Targeting the market’s hottest technologies

To be successful in the optical test equipment market, vendors must be able to anticipate end users’ needs; last year, that included support for fiber to the premises (FTTP) installations and ever-increasing deployments of data-aware SONET, Gigabit Ethernet (GbE), and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP). Our Top 5 test equipment vendors are those who best anticipated the market needs in 2004.

Agilent Technologies is number one on Lightwave’s Top 5 list for the second consecutive year, thanks to key product introductions and its ub iquity in the optical market. The company reported particularly strong numbers for its test and measurement group in the third quarter of 2004, with orders up 37% to their highest level since early 2001. Revenues also increased 25% over the previous year.

Agilent made its biggest splash of the year at SuperComm last June, where it unveiled what it claims is the industry’s most comprehensive multiservice test solution for converging voice and data networks. Dubbed the N2X, the four-slot chassis combines enhanced versions of Agilent’s Router Tester 900, OmniBERXM, and SAN Tester into an integrated test platform. Also at SuperComm, Agilent announced upgrades to its OmniBER OTN. The next generation SONET/SDH performance analyzer now features generic framing procedure (GFP), virtual concatenation, Ethernet payload, and link capacity adjustment scheme measurement capabilities.

The company played a high-profile role in the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) attempts to standardize a receiver-only test to improve the accuracy and repeatability of testing jitter in 10-Gbit/sec network elements. Agilent developed one of two key appendices, Appendix VII, “Method for Verification of Measurement Result Accuracy,” which describes a process for generating a signal with exactly 100 mUI of jitter amplitude.

EXFO Electro-Optical Engineering retains second place on our list, thanks to four consecutive quarters of sales growth in 2004. Market research firm Frost & Sullivan (Richardson, TX) recently named EXFO the worldwide leader in the optical test installation and maintenance space with an estimated 17% market share.

The company has been particularly successful in the FTTX market, announcing several new products and two tier one network service-provider customers. The first is an exclusive four-year contract covering five EXFO products, including the PPM-350B PON power meter. The second contract, announced in the first quarter of fiscal 2005, accounted for 25% of the company’s total sales that quarter.

EXFO was busy on other fronts as well, debuting a next-generation SONET/SDH analyzer for data-centric IP networks, a VoIP-ready GbE test platform, and an optical spectrum analyzer for CWDM applications in metro and access networks. According to company representatives, sales from new products that have been on the market two years or less accounted for 42.7% of sales in the first quarter of fiscal 2005.

Ixia leveraged its strength in VoIP testing to capture the number three spot on our list this year, up one spot from 2004. According to the company, net revenues for the third quarter of 2004 increased 39% year-over-year and 12% sequentially to $30.1 million, the highest total in the company’s history.

Last year, Ixia launched version 5.1 of IxChariot, which the vendor claims has become the industry standard for enterprise application traffic emulation, with thousands of customers worldwide. The company acquired the Chariot product suite in 2003 from NetIQ and later rebranded it the IxChariot. IxChariot 5.1 leverages a range of existing Ixia hardware test modules to generate VoIP streams emulating tens of thousands of bidirectional calls.

In an attempt to meet carriers’ demand for data-aware SONET networks, Ixia also added GFP testing capabilities to its OC-48c packet over SONET (PoS) interface module. The new feature generates and analyzes wire-speed Ethernet over SONET traffic to verify the performance of transport networking equipment, multiservice provisioning platforms (MSPPs), and edge routers.

Ixia also cites demand for its 10-Gbit/sec products as a driving factor in its record sales growth in the third quarter of 2004. Last March, the company announced its 10-Gbit/sec Universal Load Module now supports the ITU G.709 Optical Transport Network standard with forward error correction.

Acterna was the biggest wild card in the optical test and measurement space going into 2004, having filed for bankruptcy in May 2003. Acterna emerged five months later as a privately held company with a new board of directors and hasn’t looked back. Its strong return to the market has earned Acterna the number four spot on Lightwave’s 2005 list of test equipment vendors.

Like Agilent and EXFO, Acterna has been active on the FTTP front, upgrading its existing T-BERD 8000 and MTS-8000 optical test platforms to target FTTX and CWDM applications. Last August, the company debuted its OFI-2041, a handheld FTTX and CWDM tester that measures full tri-wavelength, bidirectional links in <15 sec. Acterna also launched the next generation of its Smart optical handheld field testers, now calibrated for FTTX/PON, DWDM, CWDM, 40-Gbit/sec, Ethernet, and GbE applications.

The company parlayed its growing presence in the FTTP market into an exclusive contract with one of the largest service providers in the United States, which will employ Acterna’s MTS-5100e handheld optical time-domain reflectometer for FTTX cable maintenance.

Acterna also has been a key player in the ITU’s efforts to standardize a receiver-only jitter test method. The vendor has chosen to design and manufacture a reference transmitter based on Agilent’s Appendix VII method.

Spirent Communications once again rounds out our Top 5, as the company continues to successfully leverage its strength in Ethernet testing and its leadership role in the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF).

Spirent announced several important products in 2004, among them the compact, rack-mounted SmartBits broadband remote test unit, which supports next generation add/drop multiplexers and MSPPs now being deployed in metro networks. Its high-density SmartBits 10-GbE test system provides detailed testing of WAN/LAN interface Ethernet, IPv4/v6, and MPLS as well as SONET frame and other metro-network protocols.

Spirent was also active at SuperComm last year, using the SmartBits platform to enable 30 MEF member companies to demonstrate interoperability and conformance to the existing MEF standards. And the company supported the MPLS and Frame Relay Alliance SUPERdemo.

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