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Optoelectronics is the science that deals with designing devices that can detect or emit light in any part of the spectrum. It is used in a variety of different fields lik communication, warfare and consumer applications. Though the market for optical sector is huge in India, there are not enough firmsto cater to the whole of it.

Bijoy Krishna Das, associate professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, informs, “In developed countries, optical technologies are widely used for system development in the areas of communications, distributed sensing, biomedical applications, industrial manufacturing, display and lighting, defence environ-ments, etc. Because of its huge population and recent economic growth, India has also a gigantic consumer market for those optical components and systems.”

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“Slowly but steadily, India has started implementing the ambitious fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) project and RF photonics in defence applications,” Das adds.

In FTTH, the broadband network architecture utilises optical fbre by replacing all the metallic cables up to the outside wall of a home.

Of late, the government of India has recognised the potential of optical communication in general and its suitability for broadband Internet services in particular.

“The government is also encouraging photovoltaic as an alternative for generating energy. Biomedical optics including microscopy, endoscopy and skin treatment is another major application area of optoelectronics. Optical computing and new material for sensors and devices are the other major areas where optoelectronics will findextensive usage,” says Prof. Naresh Grover, director, Faculty of Engineering, Manav Rachna International University.

Therefore India, with a large population and vast geographical area, has a massive potential for growth in this sector.

According to Pankaj Mittal, director, ARCHELONS, the optical industry in India is currently enjoying a healthy boom. He reasons, “Increasing westernisation in the last decade or so, coupled with the availability of products matching international standards, and spurred by cable television and social media, has made the optical sector thrive in all its glory. Owing to the growing consumer awareness, and the proportional growing income levels, the Indian consumers’ demand for high-quality premium products has seen a dramatic rise like never before.”

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“Clever marketing strategies assure that the products are now increasingly noticeable. Huge demands in the communication and display sectors have spearheaded the growth in the optical industry,” Mittal adds.

Scope
“There are a few companies that exist in India but they are mostly engaged in assembling the optical systems and electronics. They hardly generate any employment opportunities,” explains Das.

However, he believes, “Semiconductor giants like Intel and IBM have design houses that offer reasonable job opportunities for optics and optoelectronics engineers. KLA Tencor also offers jobs for optical engineers.”

Apart from these, there are many small-scale companies that absorb a major chunk of optics experts across the country.

Prof. Grover says, “At present, the opportunities are limited but in the coming years, there will be an ample scope for jobs in this sector due to growth in the communication sector, healthcare industry, and new materials for sensors and devices needed in the defence sector.”

Mittal believes that India has good scope for people trained in optical communication. He says “The optical communication industry is well positioned for growth in the days to come, despite near-term uncertainty in the market—a phenomenon that keeps industry pandits on their toes. However, employees have nothing to fear, for growing competence levels ensure that there are plenty of opportunities for aspirants. There are very good opportunities in optical fibre cable ducting, fibreblowing, splicing and other related activities. Also, there are increased opportunities in optical distribution network surveying and designing.”

Qualification
“Unfortunately, no Indian university/institute produces undergraduate-level optics and optoelectronics engineers! Therefore one needs to earn a post-graduate-level degree with specialisation in this subject,” informs Das.

Currently, Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT Madras has an M.Tech programme in photonics. IIT Delhi offers M.Tech in applied optics within the curriculum of Physics Department. IIT Kharagpur too has an M.Tech programme in the area of fibr and integrated optics.

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“Besides, there are M.Tech programmes in Kolkata University and Kochin University of Science and Technology. Sensing the future prospects, many private engineering colleges have recently started degree programmes in optoelectronics,” adds Das.

A BE or B.Tech. in electronics and communication engineering with optical communication as a core subject, M.Sc physics with optoelectronics or M.Sc in nanotechnology is important to kickstart a career in this industry.

Mittal says, “For fieldengineering in optical communication, the aspirant must be a degree/diploma holder in electronics. Any exposure to optical communication will be an added advantage.”

 

Companies to look out for
• OSI Optoelectronics, Hyderabad
• Optoelectronics Factory, Dehradun
• Opto Electronics Pvt Ltd, Bengaluru
• SFO Technologies, Cochin
• Satellite Optical Technologies Ltd, Pune
• Tejas Networks India Ltd, Bengaluru
• Opto Circuits (India) Ltd, Bengaluru
• Kwality Photonics Pvt Ltd, Hyderabad

Talking about designing, he says, “For optical distribution network design, you must have a degree along with experience in optical communication. In-depth knowledge of product development life-cycle management from concept through to production is not an absolute necessity. However, sound knowledge and background in design and development process are desirable.”

Pay package
“Recently, I came across an article stating that the global optical communication industry maintained stable growth in 2011, and the total demand rose by almost as much as 15 per cent year-on-year in 2011,” says Mittal.

He continues, “The demand remained strong in 2012, with the growth rate of nearly 6 per cent. The trend indicates a promising future for the industry—a positive sign for those aspiring to make a career in the same. Freshers would be taking up roles in the fieldfor optical ducting, splicing, etc in the beginning years, gradually taking up complex and better paying roles according to their skill and level of understanding in the field.”

The pay package varies according to the role of an employee, roughly ranging from Rs 250,000 to Rs 400,000 for a fresher in optical communication.

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Skills required
Optical communication industry thrives on skills and experience of the employees.

Mittal says, “While most insiders claim that most of the skills are acquired in the field,a bare minimum of skills and knowledge of the job is a must for aspirants. Quite often, the requisite amount of skill comes during initial training while pursuing a degree/diploma course. Basic knowledge of optical communication is desirable but not always compulsory.”

Talking about skills, Grover says, “Knowledge of communication engineering and semiconductor technology fundamentals, protocols/standards for optical networks, and higher-level languages (C++ and Java) is important.”

Short-term courses
Mittal says, “There are no visible parameters of skills that one requires to make a career in the optical communication industry. However, there are short-term courses in optical ducting and splicing, which are an added advantage, of course, but again not compulsory. Otherwise, one can learn these during the initial training.”

Grover adds, “A short-term course in planning, designing and testing of optical communication links and networks would be great.”

In the future
“The optical industry is huge, largely dominated by display devices like LEDs and LCDs. But as the manufacturing base for these devices is very limited in India, there is limited scope for engineers in optical display manufacturing,” says Mittal.

He adds, “A near-stagnant market has converted into one of the fastest growing industries, thanks to greater attention to quality and strong advertising campaigns.”

Nevertheless, in global terms, the industry in India remains underdeveloped even today. “The high duty tariff on products is acting as a serious deterrent for major business players, encouraging unorganised sector (grey market) growth,” says Mittal.

To promote optoelectronics sector as a career option, “Conducting awareness programmes on the importance of optoelectronics sector at university/industry level and collaboration of optical society of India and industry/university/R&D centres are some of the desirable initiatives,” says Grover.


The author is a tech correspondent at EFY Bengaluru

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