Optical/IP Networks

Astral Redirects Its Point

Astral Point Communications Inc. has changed its tune and revised its marketing message to follow the times. Instead of going after the once sexy, now scary, competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs), Astral Point is playing to the older crowd of incumbents (ILECs).

Today the company announced the ON 7000, which will be launched at the Supercomm trade show in Atlanta in June. Like its predecessor, the ON 5000, the ON 7000 combines the functionality of a DWDM transport product and a digital crossconnect. But the ON 7000 also offers the functionality of a Sonet add/drop multiplexer, a critical feature for attracting incumbent carriers.

“The CLEC market has been frought with financial woes over the last six months,” says Bill Mitchell, vice president of marketing and a founder of Astral Point. “We recognized this back in the fourth quarter of 2000 and began working to change our strategy toward incumbents.”

In fact, Light Reading reported last month that Astral Point dumped its plans back in February for the ON 2000, a product geared toward building LECs (see Astral Point Slims Down). In April, the company alluded to the new ON 7000, but would not give details. As BLECs like BroadBand Office Inc. declare bankruptcy, it makes sense for Astral Point to shift its strategy away from emerging carriers and toward incumbents (see BBO Files for Bankruptcy Protection). And with incumbent service providers generating better than 90 percent of their business from Sonet-based services, including Sonet on one's platform is essential for landing deals in these networks.

Companies like Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Redback Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RBAK), and Sycamore Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SCMR) already have next-generation Sonet gear. There is also a host of other startups, such as Appian Communications and Geyser Networks Inc., looking to score in that market.

Astral Point says it combines all three pieces of the current telecom puzzle: DWDM (dense wavelength-division multiplexing), digital crossconnect, and a Sonet add-drop multiplexer. The company says this significantly reduces carriers’ operational costs because the ON7000 takes up less space, consumes less power, and is easier to manage.

Analysts concur that combining more functionality offers significant benefits.

“That has been Cerent’s [Cisco’s Sonet product] appeal, combining data-aware capability and advanced Sonet functionality,” says Michael Howard, a founder and principal analyst at Infonetics Research Inc.. “Adding DWDM seems like the next evolution. It’s a good idea because it gives carriers more functionality. They can start out just using Sonet, add another blade, and have DWDM capability.”

Astral Point claims to be beating competitors in terms of port density and grooming granularity, holding one ON 7000 to be equivalent to a combination of three different boxes from Ciena: the MetroDirector K2 (from the Cyras acquisition) for Sonet add/drop multiplexing, a CoreDirector CI for a digital crossconnect, and a Ciena Multiwave Metro for DWDM. Comparing its capabilities with gear from Sycamore, Astral Point contends carriers would need to buy Sycamore's SN4000 for add/drop multiplexing and digital crossconnect functionality, as well as an SN8000 for DWDM capabilities.

When it comes to port density, Astral Point's ON7000 offers 576 DS3 (45 Mbit/s) and 36 OC192 (10 Gbit/s) ports per rack, versus Ciena’s 288 DS3 ports and six OC192 ports per rack, says Tom Sheehy, a product manager for Astral Point. Astral Point also says it can groom below STS1 (51.84 Mbit/s) down to the VT1.5 (1.7 Mbit/s) or roughly a T1 (1.5 Mbit/s) leased line level. Ciena grooms down to STS1, says a Ciena spokesperson.

Although the ON 7000 sounds good on paper, the fact is it won’t be ready for beta trials until Q3 and won’t be ready for general availability until Q4. The company says it has lined up several ILECs that are willing to test the ON 7000, but it wouldn’t give out any names.

“If it does everything it says it can do, it should be a good box,” says Infonetics' Howard. “But all I’ve seen so far are Power Point slides, so who knows?”

- Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

stuartb 12/4/2012 | 8:24:19 PM
re: Astral Redirects Its Point I'm usually not this vicious, but it's too hard to resist.

Here's the CEO's quote from the release, followed by what he's really saying if you read between the lines:

"During the past year of intensive interaction with leading carriers, it became clear that preservation of network and operations infrastructure is as important as maximizing the revenue-per-rack for new service deployments. We set out to build a product that redefines the economics of metro networking, allowing carriers to break through the barriers to scalable SONET networking. With the ON 7000, we have achieved that goal,".

And what he really was saying: "During the past year of desparately trying to push our product, it became clear that we had developed something the market did not want or need. About 9 months ago we recognized we were screwed, so we set out to build the product we should have from the beginning. We hope you believe that it will be available by the end of this year, even though it's practically impossible for us to support the development of two distinctly different product lines, much less develop a best-in-breed product in the course of a single year."

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