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Introducing Iamba

The stealthy startup says it wants to move optical access beyond PON

October 11, 2001

4 Min Read
Introducing Iamba

Iamba Technologies Inc. says it's got a bead on the future of optical access. And that future goes way beyond PON (passive optical networking), a technique that splits fiber strands in order to extend optical bandwidth without requiring extra lasers or amplifiers (see PONs: Passive Aggression).

"This is more than PON. We want to offer next-generation capacity and speeds an order of magnitude higher [than they are now]," says Guy Benhaim, CEO of the startup.

According to Benhaim, devices now on the market are based too heavily on PON technology that merely extends phone lines in DSL-like fashion, without adding much value. Also, he says existing products rely too much on single protocols or architectures, such as ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) to get the job done -- a tack he says limits a product's scope.

Not that Iamba's ready to get specific about its solution. Founded in June 2000 with headquarters in Delaware, Md., and an R&D division in Israel, the company's still largely in stealth mode and doesn't expect to ship products until 2003.

Still, it gives some hints. It will support both Ethernet and ATM PONs, with QoS (quality of service) provisioning for each. It will also support direct links between the access network and the metro core.

"Some older systems interface to the core network like a DSLAM. We want to link directly to next-generation core devices," Benhaim says.

To eliminate the middlemen, Iamba will pack extra functions into its access box. "Our access platform will have higher functionality than pure transport," says Scott Madigan, general manager of U.S. operations. Wherever it makes sense, he says, Iamba's box will incorporate the switching or edge functions needed to connect customers directly to the metro Sonet core.

If Iamba can swing all this, it could have a winning platform. Still, competition is stiff. Companies like LuxN Inc. already have made a mantra of combining access and edge functions in a single unit.

And many of today's PON products, such as those from Quantum Bridge Communications Inc. and Terawave Communications, are well on their way to customer deployments. And while most of them are based on ATM, following the Full Service Access Networks (FSAN) specifications approved last year by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), companies like Quantum Bridge say they'll support other kinds of PONs, in addition to other forms of access.

Meanwhile, a new crop of Ethernet-based PONs (EPONs) have surfaced from the likes of Alloptic Inc., OnePath Networks, and Wave7 Optics Inc. (see Ethernet in the 'Hood ). And at least one vendor, Salira Optical Network Systems Inc. claims to offer QoS for its Ethernet PON (see Salira Optical Network Systems Inc.).

All these vendors have a head start on Iamba. But nothing's guaranteed. The market for EPONs has been extremely slow getting off the ground, and no firm Ethernet standard has been approved as yet, although the Ethernet in the First Mile study group of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) apparently has been progressing rapidly toward a fixed set of specs.

Iamba faces formidable hurdles nonetheless, not the least of which is how to get a meaningful foothold with carriers. Right now, the main adopters of PON technology are RBOCs, specifically BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS) and SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC). These aren't easy customers to win, and product rollouts take ages.

But Iamba seems ready to tackle the challenge, even to the point of undergoing the OSMINE certification process of Telcordia Technologies Inc., a notoriously time-consuming and expensive hurdle for companies that want to sell to incumbent carriers (see Telcordia's Osmine Goldmine).

"We recognize [OSMINE] as a painful but necessary requirement," says Madigan.

If Iamba can stomach it, the process could pay off. According to Benhaim, the market for optical access gear is expected to top $1 billion by 2003, with much more potential, "depending on where you define the boundaries" of access gear.

Iamba Technologies has roughly 40 employees. Besides Benhaim, who comes from ECI Telecom Ltd. (Nasdaq/NM: ECIL), and Madigan, who hails from DSC (a company sold to Alcatel SA [NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA]) and Future Networks (a startup sold to Tellabs Inc. [Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA]), the executive team includes Ronnie Kenneth, chairman; Amit Preuss, VP R&D; Erez Bashan, CTO; Samuel Aviram, VP of business development; and Yuval Ben-Haim, VP of software development.

Iamba received $10 million in first-round funding in February 2001 from Giza Venture Capital, Polaris Venture Capital, and Technoplus Ventures.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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