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    Forget about the labels

    November 3, 2014 3:04 PM by Ward Williams, ProLabs

    In the luxury and fashion world, we could argue that brand names and labels are important. But in our world, the optical network world, donning a brand-named fiber-optic component is not mission critical. Purchasing behavior is—as it should be—based on quality, price, and service.

    A ProLabs survey, which was conducted at this year’s European Conference on Optical Communications (ECOC) in France with more than 120 respondents, found that quality, price, and service were ranked as the top three most important factors when purchasing fiber-optic components.

    In fact, more than half of the fiber-optic communication professionals surveyed ranked quality alone as their number one priority. Overall, 98% of the respondents included quality in their top three, 89% of respondents included price, and 53% included service as their top three priorities when purchasing fiber-optic components. What’s more, only 14% of respondents even considered brand names to be a top-three priority or even a concern.

    This notion of placing quality over brand names is a result of the current market. Many in the industry are faced with greater competition increasingly eating into their margins. More than 61% of the survey respondents placed this concern as the primary factor keeping them awake at night since this is a major challenge to keep their businesses running.

    The significant change in attitude from industry professionals is changing the market landscape. First, service providers and data center operators are more discerning and not scared of giving alternative suppliers a chance if the price and compatibility is right. For these companies, many of which were represented at ECOC, reputation must be earned through a deep-rooted commitment to product quality, a flawless infrastructure and customer support, as well as a relentless approach to continuous improvement.

    Second, the market welcomes more players, granted they are able to deliver reliable products at a competitive price. In the end, the market will become more transparent, open, and dynamic—characteristics that will help reduce costs and drive wider adoption of optics as interconnect technology. With lower costs, new markets will emerge and the whole industry will reap the benefits. For example, Facebook's Open Compute Project (OCP) has emerged and disrupted the data center market, which is maximizing innovation by encouraging the sharing of ideas. With OCP, we’re given the power of choice with more options available and not stuck with purchasing from traditional legacy manufacturers.

    This attitude change has revealed a trend we have been seeing in recent years where the optical products market is maturing and customers are increasingly open minded about where they source their parts from. Buyers are becoming increasingly pragmatic and are choosing real high quality over a label.

    Luckily for all, the time for overpriced devices is coming to an end. As customers become increasingly confident and better informed, they are more and more willing to make savvy choices.

    Ward Williams is chief commercial officer at ProLabs, an independent provider of global optical network infrastructure products. Ward was previously vice president of global sales and marketing for the datacom business unit of TE Connectivity. Ward’s key responsibilities include managing ProLabs' U.S. business, including key customer relationships.

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