Finisar merger means greater role for Champaign office

ECE News

Lauren Eichmann, ECE Illinois

Story Highlights

  • Intersymbol Communications, Inc., the Champaign-based start-up that specializes in integrated circuits for the optical communications industry was acquired by Finisar Corporation.
  • The acquisition makes the company the technology leader for fiber optic components and employs more than 4,000 engineers globally.
  • Intersymbol was co-founded by ECE Profs Singer and Shanbhag in 2000.
Andrew Singer
Andrew Singer

ECE Associate Professor Andrew Singer and ECE Professor Naresh R Shanbhag co-founded Intersymbol Communications, Inc., in 2000. The Champaign-based start-up that specializes in integrated circuits (IC) for the optical communications industry was acquired by Finisar Corporation in 2007. Now, as the technology leader for fiber optic components that employs more than 4,000 engineers globally, Finisar has agreed to an all-stock merger with a leading designer and manufacturer of high-performance optical subsystems, Optium Corporation.

Such a move will make the company the world’s largest supplier of optical components modules and subsystems for the communications industry. Finisar’s “leadership position in the storage and data networking industries” will balance Optium’s “leadership position in the telecommunications and CATV industries,” according to a press release.

“I think the merger is very exciting for all of us,” said Shanbhag. “The Optium product-line will benefit from the type of advanced technology the Champaign center of Finisar is working on — building DSP-enhanced mixed-signal integrated circuits. So, it’s a natural fit for our technology. It also means that we will be looked upon to bring about the next generation of products using our technology.”

Naresh R. Shanbhag
Naresh R. Shanbhag

Shanbhag and Singer, who also serves as director of the Technology Entrepreneur Center within the College of Engineering, both currently work with the Finisar Champaign branch. As senior scientists, they bring leadership and long-term technology strategic direction to the enterprise. Three ECE Illinois graduates are currently working full-time at Finisar in Champaign, and many have played a critical role in technology development during the formative years of Intersymbol.

"Finisar was a market leader in optical subsystems for short-reach optical data-com links and was looking to expand into longer reach telecom markets," said Singer.  "What we created at Intersymbol was just the kind of advanced technology that would enable Finisar to move into these parallel markets, together with a team that could substantively add to their signal processing and circuit design capabilities."

If you combine both companies — Finisar and Optium — the group that has the most experience in designing sophisticated DSP-enhanced integrated circuits is the Champaign Illinois group, added Shanbhag. “So we have a pretty unique position in this large entity and we’re poised to play a critical role in the future evolution of the company.”

He said the merger of the two companies is sure to be very formidable. “It is going to be a one-stop shop for any company that wants to build optical communications equipment and networks,” he said. “Companies like Cisco will now look at this powerhouse and say if you want to build anything today, that this is the place to go.”

It is estimated to take approximately three to six months to finalize the merger process.

About Intersymbol Communications

As a fabless semiconductor start-up, the company brought the first dispersion-compensating chip set for long-haul communications to the IC industry. Shanbhag and Singer were two of several individuals recently honored by the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society (SSCS), the premier society for ICs, for their work that earned them a Best Paper Award: “MLSE Receiver for Electronic Dispersion Compensation of OC-192 Fiber Links.” The paper describes the research and development at Intersymbol Communications, which helped to pave the way for new IC applications.

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