Plessey Co Plc is stepping up its research and development efforts in the field of optical switching with a view to manufacturing products in volume within the next 18 months. The company already supplies optical switches but devices are customised on a one-to-one basis and thus beyond the pockets of many prospective customers. Plessey is experiencing difficulties in determining market demand and so is hedging its bets on the specification to be manufactured. But Dr Ian Bennion, research chief for optoelectronic wavelengths at Plessey said he envisaged the first product to be available commercially would be a prototype device for backing up elements of a network in the event of failure. Such a product would effect short-term penetration for optical switching said Bennion but he added that long-term, the technology would play an important role in the Race programme, a pan-European drive to build a broadband network across the continent. Optical switching also offers attractive opportunities for switching in satellite communications: it works by redirecting optical signals without reconversion to electrons, avoiding restrictions on speed or protocols. Plessey shares jump – page 5.