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Overture Raises $15M

Equipment vendor Overture Networks Inc. announced Monday that it closed a second funding round totaling $15 million. The 20-person startup, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., has raised about $18 million so far to build its metropolitan edge access device.

This latest round included funds from Morgenthaler, Armada Ventures, Intersouth Partners, and Gray Ventures. Additionally, Krish Prabhu of Morgenthaler and Harry Marshall of Armada were added to Overture's board.

Overture won't cough up specifics about its product yet, but outward indications are that the company has done a lot with very little money. Jeff Reedy, Overture's CEO, claims the company's product is in lab trials with three U.S. carriers and one Asian carrier.

The company closed its first funding round in July 2001 and announced earlier this year that it will use network processors made by Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) (see Overture Raises Curtain and Overture Picks Vitesse NP).

Overture is said to be building a compact access box that sits in large office buildings and provides tenants with several varieties of Ethernet and circuit-based connections, such as T1s. The product will connect to the carrier's central office via a DS3, OC3, OC12, or Gigabit Ethernet connection, according to Dale Graver, Overture's VP of marketing and business development. Coming out of the box, however, will be any number of Ethernet or "ILEC-quality" circuit connections, depending on the needs of the building's tenants.

For example, the carrier can take a single DS3 (44.73 Mbit/s) connection going into a building and, using the Overture box, it can carve that pipe up and charge for up to 28 T1 (1.54 Mbit/s) connections. Or it may decide to divide it differently, perhaps offering a handful of T1 connections and some 10/100 Ethernet connections. Or, in buildings where there is an existing Sonet ADM providing circuit-based connections, a carrier could use the Overture box to provide Ethernet services without having to touch the ADM or having to buy new line cards to have it upgraded.

"They're solving the right problem -- it's the problem of having voice traffic and other TDM traffic move across an IP network while maintaining the characteristics you need for voice and T1 services," says Michael Howard, principal analyst at Infonetics Research Inc.

The product's architecture ensures that everything leaves the building as a packet, even if it originated from a circuit-based connection. This allows carriers to provision connections in the building remotely, as they would any other IP data networking device.

Finally, Overture also hopes to realize some efficiency by its use of network processors. Rather than having its product's functionality hard-wired into custom ASICs, Overture says it can add features to the box via software upgrades.

Of course, while incumbent carriers may see the value of Ethernet-based services, they prefer Sonet and operate their networks using mostly circuit-switched connections. That's why one large carrier recently pushed Fujitsu Network Communications Inc. (FNC) to develop a set of edge devices that deliver DS1 and DS3 services from an OC3 connection.

But if Overture's box works as well as industry sources claim it does, the product might nudge carriers to start adding Ethernet services without having to build overlay networks or run additional fiber to buildings.

The company appears to compete with a variety of edge vendors including Appian Communications Inc., Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), Atrica Inc. and others.

Of course, there remains a lot to learn about Overture, and its product's most important details -- density, performance, measurements, etc. -- won't be officially unveiled until the fourth quarter of this year.

In the meantime, the company is worth watching, if only because it got as far as it did with little funding and only 20 people. It will be interesting to see what happens when it begins dipping into its latest pile of cash.

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading
www.lightreading.com
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