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Optical/IP

Calient Gets Ambitious With Optical Switching

It's not quite the rebirth of the 1,000-port switch, but Calient Technologies Inc. thinks all-optical switching is ready for a new phase, one where 768-port systems find uses, and where optical switches get integrated into other types of equipment.

But to take advantage of all that, Calient needs new ways of selling the product. That's what it's announcing today: a goal of finding new partners and developing new ways to sell its FiberConnect optical switch.

One option is to develop a version that can be integrated into other types of equipment.

The company is also changing its name to Calient Technologies, because nothing says "dawn of a new era" like a new name.

The plan is the creation of new CEO Gregory Koss -- a name you might remember. He's spent the past two years running BTI Systems Inc. , but his real claim to fame comes as the CEO who sold Internet Photonics to Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) and Sonoma Systems to Nortel. (See Ciena Buys More Than Catena and Nortel to Buy Sonoma Systems.)

Like other optical switch vendors, Calient has found some small success in niche markets, with revenues of $3 million to $5 million a year for the past few years, Koss says. Its switches get used for protection switching or fiber management, or at the land/sea junction of an undersea long-haul connection.

Those sorts of applications have been the bread and butter of Glimmerglass , an optical switch vendor that emerged a few years after Calient. It claims the Amsterdam Internet Exchange B.V. (AMS-IX) and Cable & Wireless Communications as protection-switching customers.

Polatis Inc. has also kept the all-optical torch lit, albeit with smaller devices. (See Polatis Takes the White House.)

Koss sees potential for Calient to grow, but his assessment is that Calient wasn't flexible enough to grab that business. "What it came down to was, they built one big box. Take it or leave it," he says.

Here's what he wants to do differently:
  • Find partners to help Calient expand into other markets. Koss's main target is the government sector, an area where Glimmerglass has found some success.

  • Let customers alter FiberConnect. Calient gets requests for more variable optical attenuators or the addition of arrayed waveguide gratings. But Koss doesn't want Calient to spend time on multiple variants of its system. Instead, he's enlisting a partner company in Wuhan, China, to build FiberConnect systems for customers to alter.

    "What I was trying to figure out was, what's the next right product after the '320? After working on it for months with Arjun [Gupta, Calient's chairman], it turns out I couldn't, because all the markets that can take advantage of photonic technology -- they're all different," Koss says.

  • Put FiberConnect in other people's boxes. That's going to require three pieces. The first, naturally, would be a linecard containing the actual switch -- the array of Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) Mirrors. But there's also a configuration board that's necessary (configuration will eventually be handled all in software, but not yet) and an optical monitoring module.

    The monitoring piece is a big deal all by itself, because it's there where most of the expense of FiberConnect lies. Some customers are sticklers for measuring insertion loss at every port, but Calient does that today by using a whole bunch of optical taps. The monitoring module would be a much cheaper way to do it.

Calient also intends to produce a 1,080-port version of FiberConnect in the second half of next year. The appeal comes from carriers' increasing use of reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexers (ROADMs), though the real magic number isn't 1,080, but 768, representing 96 wavelengths per fiber multiplied by eight directions to go in -- eight being the number of degrees of freedom in a typical ROADM today.

"If you look at what AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), and others are doing, they've been asking for a colorless, directionless, contentionless network, and the key to that is to build an optical switch."

The concept of the 1,000-port all-optical switch appeared to have died with the dotcom boom, but the new monster switches are a different breed, Koss says. "In Calient's early days, people were talking core capacity. This ROADM application is just lots of add/drops."

If you're wondering who's been willing to fund this all this time, it's Gupta, founder of TeleSoft Partners . Telesoft and some new investors are even putting another $10 million into Calient to fuel Koss's new business plan. Gupta is being named Calient's chairman today, taking over for George Schmitt, another partner at the same venture firm.

It's taken more than $375 million to get Calient to this point, but Koss contends that the company's found a good spot in the industry, partly because so few other companies will bother to build this kind of equipment.

"It's not only very capital-intensive, it's a very long process. The core team that developed the technology and the patents is all together," Koss says.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:29:38 PM
re: Calient Gets Ambitious With Optical Switching

The main difference between Calient and Glimmerglass seems to be size -- Calient can do a 320x320 switch; Glimmerglass, last I checked goes up to 192x192.


Glimmerglass and CEO Robert Lundy have been a lot more vocal about their business in recent years than Calient has, and even claimed profitability last year.  But Calient claims it's got the necessary patents to do any larger switches (assuming 3D MEMS is the only way to do such a switch).


It's going to be interesting to watch them duke it out as the whole ROADM-based opportunity unfolds.


Polatis, IIRC, has only talked about switches up to 32x32 [UPDATE: they did 80x80 in 2009, forgot about that].

askjeevs 12/5/2012 | 4:29:38 PM
re: Calient Gets Ambitious With Optical Switching

Biggest problem with Calient is the Sales team, Hopefully the new ceo is capable of finding a strong sales team. The previous one  failed miserably at doing that.

redface 12/5/2012 | 4:29:38 PM
re: Calient Gets Ambitious With Optical Switching

"with revenues of $3 million to $5 million a year for the past few years",


 


I have no idea that the revenue is so little.  I thought it would be at least $10M.  At this revenue level, they will post a loss every year for sure.  It is also hard to outsource the manufacturing overseas with this small quantity.  


 


It is unfortunate that Calient's switch can not be converted to a ROADM device conveniently.  In the dominant ROADM design which Coadna and Finisar use, the wavelength demux and mux are done using the same grating and therefore it is very efficient.  If Calient were to do ROADM, a lot of AWGs will have to be used driving up the cost.  So it looks like Calient and Glimmerglass will be confined in the niche market for the foreseeable future. 

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:29:36 PM
re: Calient Gets Ambitious With Optical Switching

I did get the impression Koss wants to get more aggressive with sales, so you might be onto something there.


He's also got high hopes for the white-label program. If it works, that would conserve some cash -- they wouldn't need a fanout of vertical salespeople or a lot of variations of the box.

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:29:35 PM
re: Calient Gets Ambitious With Optical Switching

> It is unfortunate that Calient's switch can not be converted to a ROADM device conveniently.  In the dominant ROADM design which Coadna and Finisar use, the wavelength demux and mux are done using the same grating and therefore it is very efficient.  If Calient were to do ROADM, a lot of AWGs will have to be used driving up the cost.  So it looks like Calient and Glimmerglass will be confined in the niche market for the foreseeable future.


Very interesting point about the ROADM capabilities. Thanks, Redface.

redface 12/5/2012 | 4:29:31 PM
re: Calient Gets Ambitious With Optical Switching

With a total revenue of $3M to $5M, there is little money to pay a good enough sales team.  The commission for the salespeople will be very little.  

PenLight 12/5/2012 | 4:29:28 PM
re: Calient Gets Ambitious With Optical Switching

&lt;!--/*fontdefinitions*/@font-face{font-family:"cambriamath";panose-1:2453546324;mso-font-charset:1;mso-generic-font-family:roman;mso-font-format:other;mso-font-pitch:variable;mso-font-signature:000000;}@font-face{font-family:calibri;panose-1:21552224324;mso-font-charset:0;mso-generic-font-family:swiss;mso-font-pitch:variable;mso-font-signature:-16106119851073750139001590;}/*styledefinitions*/p.msonormal,li.msonormal,div.msonormal{mso-style-unhide:no;mso-style-qformat:yes;mso-style-parent:"";margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:10.0pt;margin-left:0in;line-height:115%;mso-pagination:widow-orphan;font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"calibri","sans-serif";mso-ascii-font-family:calibri;mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-fareast-font-family:calibri;mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-hansi-font-family:calibri;mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-bidi-font-family:"timesnewroman";mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}.msochpdefault{mso-style-type:export-only;mso-default-props:yes;mso-ascii-font-family:calibri;mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-fareast-font-family:calibri;mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-hansi-font-family:calibri;mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-bidi-font-family:"timesnewroman";mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}.msopapdefault{mso-style-type:export-only;margin-bottom:10.0pt;line-height:115%;}@pagewordsection1{size:8.5in11.0in;margin:1.0in1.0in1.0in1.0in;mso-header-margin:.5in;mso-footer-margin:.5in;mso-paper-source:0;}div.wordsection1{page:wordsection1;}--&gt;<spanstyle="font-size:11pt;line-height:115%;font-family:&#38;quot;calibri&#38;quot;,&#38;quot;sans-serif&#38;quot;;">alittleupdateonthepolatisswitches.theyhavebeenselling80x80switchesforsometimenow.uponcustomerrequest,theyhaveaddedwavelengthfiltersandcreated&ldquo;minirodadm&rsquo;s&rdquo;forsometime.theirarchitecturealsolendsitselfforeasyadditionofsplittersallowingforallkindsofuniquecustomconfigurationstobecreatedwithinasmallpackage.</spanstyle="font-size:11pt;line-height:115%;font-family:&#38;quot;calibri&#38;quot;,&#38;quot;sans-serif&#38;quot;;">

PenLight 12/5/2012 | 4:29:28 PM
re: Calient Gets Ambitious With Optical Switching

It is correct that Polatis has been selling 80x80 switches for some time now. They have also been adding wavelength filters to some of their switches, creating "Mini ROADM's". Their architecture also lends itself to the easy addition of multiple splitters creating a wide variety of custom solutions for their customers. All of these configurations are created in the smallest foot print possible.

askjeevs 12/5/2012 | 4:29:25 PM
re: Calient Gets Ambitious With Optical Switching

I am little surprised that nobody talked about Fiberzone ..

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