Two days in Bordeaux at an investment conference duly produced two published pieces, one on the current state of biophotonics markets and one doing a similar thing for cleantech.
A capricious mix of optimism and nervous glancing at overhead thunderclouds has become the new standard in both sectors. Folks connected with LED lighting predict a revolutionary couple of years ahead, while delegates from the solar sector mostly looked like a revolution had just run them over with a steamroller. The future course for biomedical optics looks certain; an aging population in need of ophthalmic surgery will help take care of that, especially once the high-volume consumable items associated with the procedures are properly incorporated into the value chain. But the circumstantial evidence suggests that for now no one involved is actually making much money.
Not shown: a graph predicting that by the end of 2015 there will be two working IP devices for every person on the planet, all down to video streaming, machine to machine traffic, and device to device communication. Also not shown: the other graph indicating that the current capacity of data networks is nowhere close to handling that kind of avalanche effectively.
“The carrier’s business model is broken,” said Ian Jenks, whose company Intune Networks is in the network virtualization business and whose presentation could have come with a klaxon, if the message wasn’t becoming familiar from other quarters too. “By the end of 2013, the cost of transmitting one bit of data will be greater than the revenues received for doing so.” In this case the cloud brings not just a silver lining but the route to salvation.
A while ago I asked a market analyst if he could identify the magic ingredient that changed camera phones from a niche technology into ubiquitous consumables, assuming he’d say it happened when engineers worked out how to get enough megapixels into the things to make the photographs actually worth looking at.
His answer was Facebook. That and consumer willingness to embrace data plans that let people successfully send pictures without going bankrupt or expiring from boredom while they were about it.
This fact came up while researching an article on camera phone optics for The Optical Society. Another nugget was that one of the foremost developers of a particular technology that seemed tailor-made to suit the camera phone sector, a company I’ve been writing about in one way or another for years, had withdrawn from the fray while I wasn’t looking, brought low by a licensing strategy that looked like exactly the right idea on paper.
Point being: becoming ubiquitous is a bruising business. But it certainly pushes technology forwards.
My feature about some of the optics technology built into camera phones is the cover story of the February issue of the OSA’s Optics and Photonics News, and is also currently an open-access article on their web site.
Three months ago the US laser sector was pondering the need to stock up on canned food and shotguns, but the sky remains un-fallen for the only reason that matters: on the whole demand has failed to collapse.
There’s a large pile of caveats. Concentrating on the year-on-year figures helps avoid the headache that reading the sequential numbers causes; heavy industry is still more inclined to put money on the table than the technology sector; exporters will fret that the Eurozone and US economies are heading in different directions again, although probably not as much as Europeans will. But most vendors are still optimistic, the latest stage of the ride that’s as unrelenting for them as it is for the analysts asking about it.
So I asked an analyst about it. The latest of my regular chats with Mark Douglass of Longbow Research about what’s going on is now posted online at Optics.org.
So the unalloyed good news didn’t stay pure for long. In April the US optics and laser sector was not only happy to find itself recovering, but daring to use words like “optimistic” and “robust.” Since then: complete mayhem.
I spoke to Mark Douglass of Longbow Research for Optics.org, and discussed why the clouds were gathering in July even before the storm broke in August. This time it includes words like “clear as mud.”