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Rockwell Starts 3-Year Fiber-Optic Project


If researchers at Rockwell International Corp.'s Science Center in Thousand Oaks have their say, the traffic on the information superhighway will be traveling at a far greater speed in the not-so-distant future.

Rockwell is part of a six-member consortium of corporate, university and research organizations that earlier this month was granted $3.4 million by the U.S. Department of Defense to expand high-speed fiber-optic communications for military and commercial purposes. The project is part of an overall three-year, $6-million study. The other members of the research group are the Alhambra-based Ortel Corp., UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, the Caltech/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and UC San Diego.

The consortium will look to enhance the capability of a technology known as Wavelength Division Multiplexing, which would increase the amount of information that can be sent by light waves. With WDM technology, each fiber in a fiber-optic system would carry multiple channels of information.

The process would incorporate the high-speed gallium transistors produced by Rockwell's Microelectronics Technology Center in Newbury Park.

"The backbone of high-speed communication systems could go substantially faster than it is now," said Jon Rode, director of Rockwell's Electronic Devices Laboratory. "Speed of communication is measured by how many bits per second can be sent back and forth. Currently 2 1/2 [billion] bits per second is state of the art. What we'll be looking at is 40 [billion] bits per second."

Rode said the increased telecommunications speed would allow the military to transmit large amounts of information, particularly video, much more quickly than it can now.

"The military has ever more sophisticated imaging, radar and other ways of collecting information to be presented to those in command," he said. "High-speed communication is important in any kind of assessment situation, whether you're trying to find out what's happening in a certain region, or if you are on the battlefield."

Rockwell Corp., which has headquarters in Seal Beach, has annual worldwide sales of more than $12 billion.

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