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DenseLight: All Eyes On China


DenseLight is set to take InP lasers to datacoms and sensor markets in China and further, reports Rebecca Pool.

In November 2019, Canada-based optical engine developer, POET Technologies, divested DenseLight Semiconductors, Singapore, to a newly-formed consortium of investors and manufacturers from China, for $26 million.

The move comes three years after POET acquired the InP integrated photonics designer and manufacturer. And as DenseLight president and chief executive, Rajan Rajgopal, tells Compound Semiconductor, the timing was just right.

“When POET acquired DenseLight in May 2016, we were not in such a good financial position but three years later we are transformed, have recorded healthy year-on-year revenue growth from 2017, 2018 and will continue that in 2019,” he says.

“POET had wanted a fab to develop components for transceiver modules so in the last three years, our primary aim has been to develop both POET's and our own products,” he adds. “We've now been in a position to be sold off for good value and this fits in with POET's strategy to become a fabless photonics business.”

Indeed, DenseLight's shareholders, DL Shanghai, comprise China-based investors as well as Chinese industry players including compound semiconductor device manufacturer, Dynax Semiconductor and an unnamed high power GaAs laser manufacturer.

“Today, China is the second largest photonics market in the world with the US leading,” points out Rajgopal. “But I think China will surpass the US in the next two to three years, and that's why we want to position ourselves to take advantage of this growth.”

Market focus

Since joining the company in January 2017, Rajgopal has increased DenseLight's Singapore workforce from 40 to 100 employees, and enhanced operations. As Rajgopal puts it: “When I joined the company, I focused on getting the right people into the business, getting the supply chain in place and developing new products.”

At the same time, DenseLight's market focus has shifted. While the company initially developed lasers, laser modules, super-luminescent LEDs and diodes for photonic sensing markets, Rajgopal has also been targeting datacoms markets in the last three years in a bid to quickly grow company revenues.

“The sensing market offers a slow and steady 10 to 15% compound annual growth in terms of revenue, but we also wanted the fast-paced growth of the datacoms space,” he says. “So we've developed lasers for datacoms markets as well, and these are either already in the market or being sampled by customers.”

So far, this strategy looks to be paying off. The company recorded year-on-year revenue growth of 29% and 39% in 2017 and 2018, and Rajgopal expects to stretch this figure to at least 41% in 2019. “We are also working with two of the largest networking players in the world,” he says. “When a small company like us engages with these players, I think that says a lot.”

Excitingly, the company also has ambitious expansion plans, starting with its Singapore facility. According to the DenseLight Chief executive, the company recently bought a Aixtron G4 MOCVD reactor, adding to its existing Aixtron 200 instrument. “We can now run more than 400 wafers a month, whereas before the G4 that figure was more like 30 wafers,” says Rajgopal.

At the same time, the company has also been growing DFB laser manufacturing in Singapore, buying, for example, new coating tools as well as investing in its assembly and test facilities. The company will continue to invest in the assembly and test capacity in Singapore in 2020, and come 2021 will expand into China.

Here, DenseLight intends to construct an assembly and testing facility, followed by a high-volume wafer fab, to capture anticipated growth in both datacoms and sensing markets in this region.

According to Rajgopal high volume DFB laser manufacturing - for both sensing and datacoms markets - will take place here. But as he also highlights: “We will put in back-end capacity here as well... we need to increase die output from 300,000 to 5 million to 15 million a year - that's the kind of volumes we are expecting.”

So beyond 2021, what can we expect from DenseLight? As Rajgopal hints, a future GaAs revenue stream could be on the horizon.

When asked why an unnamed GaAs laser manufacturer is manufacturing in the company, he replies: “We have worked on a GaAs edge emitting laser for a super-luminescent LED product and while we don't have a product today, we have the capability for potential future development.”

But for now, all eyes are on developing the company's InP presence in China, where Rajgopal anticipates continued growth across both datacoms and sensing markets. “Datacoms is big in the US and China as every fibre-optic cable needs an InP laser, but while sensing markets are stable in the US, I this see business picking up in China,” he says. “So many new industrial robots are being deployed in factories in China and these all need fibre-optic sensors with a super-luminescent LED as the light source.”

“So that's why we are positioning ourselves with a fab and back-end facility in China,” he adds. “There are few indium phosphide-based companies that grow their own epi-wafers, manufacture and test the wafers - I think this places us in a unique position to gain market share all over the world.”

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