Bandwidth9 Goes Dark

The tunable laser firm cuts back operations as executives scramble to save the company

February 11, 2003

3 Min Read
Bandwidth9 Goes Dark

Tunable laser startup Bandwidth9 Inc. may be on its last legs, as the company has essentially shut down while officials make a last-ditch effort to find acquisition partners.

The company announced this morning that it would "substantially reduce its operations and product offering." In recent weeks, Bandwidth9 had slimmed down to 49 employees and put itself on the block for acquisition, with CEO Hatch Graham telling Light Reading that a buyer wouldn't be hard to find (see Headcount: Time to Punt?).

Bandwidth9 officials weren't available for comment today.

Once fertile ground for startups, tunable lasers have become a perennial "next-year" technology. At first, companies had trouble getting sufficient output power from the devices, and they couldn't keep the cost low enough to entice customers.

Companies such as Agility Communications Inc. and Iolon Inc. claim they've made progress on those fronts -- but then there's the lingering drought in carrier spending. Tunable-laser firms had planned to sell their parts to carriers to replace the multiple lasers fitted into DWDM systems, but stalled spending and a lack of new DWDM buildouts have iced that market (see Tough Times for Tunable Lasers).

In a sense, Bandwidth9 had it even worse, because the company set itself an even tougher task: Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers (VCSELs) for the 1550nm band used in long-haul networks (see Bandwidth9 Claims Laser Breakthrough). No one had yet produced a VCSEL for that band; in fact, the only commercialized VCSELs at the time were 850nm parts.

Output power was Bandwidth9's weakness, as it kept the company's laser out of long-haul applications in general and out of Sonet networks specifically (see Bandwidth9 Behind Schedule?). Much of 2002 was spent trying to overcome the power problem. "The better part of the first half of this year, we had our design team really dissect our laser," Graham told Light Reading in November 2002.

Last year, the company finally hit a breakthrough in that area, giving up its internally modulated design in favor of a CyOptics Inc. external modulator, resulting in a reach of 600 km (see Bandwidth9 Picks CyOptics Modulator). Eager to show off its success, Bandwidth9 spent the fall of 2002 on a tour of OEMs, demonstrating its new capability to companies including Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Fujitsu Ltd. (KLS: FUJI.KL), and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) -- apparently to no avail.

Despite the gloomy near-term outlook for tunables, other companies are ready to fill the void should Bandwidth9 drop out. Those developing 1550nm VCSELs include Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) and startup Beam Express Inc. (see Agilent Claims VCSEL Breakthrough and Startups Carry VCSEL Flame). The market has even attracted Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), which plans to market the tunable laser it acquired from New Focus (see Intel Preps Tunable Laser).

See our recent report, Tunable Lasers Revisited, for more information on the tunable-laser technologies and possible markets.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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