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August 9, 2000
Optical networks help carriers boost bandwidth dramatically -- up to a point. But carrying light over the ultra-long distance is still the grand challenge of the industry.
A small number of startups claim to have solved the problem -- on paper, at least. The latest of these, OptiMight Communications, a startup founded by Wu-Fu Chen, the founder of at least eight networking companies at last count, says it's also got a way to let carriers squeeze more use out of existing fiber.
The startup, which emerged from stealth mode this week, says it can send data and voice signals hundreds and even thousands of kilometers without electrical regeneration. It also claims to pack more frequencies onto a fiber strand than competing techniques.
OptiMight won't say exactly how it achieves this feat, but the company says it's based on creative applications of conventional methods like wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM). "We manipulate light in time and frequency instead of just in time," says Ilya Fishman, president, CTO, and founder -- who also is a former research scientist at Stanford University. He says OptiMight's approach frees up 30 percent more spectrum for long-haul transmission than competing technologies, such as Raman amplifiers (see Going Long On Light).
OptiMight's proposition is strengthened by the presence of Wu-Fu Chen, whose optical networking insight is legendary. After making a name for himself as founder and VP of engineering at Cascade Communications (which was sold to Ascend Communications, which was in turn sold to Lucent), Chen went on to become a serial entrepreneur, founding successful companies such as Shasta Networks, which sold to Nortel last year for $340 million, an amount considered paltry now but which was significant at the time. Chen himself acknowledged a keen interest in OptiMight at the Opticon conference last week, where he said that solving the ultra-long-haul problem is vital to the future of optical networks (see Wu-Fu Chen: In It for the Long Haul).
The reason for this, Chen said, is that gear such as OptiMight's can "reduce the cost of building core optical service provider networks by between 60 and 80 percent by reducing the need to install signal regeneration equipment."
By all accounts, the market for ultra-long-haul optical gear is going to be big, and competition will be fierce among the few select players who are capable of tackling the complexities involved. Vendors such as Corvis Corp. (Nasdaq: CORV) and Qtera Corp. (now a subsidiary of Nortel Networks Corp. [NYSE, TSE: NT]) have signed on early trial customers -- Williams Communications Group Inc. (NYSE: WCG) and Broadwing Inc. (NYSE:BRW) for Corvis; Global Crossing Inc. (Nasdaq: GBLX) and Qwest Communications Corp. (NYSE:Q) for Qtera.
OptiMight is behind in the race. "I see them as a competitor, but it's hard to just take their word for it until the product is out there and you can talk to customers," says Brian Van Steen, optical networking analyst at consultancy RHK Inc..
California-based OptiMight has 60 employees, 50 of whom are engineers. And it's garnered $37.5 million in two rounds of financing, led by Brentwood Venture Capital and Venrock Associates.
In addition to Chen and Fishman, OptiMight's executive team includes Yu Sheng Bai, chief optical scientist (ex-Harvard and Densenet Corp.); Karl Ma, director of product development (ex-Ford, Intel, Vertex Management, and Boston Consulting Group); and Clarel Thevenot, director of marketing (ex-AMP and Corning).
-- Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com
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