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Agility Gets $83M Third Round

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
9/21/2001

Agility Communications Inc. expects to announce an $83 million third round of funding and some additional board members on Monday, in a move that appears to underscore its lead in developing widely tunable lasers. The new round, led by General Motors Investment Management Corp., brings Agility’s total funding to date to $186 million -- $168 million in equity and $18 million in leasing agreements.

"We’re set for two years," says Arlon Martin, Agility’s VP of marketing. Closing such a big round in the current, cautious environment means a lot more than it would have a year ago, back when all startups needed to raise such a sum of money was "a 25 pack of viewgraphs," he notes.

Perhaps even more significantly, the latest round of funding also includes two strategic investors -- Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN) and Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA). The fact that two heavyweight equipment vendors are backing Agility implies that they see the startup as a market leader and that they might become significant customers of Agility in the long term.

How long this will take is an interesting question. According to Martin, Agility has, so far, sold its tunable lasers to 35 paying customers, of which about half a dozen are big equipment vendors. Equipment incorporating Agility lasers from "two, potentially three" vendors is scheduled to start carrier trials in the fourth quarter of this year. The carrier trials are likely to carry on for quite some time, maybe a year or more, so the prospect of really big orders for tunable lasers is still a long way off. Martin says smaller orders, for tunable lasers for equipment in trials, are still quite significant.

When Agility announces its new funding round on Monday it will also name two new board directors -- Charles Froland, managing director of Private Market Investments for GM Investment Management Corp. and David Rickey, CEO and chairman of the board of Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC).

Rickey’s appointment is particularly interesting in view of AMCC’s strong position in the communications chip market. Agility itself has gone farther than most in adding extra optical devices -- such as modulators and amplifiers -- to its tunable lasers (see Agility Packs Three Into One). Sooner or later, though, it will have to go beyond even that stage, to tackle the integration of electronics with its photonics. Having Rickey on board might help.

— Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com

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