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Polymers to be used to build next big thing in networks

In the high-stakes race to build a faster and more reliable telecommunications network, Lumera Corp. of Bothell believes it has found the holy grail: polymers. Some big-name investors seem to agree. Lumera -- formed in October through a partnership between the University of Washington and Microvision -- yesterday raised $24 million in a first round of capital financing led by Cisco Systems. Unlike many of its competitors, Lumera is developing optical equipment that uses organic polymers or plastics to help send data over telecommunications networks at more than twice the speeds currently available. In addition to higher speeds, Lumera's polymer approach uses far less power than products currently made by Lucent, JDS Uniphase and other makers of optical components that rely on crystals, executives say.

"One of the challenges you have with crystalline materials is that they are brittle so they are much more challenging to work with than plastics are," said Rick Rutkowski, chief executive of Microvision and acting president of Lumera. "Polymers give us two things: One is ... a performance advantage with respect to being able to achieve high data rates at low voltages, and the second is they give us a cost advantage because they are easier to process and we can get a higher yield."

He said the Lumera device will be able to move data at 40 gigabits per second whereas devices currently being used operate at 2.5 gigabits or 10 gigabits. Lumera plans to unveil its prototype device -- known as an electro-optic modulator switch -- early this summer with full commercialization slated for next year.

Potential customers include such networking companies as Cisco, Nortel Networks and Corning.

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