Alcatel Shows Off Tropic Tech

Unveils the fruits of the Tropic partnership in the form of a ROADM-enhanced 1696 Metro Span

September 27, 2004

3 Min Read
Alcatel Shows Off Tropic Tech

Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) is putting its investment in Tropic Networks Inc. to good use, supplementing the 1696 Metro Span system with the trappings of a reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexer (ROADM). (See Alcatel Launches Metro Span.)

Sold by companies including Mahi Networks Inc., Movaz Networks Inc., and Tropic Networks Inc., ROADMs are systems that allow quick and easy wavelength switching (see Who Makes What: ROADMs). Ideally, the ROADM would let service providers remotely add and drop wavelengths at any node at arbitrary times. Most of the available designs are based on a wavelength blocker, an element that kills off a particular wavelength.

Alcatel had teamed up with Tropic this year, making an undisclosed investment in the startup. In exchange, Alcatel became a Tropic reseller and also pledged to use the ROADM technology in the 1696 platform. Tropic, being privately held and having gone through four rounds of funding, realized it needed a partner to help bolster connections with service providers, and a connection to Alcatel was theorized as early as 2003 (see Alcatel Tops Up Tropic, Tropic Takes $20M, Looks to Partner, and Photuris & SBC: The Inside Story).

ROADMs have been championed mostly by startups. The idea is catching on with larger vendors this year, albeit slowly. Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) announced a deal with Movaz to work on ROADMs, and Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) introduced ROADM functionality with its Common Photonic Layer DWDM platform (see Lucent & Movaz Seal Deal and Nortel Intros DWDM Platform).

"The big players are coming on board, and I don't think they're behind the market," says Sterling Perrin, an analyst with IDC. "ROADMs created a lot of buzz during Supercomm in June, but I think the technology is going to see a cautious rollout."

The ROADM market is small, but it's getting lots of attention because North American carriers are captivated (see Vendors Race for Reconfigurability). MCI Inc. (Nasdaq: MCIP), SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC), and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) are among the carriers that have shown interest in the technology.

"There are some indications a market will be emerging in Europe and Asia/Pacific, but right now it seems to be mostly taking off in North America," says Tom Fuerst, Alcatel vice president of strategic marketing.

Fuerst claims no particular knowledge of when those carriers might deploy ROADMs, though. "I would say over the next two quarters," he says.

Alcatel expects ROADMs to be confined to newly built networks for the near future, with upgrades to standing networks to come later. "As people get more comfortable with the technology, we're going to see more overbuild or network extensions come into play," Fuerst says.

IDC's Perrin adds that the "new" buildouts for ROADMs will likely be capacity increases on already installed routes. "We're not anticipating or seeing a lot of new routes being built out there," he says. "It's more an upgrade of capacity."

A second wave of ROADM technology is already in preparation, with component firms including Capella Photonics Inc., JDS Uniphase Corp. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU), and Metconnex developing what's called the wavelength-selective switch. But those parts could be a year or more in waiting for mass production; Alcatel wanted an option it could deploy right away, Fuerst says.

In addition to the ROADM functionality, Alcatel is making use of Tropic's optical channel monitoring, which helps balance the optical power of all channels each time a wavelength is added or dropped. Such events can cause the power level of all other wavelengths to change, potentially creating problems downstream in the network.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

For further education, visit the archives of related Light Reading Webinars:

  • The Role of ROADMs in Optical Networks

  • Reconfigurable Optical Networks: Optical Performance Monitors

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