Newcomers ride the wave created by dense wavelength-division multiplexing

March 1, 2000

By Anita S. Becker

Dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) has opened a floodgate of bandwidth-and left carriers to wonder how to use this outpouring of capacity effectively. This market need has created a fertile ground for optical-networking startups eager to solve the bandwidth riddle. "Optical networking is the hottest space in the network infrastructure industry," says industry analyst Lee Doyle, vice president of International Data Corp. (IDC-Framingham, MA). "Service providers who can leverage their existing investments will be better positioned to capitalize on new revenue-generating services. Tremendous opportunities exist for equipment manufacturers to address service providers' needs for additional bandwidth."

Syrtis Networks (Concord, MA) is an example of the new wave of companies aiming to unlock unused capacity.
Syrtis Networks president, Ethan Harris, left Harris & Jeffries, a communications software company that he co-founded in 1990, to form Syrtis Networks.

"You have all of these folks who are providing service to subscribers-selling frame relay, Asynchronous Transfer Mode, Internet protocol, videoconferencing, and so on. They are in the very difficult position of trying to use these enormous bandwidths provided by DWDM. They have to go through several intervening layers of multiplexing, traffic grooming, and other functions before they can get their traffic up onto the optical backbone," explains Ethan Harris, president and co-founder of Syrtis. "Simply put, what we're going to do that's going to be 'revolutionary' is to find ways of eliminating or reducing dependence on those intervening layers, and let the services that the network provides ride directly on top of the extremely high bandwidths available in the backbone."

Harris says what will enable his company's technology to work is the now-ample availability of high bandwidth at the point-of-presence: "We see DWDM penetrating into the metropolitan market space, into the CLECs [competitive local-exchange carriers], and similar areas. All of a sudden, there's enormous amounts of bandwidth available locally at the central office. And being at the location where all the services are arriving gives us-for the first time in the world-an opportunity to integrate all those services into the optical core. That's revolutionary. Nobody's doing that, and nobody we talked to is even thinking about doing that."

Harris and co-founders Paul Kelley and Philip Wilson created Syrtis Networks to provide what they term "new choices" for today's competitive network service-provider market. Founded in late 1999, Syrtis was initially self-funded and has opened itself up to outside investment early this year. Harris estimates that there is a year of product development to go before the startup will be entering the production stage.

Syrtis is at the design and implementation stage of its product cycle. "I would anticipate that our first equipment will roll out for production purposes about a year from now," says the company president. "We may have some trials and betas [in late 2000], but I think actual production would begin in the first quarter of 2001."

"We are going to manufacture our products," Harris says. "We will do the design work and the development and the manufacturing, soup to nuts. There may be some pieces of things that we will partner with other companies to do in order to reach the market quickly, particularly with services that are the nice-to-have kinds of features but are not necessarily critical path. Take a T3 card, for example. It might not be necessary for us to go build one, but we might use a design that somebody else has put into their equipment and adapt it to fit our chassis."

The Syrtis founders are currently negotiating with a number of potential partners but were not announcing any relationships at press time. "We are in discussions with a number of companies in the components space. We are not just looking for off-the-shelf components but some custom-component development as well to give us some of the features and functions that we need in our equipment."

Syrtis intends to take advantage of the state-of-the-art in building its new equipment, including the employment of microelectronic mechanical systems. "We are not just building a single product," says Harris. "Coming from our company, you are going to see a series of products, ranging from equipment that sits right at the edge where the subscribers are located all the way up to the core of the network itself. And by doing that, with good technology and coordination in how all of these products work together, we can really create an end-to-end solution that's far more intelligent [than conventional solutions]." All of Syrtis's future products will be based on the open-system concept. "We think that's the best thing for the service provider industry," Harris explains. "So everything we do is going to be on the ITU [International Telecommunication Union] grid."

Harris believes that Syrtis's stance to address service providers' near-term concerns about surplus capacity and decreasing bandwidth prices today distinguishes the new company from its potential competitors. "Unlike a lot of the two dozen metro-DWDM companies that are out there doing equipment development, we're taking a much more strategic look at the industry and a more critical look at the component suppliers to be sure to get the right kind of value and equipment that the service providers are asking us to deliver."