Alcatel Shows Off Tropic Tech

Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) is putting its investment in Tropic Networks Inc. to good use, supplementing the 1696 Metro Span system with the trappings of a reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexer (ROADM). (See Alcatel Launches Metro Span.)

Sold by companies including Mahi Networks Inc., Movaz Networks Inc., and Tropic Networks Inc., ROADMs are systems that allow quick and easy wavelength switching (see Who Makes What: ROADMs). Ideally, the ROADM would let service providers remotely add and drop wavelengths at any node at arbitrary times. Most of the available designs are based on a wavelength blocker, an element that kills off a particular wavelength.

Alcatel had teamed up with Tropic this year, making an undisclosed investment in the startup. In exchange, Alcatel became a Tropic reseller and also pledged to use the ROADM technology in the 1696 platform. Tropic, being privately held and having gone through four rounds of funding, realized it needed a partner to help bolster connections with service providers, and a connection to Alcatel was theorized as early as 2003 (see Alcatel Tops Up Tropic, Tropic Takes $20M, Looks to Partner, and Photuris & SBC: The Inside Story).

ROADMs have been championed mostly by startups. The idea is catching on with larger vendors this year, albeit slowly. Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) announced a deal with Movaz to work on ROADMs, and Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) introduced ROADM functionality with its Common Photonic Layer DWDM platform (see Lucent & Movaz Seal Deal and Nortel Intros DWDM Platform).

"The big players are coming on board, and I don't think they're behind the market," says Sterling Perrin, an analyst with IDC. "ROADMs created a lot of buzz during Supercomm in June, but I think the technology is going to see a cautious rollout."

The ROADM market is small, but it's getting lots of attention because North American carriers are captivated (see Vendors Race for Reconfigurability). MCI Inc. (Nasdaq: MCIP), SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC), and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) are among the carriers that have shown interest in the technology.

"There are some indications a market will be emerging in Europe and Asia/Pacific, but right now it seems to be mostly taking off in North America," says Tom Fuerst, Alcatel vice president of strategic marketing.

Fuerst claims no particular knowledge of when those carriers might deploy ROADMs, though. "I would say over the next two quarters," he says.

Alcatel expects ROADMs to be confined to newly built networks for the near future, with upgrades to standing networks to come later. "As people get more comfortable with the technology, we're going to see more overbuild or network extensions come into play," Fuerst says.

IDC's Perrin adds that the "new" buildouts for ROADMs will likely be capacity increases on already installed routes. "We're not anticipating or seeing a lot of new routes being built out there," he says. "It's more an upgrade of capacity."

A second wave of ROADM technology is already in preparation, with component firms including Capella Photonics Inc., JDS Uniphase Corp. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU), and Metconnex developing what's called the wavelength-selective switch. But those parts could be a year or more in waiting for mass production; Alcatel wanted an option it could deploy right away, Fuerst says.

In addition to the ROADM functionality, Alcatel is making use of Tropic's optical channel monitoring, which helps balance the optical power of all channels each time a wavelength is added or dropped. Such events can cause the power level of all other wavelengths to change, potentially creating problems downstream in the network.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Balet 12/5/2012 | 1:14:33 AM
re: Alcatel Shows Off Tropic Tech Is it possible by any chance to share who Movaz, Mahi or Tropic sold their ROADMs to?
I am not talking about Lucent or Alcatel partnership, but any known carriers?
I am not sure if anyone but Marconi's LH ROADMs have been shipped to carriers so far.
I have not heard about any metro ROADMs installed yet.

By the way, there are a few companies in addition to JDSU, Capella and Metconnex developing WSS with a higher chance of success.
By the way, just curious why Cisco decided to go with PLC based WSS/WB?
heuman 12/5/2012 | 1:14:33 AM
re: Alcatel Shows Off Tropic Tech How does Tropic actually put a label on each wavelegth? (e.g. In J0 of the SDH frame?) Is this going to become a standard?
douggreen 12/5/2012 | 1:14:32 AM
re: Alcatel Shows Off Tropic Tech heuman,

From information on their website: The label" that Tropic uses is not inserted into the digital data stream. It is an optical tag that is put on every wavelength, alowing them to use it on any optical payload. It appears that they have developed a way to look at these opical tags at every network element. This alows them to monitor wavelenghts on an individual basis without OEO conversions or demuxing. Most DWDM systems can only health of the aggregate signal, or spend a lot of money tearing the signal down to look at each wavelength.

While the ROADMs themselves seem to get most of the attention, the wavelength tracker is (IMO)the interesting technology in the Tropic product. Static OADM has been around for many years. ROADM technology itself has been available for a while. Everybody seems to have their ROADM product offerings. THe problem is that ROADMS that have enough add/drop flexibility to make them interesting have not been all that practical in "systems" form. THis is because they introduce too many problems in power management at the optical level. Every time you add or drop a wavelength it can have a cascading effect on the configuration of all the tranceivers and amplifiers in the entire system.

When I worked at Ciena in the mid/late 1990s, we had a similar issue when introducing static OADMs into our long haul system. The OADM itself was not the most difficult part. What we called "Span Management", i.e. the re-balancing of power when they system was changed, was what kept customers from deploying the product for quite a while after the product hardware was completed. Once again, these OADMs were static and involved only a few wavelengths system wide. THe ROADM issue is much more complex because it involves more wavelengths and is dynamic.

To counter this, ROADM vendors have to develop sophisticated software to monitor and make changes to the system to ensure stability as wavlengths are added and dropped. This software, however, is only as good as the information that is passed to it from hardware. If Tropic has created a way to monitor individual wavelengths in a relatively inexpensive form, they may have found a key to make what is theoretically a good idea (ROADMs) into a deployable system.

One could spend a lot of time on the other operational benefits that Tropic clamins for the monitoring of individual wavelengths, but IMO this is the most interesting.
CamelTow 12/5/2012 | 1:14:32 AM
re: Alcatel Shows Off Tropic Tech Movaz's big SP customer is Comcast in their High Speed Data network. ROADMS throughout US.

Although, they are slipping as Nortel won the Converged Network expansion in the East recently.

Long-Haul RFP is currently being pursued.

o-man 12/5/2012 | 1:14:30 AM
re: Alcatel Shows Off Tropic Tech I have heard that Movaz made a HUGE mistake with it's blocker supplier... And it is leading to quality problems, like Tropic?

Do they have a common supplier?
Balet 12/5/2012 | 1:14:28 AM
re: Alcatel Shows Off Tropic Tech It sounds like after working for Ciena you went straight to Tropic, right?:)

Tropic is using fast VOAs (they used to buy them from Bookham) for adding slow modulation frequency on the top. At least it is what they have claimed. I am not sure how cheap it is though and how stable the VOA supplier is. Anyone knows?
Balet 12/5/2012 | 1:14:28 AM
re: Alcatel Shows Off Tropic Tech Movaz is famous for selecting the cheapest component suppliers, then dumping them. when someone cheaper comes up.

Cheap is good but I bet carriers will start carrying about the quality soon, right?
With Movaz's blocker supplier quality they will be in trouble very soon.
OPTIK 12/5/2012 | 1:14:26 AM
re: Alcatel Shows Off Tropic Tech Rumor has it that they were trying to convince a PLC startup to design a product similar to Bookham but could not get thru component qualification.
OPTIK 12/5/2012 | 1:14:26 AM
re: Alcatel Shows Off Tropic Tech Indeed, Movaz selected a Liquid crystal blocker from a walking-dead startup.
Cost vs. quality, obvious decision for Movaz : COST!!!!
o-man 12/5/2012 | 1:14:25 AM
re: Alcatel Shows Off Tropic Tech Who did Movaz select? How many LC based blocker suppliers r left?

Arroyo - dead
Etellus - ?
Coadna - (should be dead)?
JDSU - Moving to MEM and PLC, right?
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