Differing approaches mark metro startups

April 1, 2001


The metropolitan-area network remains a magnet for optical-networking startups. Two companies recently made announcements that illustrate the divergent approaches such companies must take to avoid looking like just another box vendor.

Network Photonics (Boulder, CO) plans to approach the market with the all-optical network in mind. The company will combine wavelength tunability with optical switching to speed provisioning and promote network flexibility, according to CEO Steve Georgis. The company announced a strategic partnership with tunable-laser manufacturer Agility Communications (Santa Barbara, CA) that Georgis expects will ensure products such as the Agility 3040 Widely Tunable Laser will dovetail with Network Photonics' product road map.

The Agility 3040 laser provides 4 mW of power across more than 100 channels on the International Tele communication Union wavelength grid via sampled grating distributed Bragg reflector technology. Agility Communications quotes tuning speeds of <10 msec for the laser, which the company expects to make generally available this September.

While Network Photonics has yet to announce its product or discuss its technology in depth, Georgis says the company will take full advantage of the new lasers' tunability. By combining the tunability with optical switching, Network Photonics hopes to accelerate service provisioning times, while supporting flexible ring- or mesh-based architectures. The company will pair the Agility product with its own CrossWave switching technology-details of which it plans to reveal later this year, says Georgis.

With the debut of products some months off, clues to Network Photonics' approach can be found in the article the company co-authored with Agility for last month's issue of Lightwave (March 2001, page 284). In describing what they call "third-generation DWDM architectures," authors Doug Arent of Network Photonics and Arlon Martin of Agility Communications describe a network that comprises interconnected rings and logical meshes optimized by using all-optical wavelength crossconnect switches, dynamically configurable optical add/drop multiplexers, and tunable-laser transponders, all under the control of management software.

The article identifies tunable-filter technology as an important component for such a network. Georgis says that the CrossWave technology can be used to create tunable filters, but that Network Photonics has explored alternatives from other vendors.

The strategic partnership is the first that Network Photonics has entered; it does not contain an exclusivity agreement that would prevent either party from working with other firms. Georgis says he expects Network Photonics will reach agreements with other system houses that provide core- or access-network equipment to which the company's products would be likely to interface.

While Network Photonics will approach the market with a futuristic vision of the all-optical network, WaveSmith Networks (Acton, MA) plans to insinuate its hardware into existing networks and follow their evolution toward more optically based architectures. The company plans to offer its WaveForm Architecture multiservice switching products as second sources to regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs) and other applications currently served by ATM switches with multiservice interfaces.

According to Chad Dunn, director of product management and co-founder of WaveSmith, RBOCs and other metro carriers have a heavy investment in ATM network equipment and continue to buy such systems from vendors like Lucent Technologies, Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks, and Alcatel. However, Dunn claims that the multiservice interfaces that have been developed to enable this equipment to host a variety of ATM-based services, particularly Internet traffic, are straining to meet current and future requirements.

WaveSmith plans to offer its device as support for current ATM-based services that provide a migration path to a more optical, Internet Protocol-friendly network.

Dunn believes that his equipment's Open Call Model will prove a key differentiator. The WaveForm Architecture supports the opening of calls in a variety of formats-from PNNI to Multiprotocol Label Switching to XML-that will be filtered through a proprietary control plane to enable a common switching architecture to accommodate all the traffic running through the box. The WaveForm Architecture will provide scalability to 320 Gbits/sec via a distributed optical backplane and high-speed serial core. The backplane comprises an array of vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers over 12 parallel optical fibers. The efficiency of the architecture enables WaveSmith to provide a system that is half the price of current equipment and requires one-tenth the space, says Dunn.

The company expects to debut the product at this year's SuperComm trade show and conference in June, with beta tests beginning this summer. Dunn reveals that WaveSmith has been in discussions with Verizon, Cignal Global Communications, Genuity, and Comcast. General availability of the system is slated for the first quarter of next year.

As these companies demonstrate, new equipment manufacturers are willing to explore a variety of paths into the metropolitan market. Whether these paths prove deadends or the road to success remains to be seen.

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