Tellium acquires all-optical-switching technology

Dec. 1, 2000



First to market with an optical-to-electrical-to-optical (OEO) switch last year, Tellium is expanding its technology portfolio with micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS)- related patents and acquisitions. In October, Tellium announced an intellectual-property licensing agreement with AT&T and completed its acquisition of Astarte Fiber Systems.

The AT&T patents, which may be implemented in software and hardware, are related to mesh restoration and switching technology. The software implementations will be used to expand the mesh restoration and provisioning functionality in Tellium's optical-networking operating system, StarNet. "With the Astarte acquisition, our primary mission was to expand our intellectual property in MEMS switching," says Krishna Bala, chief technology officer at Tellium (Oceanport, NJ). "The licensing and acquisition are toward developing the Full-Spectrum product line." In a quiet period after filing a registration statement for its initial public offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission Sept. 22, the company declined to comment further.

The Aurora/Full-Spectrum optical switch, announced in June, will use an all-optical switching fabric, while maintaining electronic control and processing capabilities. While the development time frame has not been made public, the Full-Spectrum optical switch is expected to ship in 2001.

"I think it is a key ac quisition for Tellium as they realize they have to expand their product line beyond their OEO switch to their Full-Spectrum architecture, which will incorporate an all-optical module within their existing platform. This gives them the technology, the intellectual property to build that switch," says Andrew McCormick, senior analyst, optical communications, Aberdeen Group (Boston).

"The trend is going to be toward putting all-optical switching into as many areas of networks as feasible, and Tellium realizes that they have to address that market and give the customers that they are talking to what they want," says McCormick. "This just gives them more options and opens their solution to a broader market. It also differentiates Tellium from Sycamore or Ciena, companies that still have just the OEO switches today."

A startup in 1997, Tellium was first to market with an optical switch using an electronic switching fabric. The flagship Aurora optical switch has been in service in Extant Communications' network since April as part of a $250-million equipment deal. Extant was recently acquired by Dynegy. Tellium has also announced a $350-million equipment deal over the next five years with Cable & Wireless. The global network operator plans to deploy the first systems in the first quarter of 2001.

Tellium's second-generation Aurora optical switch supports 512 OC-48 (2.5-Gbit/sec) connections, or 1.28 Tbits/sec. The switch is scalable to OC-768 (40 Gbits/sec). Most recently, Tellium announced a contract with Qwest Communications International to purchase $300 million of equipment over the next three years. The Qwest agreement includes rights to shares in Tellium.

Astarte (Boulder, CO), established in 1990, develops photonic-switching technology. Earlier this year, Corning licensed three patents from Astarte related to servo and control systems in MEMS for use in the development of all-optical-switching modules. In 1999, Astarte partnered with Texas Instruments (TI-Dallas) to develop an optical crossconnect based on MEMS. TI developed the switch-actuating mechanism.

"I'm not sure at this point how Tellium is going to take advantage of it, but what was developed was different from what's out there, different from Lucent, Xros, and Calient," says David Krozier, senior analyst at RHK (South San Francisco). "Even though in general the optical path was very similar in bouncing off of two mirrors, the approach that TI and Astarte took was not to have all the mirrors on the same array and to have the mirrors installed actually on the port cards. There was a feeling that this approach gave you some advantages in terms of being able to scale and support the system. So as you pulled out a port card, you also pulled out the mirror, the MEMS device for those ports.

"As far as TI, what Astarte got was basically a proof-of-concept system," says Krozier. "It demonstrated the MEMS technology and the control system technology, so I think with Tellium's announcement of their Full-Spectrum system development that this fits right in to that. The biggest piece that Astarte and TI didn't have was all the control system software. Tellium has announced that it is buying intellectual property from AT&T that dealt with that, so I think that might be another piece of the puzzle for Tellium."

"It's early with regard to really seeing what Tellium is going to do with this technology, but I think the story that they have of being able to upgrade being able to scale their current electronic fabric systems with the photonic fabric is a good one," Krozier concludes.