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Cirrex Tidies Up

Subsystem startup relaunches with former Nortel executive as CEO; refurbishes product plans

June 18, 2001

4 Min Read
Cirrex Tidies Up

Optical subsystem startup Cirrex Corp. made a couple of announcements today that amount to a relaunch of the company. It unveiled details of its first product -- again -- and named Nortel veteran Al Bender as its CEO (see Cirrex Unveils DWDM Access Chip and Ex-Nortel Exec Named Cirrex CEO).

Cirrex announced its OCHIP (optical communication hybrid integration platform) technology back in January. OCHIP combines active and passive optics and electronic chips inside a single package. This will be used to make mini optical add/drop mux (OADM) modules that add or remove wavelengths of light (see Startup Automates Module Manufacture).

However, that first product announcement obviously didn't strike quite the right chord with potential customers -- equipment vendors. "We weren't aggressive enough technology-wise," says Bender. "Customers wanted different speeds and feeds. They don't want OC12 [622 Mbit/s], they want OC48 [2.5 Gbit/s], and they want to see the path to OC192 [10 Gbit/s]."
"Today most add/drop muxes are electrical," says Charles Willhoit, analyst with J.P. Morgan & Co.. "It's nice to have electrical signals because you can do things with the signal, like grooming and management."

As a manufacturer of OADM modules with electrical interfaces, Cirrex has cut down on the competition. There are a number of startups making all-optical OADMs, such as Kamelian Ltd., but analysts figure their products are at least 12 months to 18 months away from market. "The real threat [to Cirrex] would be a transceiver company getting together with a planar lightwave circuit vendor, but we haven't seen that yet," Bender says.

Bender can be credited with getting Cirrex back on track. As former VP and general manager of Nortel's $3 billion-a-year Internet telephony business, he brought a new perspective. "Cirrex wanted a CEO to think like a customer, not like an optical physicist," he says. "I provide the customer view."

The resulting new product, dubbed OCHIP 1110, is an optical access module that integrates the functionality of a DWDM transmitter, 2.5-Gbit/s receiver with clock and data recovery, and single (fixed) channel OADM filters into a single slim-line package. Only the channel that is added or dropped is changed into electricity -- the others pass straight through with very low optical losses.

Cirrex reports that a number of equipment vendors have signed up to beta test OCHIP 1110, including tier-1 manufacturers Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), and Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA). Metro startups LuxN Inc., Metro-Optix Inc., and White Rock Networks are also clamoring for test samples, which will be available in August or September, says Bender.

White Rock is particularly vocal in its support for OCHIP, lending its validation to Cirrex's press release. White Rock's mission is to make the smallest possible OC48 mux-demux product, so size is almost as important to them as cost (see White Rock: Heavy Metal?). "Ours is the only platform that allows [White Rock] to incorporate DWDM inside the box," claims Bender. If true, then that's one customer Cirrex can count on.

After OCHIP 1110, the revised roadmap includes add/drop mux modules with increasing levels of Sonet or IP sophistication, such as Sonet framing and mapping. "We're taking discrete semiconductors off the boards of our customers, and putting them inside the OCHIP module," Bender says. The more chips that come off the board, the more money saved, because it reduces the cost of packaging for that chip.

Cirrex plans to raise a further round of finance in Q4 this year, after it starts shipping beta samples. It's looking to raise $20 million to $25 million -- not a great deal for a component company, but the company notes that it outsources most of the manufacturing, only keeping the manufacture of optical waveguides in-house.

Cirrex has 38 employees. Its business plan calls for this number to increase to 175 by the first half of 2003. Expected revenue then will be $100 million, says Bender, "assuming the market recovers and people have money to spend again."

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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