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Therese Poletti’s Tech Tales: A dormant tech sector is suddenly surging like it’s 1999

If “The Graduate” had been set in the late 1990s, Dustin Hoffman’s young protagonist might have heard these two words of advice: fiber optics.

Major leaps forward in the development of fiber optics was a core underpinning of the growth of the internet and helped fuel the optical-networking sector to explode—and then implode—at the turn of the 21st century. Like most component and semiconductor markets, this sector is extremely cyclical—as soon as the first big internet build-out pushed optical-networking companies to outlandish valuations, the cycle ended and they came crashing down amid the massive telecommunications bust.

The timing of the current cycle is the big question for investors who are now benefiting from another boom in optical networking, thanks to internet growth in China, new cloud-focused data center infrastructure and big trans-ocean fiber optic cable projects like the one announced in May in development under the Atlantic Ocean by Microsoft Corp.

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