital ones and zeros into pulses of colored light and sending them much faster – close to the speed of light – along glass wires, known as optical fiber.

All this is great, but the expense involved kept it limited to using the technology for Metropolitan Area Networks; when the telecom companies wanted to attach fiber to homes and offices they came upon a figurative brick wall: all that existing copper wiring could only handle one-seventieth the speed of the trunk lines, even with advanced technology such as ADSL. Think of it as hurtling down the Autobahn only to immediately exit to a dirt road. With potholes. In your Austin Mini. The old one.


That’s where BPON – and other innovations – comes in, and why Israel is playing such a major role. iamba’s Optical Network Termination Unit (ONT) is installed in the subscriber’s premises, one end connected to a single fiber link (that can support 32 simultaneous users), and the multitude of signals separated and provisioned for high-speed Internet, telephony, video, and other high-capacity services.

Instead of downstream speeds of 1.5Mbits/second such as current xDSL technology is capable of delivering; the ONT can deliver to each of its 32 users an average of 20MBit/s, and even more with fewer users. That’s enough capacity to seamlessly receive CD-quality audio, high-definition video, and secure Internet service with room to spare.

iamba, located in Ra’anana, is focusing on high-end users such as businesses and large residential buildings. Founded in 2000, the company of 25 – mostly engineers and business development people from such Israeli telecom luminaries as ECI, Orckitt, Motorola, and Chromatis – is pinning its hopes on its own modesty.

“Israeli companies must focus on technology and not commodity. We work with other vendors to help them complete their end-to-end solutions, and work with them as a channel, not as competition,” founder and CEO Guy Benhaim told ISRAEL21c.

iamba is making good on its word, recently participating in a combined Verizon/Bell South Request For Proposal. While the penetration of FTTp is currently in its initial stages, telecom companies, according to Benhaim, “can complete the work from street cabinet to subscriber in a matter of months.”

iamba feels that its product can help give its customers, the telecom companies or ‘wire-line operators’, an advantage over their competition.

“The transition from copper to fiber is part of the evolution of telecom, but our self-owned BPON technology is revolutionary without being disruptive from the end-user’s point of view,” Benhaim said.

iamba is positioning itself to be a leading supplier in a $500 million market, a market that could quintuple to $2.5 billion worldwide in the next 3 years.

Flexlight, also founded in 2000 with headquarters in Atlanta, GA and R&D facilities just outside Tel Aviv in Kfar Saba, has taken a different approach to the same market. The core group of founders, who had been working together at ECI Telecom, set out to create a cost-effective optical access solution for business and residential subscribers and in doing so created their own PON flavor, GPON (G for Gigabit).

Flexlight’s founder and CTO, Oren Marmur, feels that increased bandwidth will spur new applications that in turn will require still more bandwidth, acting “as a closed-loop that enhances itself. Prime residential customers want high-bandwidth browsing, and the operators want to introduce digital video in order to compete with cable. Businesses need these applications as well, but GPON technology can give them remote storage, VPN and other business applications at the bottom line of lower cost, more services and higher bandwidth.”

In addition to Flexlight’s industrial-strength ONTs telecom providers will have complementary Optical Line Terminals (OLT) that can pump out enough bits to fill your 20GB iPod in about a minute.

Marmur, who spent his early years in the United States, is enthusiastic about Israel’s edge. “Israeli companies have taken leadership positions in standards and implementation. We created our products with the technology and engineering talent and efficiency of just 30 engineers, not too many other places in the world could provide that. Selling to Europe and Asia, where they are doing a lot of infrastructure work, is also easier from here,” he told ISRAEL21c.

Marmur is also a realist. While Flexlight is “the first company to market with a complete GPON system, (we are) are aware that as a small company we need a large partner.”