Agilent creates new business unit

Nov. 7, 2001--EXCLUSIVE--Long a mainstay in the R&D, manufacturing, and operation test markets, Agilent Technologies Inc. has been noticeably absent from the optical installation, commissioning, and maintenance test fields. Despite a sluggish economy, the market for such test equipment remains strong, and Agilent has decided to secure a piece of it.

By Meghan Fuller

Long a mainstay in the R&D, manufacturing, and operation test equipment markets, Agilent Technologies Inc. has been noticeably absent from the optical installation, commissioning, and maintenance test fields. With 60 million fiber-mi deployed last year alone--enough to stretch to the moon and back every week--there is no denying that even in a sluggish economy, network installation and maintenance is still a sizeable market, and Agilent has decided to secure a piece of it.

Eighteen months ago, the company created a specialized business unit, Optical Network Test (ONT), headquartered in Böblingen, Germany, to develop and manufacture products targeted at network installers and maintainers. Though they have all the resources of Agilent behind it, ONT personnel have taken on a "startup mentality," claims Peter Schweiger, worldwide sales channel manager.

ONT engineers have spent the last 18 months on a "garage tour," visiting potential customers and learning first-hand what they need from their optical test equipment.

R&D guys from Germany spent time in manholes in Manhattan, says Schweiger, and they discovered that installers and maintenance technicians have very distinct and different needs.

Installers have three concerns, contends Schweiger: speed, speed, and speed. The faster they can install fiber, the lower their bid will be, and the more apt they are to win contracts. Network installers are also worried about "eliminating embarrassment," as Schweiger puts it. Incorrectly installed fiber can be costly and time-consuming to fix--which makes installation test equipment all the more critical.

In response to these demands, the ONT has developed the E6000C Mini-OTDR, the first offering in what is to become a broad portfolio, say company representatives. Boot time is 17 seconds to measurement. The box itself weighs 6 lbs, with the battery. It covers a dynamic range of 45-43 dB at 1310-1500 nm at distances from 0.08 to 76 m.

Maintenance technicians, on the other hand, are faced with a myriad of test equipment to meet a range of requirements, so ease of use is their number one need. Say a technician discovers a fiber break, explains Schweiger. He or she may not have used a Fiber Break Locator in three months, so the box must be intuitive and one-button simple.

Agilent's new Fault Break Locator enables the technician to locate a break up to 150 km or 94 mi away in seconds, claims the company. It is rugged and lightweight, making it ideal for outside plant conditions.

The ONT has recently introduced three additional handheld instruments, an optical meter, a dual laser source, and an automated optical attenuator, for use in field applications.

The creation of the ONT represents a paradigmatic shift for Agilent. The company that is usually consumed with defending market share is now on the offensive, hoping to challenge the likes of Anritsu, Nettest, and EXFO in the field of installation and maintenance testing.

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