Dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) technology offers tremendous transmission capacity in optical fiber communications. However,switching and routing capacity lags behind the transmission capacity, since most of today's packet switches and routers are implemented using slower electronic components. Optical packet switches are one of the potential candidates to improve switching capacity to be comparable with optical transmission capacity. In this paper, we present an optically transparent asynchronous transfer mode (OPATM) switch that consists of a photonic front-end processor and a WDM switching fabric. A WDM loop memory is deployed as a multiported shared memory in the switching fabric. The photonic front-end processor performs the cell delineation,VPI/VCI overwriting, and cell synchronization functions in the optical domain under the control of electronic signals. The WDM switching fabric stores and forwards cells from each input port to one or more specific output ports determined by the electronic route controller. We have demonstrated with experiments the functions and capabilities of the front-end processor and the switching fabric at the header-processing rate of 2.5 Gb/s. Other than ATM, the switching architecture can be easily modified to apply to other types of fixed-length payload formats with different bit rates. Using this kind of photonic switch to route information, an optical network has the advantages of bit rate, wavelength,and signal-format transparencies. Within the transparency distance, the network is capable of handling a widely heterogeneous mix of traffic, including even analog signals.
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