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Cisco Shows Some Optical Love

Enhancements for the ONS 15454 show Cisco still believes in optical, the company claims

Craig Matsumoto

March 21, 2007

3 Min Read
Cisco Shows Some Optical Love

Trying to show that optical networking is not being abandoned on the doorstep, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is trotting out some new pieces for the flagship ONS 15454 optical system.

Today, Cisco announced a 40-channel reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexer (ROADM) for 15454. It's also launching what it calls an Ethernet Xponder (pronounced "cross-ponder") and a one-blade multiservice provisioning platform (MSPP).

The products certainly exist and needed announcing, but a more important backdrop is that Cisco is taking the opportunity to say it still believes in optical. (See Into the White.)

Word has it, Cisco tried and failed to sell its optical division, turning down at least two lowball offers last year. (See Optical: Cisco's Odd Man Out? and Sources: Cisco Rejects Optical Bids.) Light Reading has since heard Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA) and Turin Networks Inc. were at least two of the companies that turned Cisco down.

Cicso won't confirm that any of this happened, nor has the company ever confessed to putting optical on the block.

"Cisco is committed to investing in the optical business," says Mike Capuano, a Cisco senior marketing manager. "We're trying to put our money where our mouth is."

Cisco's IP-over-DWDM efforts, where routers are being equipped with DWDM optics, tie into the same idea. (See Cisco's CRS-1 Goes Optical.)

"We see, long-term, a convergence, with providers trying to converge to a single service network and eliminating as many layers in the network as possible," Capuano says.

Still, "optical" doesn't mean what it did seven years ago.

"The optical that they have remaining is just kind of a byproduct of the optical of old and it’s really just to enable router and switch sales," writes analyst Mark Lutkowitz of Telecom Pragmatics, in an email to Light Reading. "So, its commitment to optical is still a secondary concern -- and more in support of its more dominant product lines."

What's left is primarily the 15454, which happens to have been the most successful of Cisco's optical acquisitions. It was also the most stunning, as Cerent, which developed the box, was acquired for $6.9 billion in stock in 1999.

The 15454 continues to generate revenues -- Cisco says optical sales during its January quarter were up 40 percent from the previous year. But that's an anomaly; Cisco can't expect that kind of growth consistently from optical. With the company aggressively trying to get into video and consumer markets, and setting goals of 10 to 15 percent growth every year, optical networking doesn't have the same importance it used to, sources close to the company say.

Meanwhile, Ajaib Bhadare, a Cerent founder brought back into Cisco to run the optical team, has left Cisco, but the company isn't explaining the circumstances. (See Headcount: Wrong Way Huawei.)

Word has it Bhadare helped move the bulk of Cisco's optical operations to India, but Cisco says that's not so.

"I'm working with lots of folks from what I guess you'd consider the former Cerent team," Capuano says. Cisco isn't saying how many employees are at Cerent's former Petaluma, Calif. site.

Oh yeah, the products
So, how about these new products? The ROADM taps into the latest trend of eight-degree ROADMs -- that is, it has eight inputs and outputs rather than just two. This lets the ROADM work in mesh networks, as opposed to the rings that needed only an eastbound and westbound interface.

The Xponder is an Ethernet add-drop card mashed up with a transponder. It's used for Layer 2 aggregation of Gigabit Ethernet feeds into 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, or for offloading a 10-Gbit/s Ethernet when it's reached its destination node.

The Xponder can also do subwavelength adding and dropping, allowing carriers to pack multiple services on a wavelength as opposed to reserving entire wavelengths for each service.

The MSPP-on-a-blade can take the place of a DWDM card on the 15454, giving the system a hybrid quality. "You can think of it as a single shelf doing DWDM and Ethernet and Sonet," Capuano says.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Craig Matsumoto

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Yes, THAT Craig Matsumoto – who used to be at Light Reading from 2002 until 2013 and then went away and did other stuff and now HE'S BACK! As Editor-in-Chief. Go Craig!!

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