Tellabs buys WDM expertise
stephen m. hardy
The wavelength-division multiplexing (wdm) bandwagon continues to grow as an ever-increasing number of suppliers rush to incorporate the popular technology into their products. For example, the recent acquisition by Tellabs, Lisle, IL, of wdm technology and expertise from ibm--combined with the work now under way at such companies as Lucent Technologies and Alcatel Network Systems--means that users can expect wdm capability from a range of digital crossconnect system products within the next year.
As reported in last month`s "Industry Update" (see Lightwave, March 1997, page 3), the Tellabs acquisition includes what the company describes as "certain wdm and optical networking technology" from the ibm Thomas J. Watson Research Center, Westchester County, NY. The $6 million cash transaction also comprises several patents and patent applications as well as other exclusive and nonexclusive rights to additional ibm technology in the wdm and optical networking areas. ibm optical team leader Paul Green and approximately a dozen of his associates will join Tellabs as part of the deal.
While Tellabs has declined to detail exactly which patents and rights it has acquired, Tom Scottino, the company`s manager of investor relations, reveals that Green and his staff "were doing work where they had achieved a 20:1 increase in the amount of information that could be carried over optical fibers."
As a demonstration of the company`s commitment to wdm and optical networking, Tellabs will establish a technology research and product development facility in Hawthorne, NY, where Green and his staff will continue their work in the field. The facility, which Scottino predicts will eventually be augmented with other Tellabs personnel, will become part of the Digital Systems Div., headed by vice president and general manager Dick Taylor.
The big question now is what Tellabs plans to do with its new capabilities. Scottino stresses that the company has not made an official announcement of its plans. However, he is willing to speculate that whether Tellabs develops a stand-alone wdm product or incorporates the capability into its existing offerings, the results will become part of the company`s Titan 5500 digital crossconnect system family.
"I imagine that this would be a follow-on product within the product line or part of a follow-on product," he says. "I mean, we`re talking about something that`s probably not going to come to market until end of `98 or early `99, so it`s in that kind of a definition stage."
Speculating further, Scottino envisions what such a product might be like. "It would probably be along the lines of a large bandwidth manager that would have all kinds of facilities, one of which would be wdm. One of the things we`ve found in the crossconnect effort is that we always want to pay very close attention to our customers` needs to handle legacy traffic without obsoleting their existing equipment. So it`s not unlikely that this equipment would be able to handle a number of different types of traffic, including optical traffic," he says.
The objective, says Scottino, would be to add the wdm capability to other recently acquired technology--such as add/drop multiplexing--to create a digital crossconnect product line unmatched by such competitors as Lucent and Alcatel. However, industry observers say that wdm alone will not be enough to distance Tellabs from its adversaries.
"Certainly Tellabs has been a leader in the application of fiber optics in its digital crossconnects," says Jeff Montgomery, chairman of ElectroniCast Corp., a market research firm in San Mateo, CA, that has been following wdm trends within the fiber-optics industry. "But Alcatel and Lucent both have very solid technical bases; they have been moving this technology along and are in the development phase of building optical dense wdm capabilities into their terminals and optical switching and so forth." Indeed, Alcatel has already delivered an erbium-doped fiber amplifier for dense wdm to the market, and Lucent spokesman Kabby Hong claims, "We will be announcing later on in the year some more capability. I can`t go into details on that right now."
But while in his opinion "there`s nothing unique in what ibm has been doing there, in terms of the technology," Montgomery adds: "What is unique has been its application, which is to connect big ibm machines together around a metropolitan area."
Stephen Montgomery, vice president and chief operating officer at ElectroniCast, agrees. "The ibm product was more in the private data network area," he says. "Their main objective there is not only to be involved in the telecommunications market, but also in the premises market. And wdm is not only going to be involved in interexchange carrier deployments; it`s also going to be in local exchange carrier applications and also all the way into private data networks and premises [applications].
"The ibm product had some major inroads and advancements in that industry, so it looks like Tellabs is taking advantage of it and made a wise choice. It`s the direction that the industry is going in," Montgomery concludes.
But while the industry may be headed toward wdm, Ken Kelly, senior analyst at New York City-based Northern Business Information, cautions that the technology should not be seen as a panacea for all applications. Other techniques for increasing the amount of traffic a network can handle, such as time-division multiplexing, (tdm) will still play a role.
"I think that the driving factor is what it`s going to cost me," he explains. "On the shorter hops, I think tdm pretty much shows that it can do the job a little more cost-effectively than wdm. But for long hauls, and using dispersion-shifted fiber, wdm works better. So the bottom line might be that for long-distance companies that are going across the nation or something like that, wdm is probably going to star for them."
Whether that star shines on premises and other smaller network applications remains to be seen. q