Top 5 Test Equipment Vendors

Jan. 1, 2004

Top 5 Test Equipment Vendors

  • Agilent Technologies
  • EXFO
  • NetTest
  • Ixia
  • Spirent Communications

Because optical test equipment vendors must remain a few steps ahead of the industry in terms of technology, they continue to invest in R&D even in the face of declining revenues. The following Top 5 test companies proved the most adept at delivering new devices for testing next-generation components, systems, and networks in 2003.

Agilent Technologies remains a market leader in almost all optical test segments, from the lab to the field. Despite a 30% decline in revenue, Agilent continues to enjoy the largest overall market share—not to mention the majority of the "mind-share" of its customers, says Sailaja Tennati, industry analyst with the Test and Measurement Group at Frost & Sullivan.

Agilent remains committed to its R&D efforts, introducing many new products last year. Highlights include what the company claims is the industry's highest-power tunable-laser source (the 819xxA) for testing next-generation optical communications devices; a portable, hot-swappable optical-spectrum-analyzer module for its Modular Network Tester; and the OmniBER XM network-simulator platform for testing multiservice provisioning platforms and multiservice-switch platforms.

Though Agilent is "probably one of the worst affected by aftermarket sales cutting into their new sales," admits Tennati, the company "has a really good way of dealing with it." Agilent last year instituted and aggressively marketed its trade-up program, which enables end users to trade their existing Agilent equipment for a next-generation product. The company has between $50 million and $100 million worth of refurbished equipment in inventory at any given time.

EXFO claims the number two spot on our Top 5 list of test vendors, despite a 9% sales decline in fiscal 2003. While the company is still a dominant player in physical layer testing, the 2001 acquisition of Avantas Networks and 2002 acquisition of Gnubi have brought EXFO "even more exposure in the fiber-optic space," says Tennati. Thanks to Avantas, the company now has key products in the protocol analyzer space, and the Gnubi acquisition has buoyed its presence in the metro test equipment market.

EXFO set out to refocus its business in 2003, targeting the first two segments in the communications supply chain: service providers and system manufacturers. Its portable and monitoring product lines accounted for just one-third of the company's revenue in 2001, but those product lines now account for two-thirds of its total revenue. In fact, sales of its portable and monitoring products are up 3% year-over-year, despite the overall revenue decline.

The company introduced 15 new products last year, including a polarization-mode dispersion analyzer that sweeps through optical amplifiers, a Fibre Channel test module for emerging storage-area-networking applications, and an integrated applications suite that automates test modules within the company's flagship FTB-400 platform.

NetTest experienced new ownership and reorganization in 2003. On New Year's Eve 2002, Danish investment company Axcel acquired all shares of NetTest from GN Great Nordic Group. NetTest's Optical Production and Laboratory Division became an independent entity through a management buyout a few months later.

Since then, the company has focused on what historically has been its two best market segments: network monitoring systems and field instruments for telecommunications networks.

The flagship product of the company's Field Instrument Division is the CMA 5000 multilayer test platform, which won Lightwave's Attendees' Choice Award for Test Equipment at NFOEC last September.

NetTest unveiled several new capabilities for the platform in 2003, including jitter and wander analysis; chromatic and polarization-mode dispersion characterization and measurement; Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) analysis, including a channel statistics capability; Fibre Channel testing for storage applications; tri-wavelength optical-time-domain-reflectometer measurements; and the MetroTest Application, which combines GbE and SONET/SDH testing.

Ixia has been quietly making inroads into the optical test and measurement space, registering steady growth in 2003, even as bigger names in the market struggled. Net revenues for last year's third quarter increased 28.3% on a year-over-year basis to $21.6 million, up from $16.9 million for the third quarter of 2002.

With the introduction of its LM40GBERT, the company has emerged as a potentially big player in the 40-Gbit/sec bit-error-rate (BER) test market. Several customers demonstrated the LM40GBERT in their booths at last March's OFC, including Red Clover Networks, Centellax, Infineon, and New Focus. Ixia also introduced a single-load module to validate X2, XENPAK, XFP, and XPAK transceivers and 10-Gigabit Ethernet (10-GbE) switches and routers. At SuperComm last June, the company launched an XFP-based platform that combines test functions for 10-GbE LANs and WANs, OC-192 packet over SONET, and OC-192 BER tester.

"Ixia has attracted the attention of the other test equipment vendors we talk to in our primary research," says Frost & Sullivan research analyst Jessy Cavazos. "When I ask, 'Who is making inroads in the communications test industry?', they all mention Ixia. Everyone is keeping an eye on Ixia."

Spirent Communications rounds out Lightwave's Top 5 test vendors, thanks to its continued commitment to research and development and its focus on next-generation technologies. The company is a strong force in the areas of Gigabit Ethernet and metro-network testing in particular. "Spirent is always on the cutting edge of technology," reports Tennati. "Its presence in the Gigabit Ethernet market is a big plus for them."

Spirent launched several new product lines in 2003, including the SmartBits TeraMetrics XD Gigabit test family, which enables users to evaluate and test copper- and fiber-based GbE on a single platform. The product has strong customer traction, including Infineon Technologies and the European Advanced Network Test Center, which used the system to conduct what it claims is the world's largest Gigabit Ethernet test to date, emulating 410 enterprise GbE ports and 32 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports. The SmartBits system also has been chosen to evaluate the National Science Foundation's TeraGrid project, a five-site, 40-Gbit/sec optical network for scientific research. ..