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Agilent's Photonic Switch Offers Internet Surfing at the Speed of Light

Aired September 28, 2000 - 2:54 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: In this age of instant everything, isn't it ironic that you can get covered in cobwebs waiting on that high- tech beast, the World Wide Web?

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: That is true. But that's about to change, and as the superhighway police ignore the speed limit.

Here's CNN's Greg Lefevre in Silicon Valley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREG LEFEVRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's called the progress bar, but it's really the wait-o-meter. The latest company to say it can solve the world wide wait: Agilent, offering a simple product with a science-fiction name: the Photonic Switch. It can route and steer Internet messages around the world at the speed of light.

JOHN O'ROURKE, OPTICAL NETWORKING BUSINESS OF AGILENT: No slowdown, no traffic jams, just pure light whipping through the network.

LEFEVRE: The Internet already uses fiber-optic light to send each signal between cities.

(on camera): But at each large city along the way, it's converted into an electrical signal, which slows things down before being reconverted back to fiber-optic light and sent on its way. It may only take a moment, but multiplied time by billions of messages, and you can see it really delays things.

(voice-over): The Agilent switch eliminates that slowdown by keeping the data as light, and the data blast right through, at light speed. Each switch, less than half an inch wide, redirects any of 32 fiber-optic lines instantly, handling more than a million telephone calls at once.

O'ROURKE: It's very much like doing away with all the traffic lights in a highway system and replacing them with high-speed interchanges.

LEFEVRE: Who'll buy it? Major phone companies and Internet service providers. Consumers will never see the switch, but will notice the difference in faster connections and cheaper phone and data charges.

PHIL HARVEY, LIGHTREADING.COM: As networks become more efficient, then we end up, end up being able to do more things with more data at a lower cost.

LEFEVRE: The chip will mass produce cheaply because it is based on the same technology as inkjet printers. Just as the inkjet sends thousands of tiny commands to points on the print head, the photonic switch sends commands to the 1,000 optical intersections on the chip. The first of these Internet traffic cops goes into service this fall, with thousands expected worldwide in the next year. Could the Progress Bar become obsolete?

Greg Lefevre, CNN, Santa Clara, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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