Optical Pioneers

Inneos began as a start-up called Blaze Network Products in 1998. Blaze invented a technology (CWDM) that deployed multiple wavelengths of light on a single fiber strand to increase the speed and distance of fiber optic solutions.

The concept of multichannel optics was not new, but it was prohibitively expensive for commercial or consumer use. Blaze’s approach significantly lowered the cost by spacing channels farther apart. Blaze secured several early patents on CWDM optical subassemblies, as well as the manufacturing processes associated with CWDM.

Today CWDM is widely used in both telecom and datacom to expand the bandwidth and increase the distance these solutions can carry over fiber.

Won Technology Battle, But Lost the Standards War

In 2000, Blaze introduced its CWDM product to the IEEE 10Gibabit Ethernet standard group and quickly gained support as the only solution that could meet two of the committee’s five stated objectives: Support link distances of 1) At least 300m over new MMF, and 2) At least 65m over new MMF.

As sometimes happens, market competition overflowed into the industry standards body itself. While Blaze’s SX4 was the lowest cost 10G technology available in the market for distances up to 300m, the larger telecom and datacom players had already invested in more expensive solutions and feared displacement.

In late 2000, after months of debate and validation work on CWDM and 4 other proposed ideas, the large companies staged an uncharacteristic, last-minute move to change the distance objectives to better align with their more-expensive solutions. Blaze’s lower cost, lower wavelength SX4 solution had effectively been “boxed out” of the 10G datacom market by the standards committee.

For Blaze, this was a serious blow to its business. Unable to compete with a now “non-standard” solution, the company nearly went out of business. Blaze downsized from roughly 110 people to only a handful and began searching for new markets to sustain itself.

High-Definition Video

Blaze created a new opportunity within the emerging market for high-definition (HD) video. While copper cabling was sufficient for most video applications, it struggled to move 1080p signals over longer distances. For example, getting an HD signal from a camera at an NFL game to the production van 300 yards away was something that required a fiber optic solution. In addition, other applications such as medical imaging, preferred the space and weight savings as well as the EMI immunity of fiber optics.

By focusing on the video niche, Blaze rebuilt itself as a leader in the video-over-fiber market until 2006, when it was acquired by Omron, a large Japanese industrial conglomerate.

Developing A Quality Mindset

The newly acquired company grew rapidly and began to morph from a startup to a mature operation, including a radical increase of its focus on quality.

After an early quality excursion, the company was forced to examine every process, from design to sourcing to production, in order to meet the stringent quality standards of its new parent. In addition to improving its quality focus, the company also expanded into adjacent niche markets, such as industrial and military applications, where optical video had specific advantages over copper.

Then in 2013, the management team made a successful offer to buy back the company from Omron, and Inneos was born. The name Inneos comes from contracting the words “Innovation” and “Eos”, the Greek goddess of the dawn.

The Dawn of the Videocom Era

In 2014, the initial transition to 4K (aka ultra HD or UHD) video began to take shape. At first, there were concerns that 4K might go the way of “3D TV,” but these concerns were soon set aside as 4K TVs rapidly became the majority of large-format TVs sold and 4K content became available via streaming services such as Netflix™ and through self-published 4K video on YouTube™.

While still early, the transition from 1080p to 4K is happening much faster than the transition from standard to 1080p TV, and the bandwidth over distances challenges are much more significant. Beyond higher resolution, 4K video encompasses HDR (high dynamic range), which requires greater color depth to create the dazzling visual experience of “real” 4K video. With HD video, the bandwidth needed for each pixel color was 4.2Gbps. With 4K video, this increases to 18Gbps, and with 8K video (coming in 2018), the bandwidth requirement will increase to 96Gbps.

Video now stands at the same inflection point faced by Telecom and Datacom 15 years ago. A new market for optics is forming. This is the beginning of the Videocom Era.

The New Inneos: Vertically Integrated and US-Based

To be competitive, optical communications companies need a secure source of lasers, especially CWDM companies that require multiple wavelengths of specialized VCSEL lasers. In 2017, Inneos merged with Zephyr Photonics, a US-based research and development company that specialized in highly robust VCSEL lasers and active optical cables (AOC) for military, aeronautical, and space applications.

Zephyr Photonics maintained a low profile for over two decades doing business primarily with the US government and aerospace contractors. Zephyr VCSELs were developed to operate at the extreme temperatures faced in space or in practical use by the military, and are considered by many to be the most reliable in the industry. Zephyr Photonics also developed ruggedization and radiation-hardening technologies used to create space-grade active optical cables (AOCs).

Combining the best of both companies, the new Inneos is a wholly US-based, vertically integrated maker of high-speed optical communications products targeting both Videocom and Datacom. The company has deep technical expertise in CWDM optics, robust VCSELs, video transmission, as well as high government security and quality certifications. In addition, Inneos has a highly automated optical manufacturing operation, which allows us to be cost-competitive with overseas suppliers while manufacturing entirely in the United States.